The doctorate that wasn't to be

The doctorate that wasn't to be

Okay, after all these years of living with a family semi secret, I am going to come out and say it: Stan Ruby was not awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Physics by Columbia University. 

It was a semi secret in that we knew about it but didn't talk about. Stan never falsely presented himself as having the credential. But he didn't always correct people who addressed him as Dr. Ruby. 

Over the years, his accomplishments and respect from his colleagues grew to the point that the lack of a degree mattered less and less, especially working as he did in an industrial and then a national laboratory setting. However, it undoubtedly excluded him from academic opportunities that he might have otherwise pursued. 

At home, we never knew why he was denied the honor that he had studied and worked for, except that it might have had something to do with the mysterious Madame Wu. It was sort of a taboo subject in the household.

I am sorry now that I never asked him about it later in life when I believe he would have told us what happened. Or we might have asked Helga after his death and she would have spilled the beans. 

As it is, we still don't know what happened, but recent evidence that Brice Rustad also was denied a Ph.D. reinforces the possibility that it was a consequence of the reversed experiment.

The counter argument is that Rustad and Ruby should have already earned the degree no later than 1955, which was two years before the experiment was called into question. In that case, was there some other, earlier issue that quashed the degree and also led to Stan's departure from Brookhaven in 1953?

The first theory is simpler and more resonant, as a physicist might say. But two things remain unexplained. Why did Rustad and Ruby not receive their degrees in 1955 or earlier, when their experiment was the talk of the town? Why in 1953 did Stan leave the status and familiarity of Brookhaven for the relative obscurity of an IBM laboratory in upstate Endicott, N.Y.?

We still don't have the answers but it feels like I am getting closer to an explanation that will fit the facts of the case. For now, I guess it feels good to have cleared the air about this old family semi-secret.