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The Dawn of Ultrasonics
many international awards. Indeed, in his honor, the Optical Society of America offers the R. W. Wood Prize for outstand- ing discovery or invention.
The Last Amateur Scientist and the Palace of Science: Alfred Lee Loomis
During his time in the Army during World War I, Wood made the acquaintance of Alfred Lee Loomis (Figure 4) at the
Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where Loomis had invented the “Loomis chronograph” for measuring the velocity of artillery shells. Loomis was a New York finance banker whose lifelong
hobby had been physics and chemistry. Loomis led a fascinat- ing and complex life, well beyond our scope here. For those interested, I recommend highly the excellent biography of Loomis by Conant (2002).
Both Wood and Loomis came from respected New England families, both had successful physicians as fathers, and both were passionately interested in science. They met again in 1924 on respective family summer visits to eastern Long Island. Although Wood was almost 20 years senior, his lack of pretension and his laboratory in the barn were considerably more attractive to Loomis than the alternative of time spent with his aunts. This began a symbiosis that lasted many years:
Figure 4. Alfred Lee Loomis (1887–1975) in the laboratories at Tower House (Tuxedo Park, NY). Einstein dubbed it the “palace of science.” The apparatus is the high-voltage oscillator used to drive a quartz piezoelectric transducer to produce intense ultrasound. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, image #SIA2008-5428.
Wood acted as Loomis’s private physics tutor and Loomis became Wood’s financial patron.
Loomis was looking for a science project to fund, and Wood told him about Langevin’s experiments with ultrasonics and the killing of fish. Because Langevin was really focused only on submarine detection and other marine applications, this new field offered a wide range for research in physics, chem- istry, and biology. Loomis was enthusiastic and together they made a trip to the research laboratory of General Elec- tric and purchased two huge “pilotron” amplifying vacuum tubes that were similar to the high-frequency oscillators then used in radio broadcasting, stepping up the voltage from the usual 2 kV to 50 kV. The resulting generator was used to drive thick quartz transducers with an ultrasonic output of 2 kW over the range of 100 to 700 kHz, specs that would be a state-of-the-art rig even today! This appa- ratus was first built in Loomis’s garage in Tuxedo Park (40 miles north of New York City and from which the black-tie formal dress gained its name). The space was too small, so Loomis bought a huge stone mansion nearby perched on the summit of one of the foothills of the Ramapo Mountains.
Loomis, with suggestions from Wood, transformed this “Tower House” (Figure 5) into a private laboratory deluxe, with rooms for guests or collaborators, a complete machine shop with a mechanic, and a dozen large and small research labs. The 40-foot spectrograph in Wood’s Long Island barn was transferred and refurbished where it saw heavy use by Loomis and other scientists under Loomis’s aegis. As Wood put it, in these more hospitable surroundings, it “required
no pussycat as housemaid” (Conant, 2002, p. 49).
Loomis, who wished to meet the celebrated European physi- cists and visit their laboratories, asked Wood to go abroad with him to make introductions. The pair made two trips together, in the summers of 1926 and 1928. Thereafter, Tower House became a center for visiting scientists of the highest order from Europe or the United States, with symposia and visits from Einstein, Bohr, Fermi, Franck, Heisenberg, and many others.
In 1927, Wood and Loomis published the first paper from the Loomis Laboratory, a truly pioneering piece of work enti- tled “The Physical and Biological Effects of High-frequency Sound-waves of Great Intensity” in Wood’s favorite journal, Philosophical Magazine (more formally titled The London,
Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal
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