TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: An Incident Forty Years Ago at Bell Labs


Re: An Incident Forty Years Ago at Bell Labs


AES (siegman@stanford.edu)
Sun, 22 May 2005 07:42:57 -0700

In article <telecom24.226.4@telecom-digest.org>, Lisa Minter
<lisa_minter2001@yahoo.com> wrote:

> Forty years ago this month, at the Bell Labs offices in New Jersey,
> the suspected origin of the universe was discovered, quite by
> accident. They were not looking for that; it sort of just fell into
> their laps, and later, it got them substantial recognition.

> http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4655517&sourceCode=RSS
If you'd like to see pictures of the hardware and some of the
history that goes along with this:

http://www.stanford.edu/~siegman/cleo_plenary.pdf

(Unfortunately you have to download the whole 2.5 MB PDF presentation;
look for the two or three slides on either side of the one that says
"A Nobel in the noise . . . ")

<http://www.stanford.edu/~siegman/cleo_plenary_te.pdf>

(Same presentation but with half-size slides and the speaker's
notes.)

One of the few fundamental physical phenomena the measurement of which
was impeded by, among other things, bird poop.

This wasn't the first time that someone measuring noise at Bell Labs
had made a fundamental physical discovery. Physicists these days, and
even electrical engineers, often call it "Nyquist noise": e_n^ 2 = 4
kTRB in the classical limit.

But in fact it was a Bell Labs engineer, J. R. Johnson, trying to
track down the source of noise in early triode amplifiers, who
observed that some of this noise seemed to come from the grid bias
resistor.

So he performed extensive experiments using all kinds of different
resistances (carbon, wire wound, even some liquid-cell resistors, at
different temperatures); and concluded that they all seemed to contain a
universal noise source

e_n^ 2 4.0 (+/- 0.07) kTRB

After he published a lengthy, total experimental paper on this:

[1] J. R. Johnson, "Thermal agitation of electricity in conductors,"
Phys. Rev., vol. 32, pp. 97--109, 1928.

his Bell Labs colleague wrote a brief, remarkably simple quantum
derivation of the same result, in its full quantum form.

[2] H. Nyquist, "Thermal agitation of electric charge in conductors,"
Phys. Rev., vol. 32, pp. 110--113, 1928.

and laid the basis for pretty much all of our understanding of thermal
noise, circuit noise, maser and laser noise, and their connections to
thermodynamics and blackbody radiation today.

> Forty years ago this month, at the Bell Labs offices in New Jersey,
> the suspected origin of the universe was discovered, quite by
> accident. They were not looking for that; it sort of just fell into
> their laps, and later, it got them substantial recognition.

> http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4655517&sourceCode=RSS

In my first response I pointed out an earlier, related, and also quite
fundamental discovery at Bell Labs made almost eighty years ago; and
cited the references

[1] J. R. Johnson, "Thermal agitation of electricity in
conductors," Phys. Rev., vol. 32, pp. 97--109, 1928.

[2] H. Nyquist, "Thermal agitation of electric charge in
conductors," Phys. Rev., vol. 32, pp. 110--113, 1928.

Just to push this a little further, if you want to read these early
Phys Rev papers you can go to the American Physical Society's "PROLA"
web site <http://prola.aps.org/> and download copies of these classic
early Bell Labs contributions for free.

In fact, the _entire_ massive print run of Phys Rev all the way back to
Vol. 1, No. 1, in _1893_ is available on line at this site.

But suppose you want to read about some of the Bell Labs work which
laid the foundations for the forty year ago accomplishment that Lisa
Minter has (very justifiably) noted above; two of them are

[1] R. W. DeGrasse, E. O. Schulz-DuBois, and H. E. D. Scovil, "The
three-level solid state traveling wave maser," Bell Sys. Tech.
J., vol. 38, pp. 305--335, 1959.

[2] A. B. Crawford, D. C. Hogg, and L. E. Hunt, "Project Echo: A
horn antenna for space communication," Bell Sys. Tech. J., pp.
1095--1099, 1961.

Well, the Bell System Technical Journal (BSTJ) -- which in its full
print run since 1928 has presented not just these papers, but numerous
fundamental papers on the invention of waveguides, Shannon's
communication theory, North's fundamental noise and signal theory
papers, important early papers in quantum theory and chemistry, many
fundamental papers on lasers including all the pioneering papers on
laser resonators, and many others -- IS NOT AVAILABLE ON LINE, IN
SCANNED OR ELECTRONIC FORM, ANYWHERE.

Trying to get this situation changed has been one of my pet hobby
horses for some time. If any telecom readers and/or Bell Labs alumni
have any way to help make it happen, it would be very much worth
doing.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: If you are able to make this happen,
I'd feel honored to make them part of the Telecom Archives files, as
was done with the Western Union Tech Review files. PAT]

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