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Gerald Frederick Tape (1915–2005)

Published onDec 01, 2007
Gerald Frederick Tape (1915–2005)

Gerald Frederick Tape, a distinguished science statesman and administrator, died on November 20, 2005. Jerry, as he was known to all, took on many diverse and important responsibilities throughout his life and dealt with them with quiet authority and grace. This was the hallmark of his life. The Board of Trustees of Associated Universities, Inc., which he served for many years, expressed this in its condolences, writing "Jerry personified integrity, thoroughness and dedication. His sensitivity for the views of others, his sincerity, his personal commitment, his calm approach and his unfailing good humor were all greatly admired and respected."

Jerry was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on May 29, 1915 but grew up in Milan, a nearby country farm community, and in Ypsilanti where his father was Principal of Michigan State Normal College, which later became Eastern Michigan University (EMU). It was there that he first became interested in physics. It was there also that he met and courted Josephine Waffen, who later would become his wife for more than sixty-six years and fill their lives with three loving sons, Walter, James, and Thomas.

Upon graduation from EMU, Jerry was awarded a scholarship that took him to the University of Michigan where he earned a Ph.D. in Physics, researching the decay modes of the radioisotopes of iodine. In the Fall of 1939, during the waning days of the Great Depression, he was offered an Instructorship in the Physics Department of Cornell University, a promising start for a fruitful academic career. He brought his bride Jo to Ithaca and joined the cyclotron group under Robert Bacher and Willy Higginbotham while devising a laboratory course in nuclear techniques for graduate students. Bacher and Higginbotham soon left Cornell to join a new wartime laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and many other colleagues were "drafted" for war work. Bacher persuaded Jerry to join him at the MIT Radiation Laboratory in February, 1942, and the twenty-seven year old physicist started a new career developing microwave radar applications.

In his four years at the Rad Lab Jerry undertook a variety of tasks. His innate management skills were soon noted, and he served as a technical envoy to generals and admirals explaining the capabilities, and the installation and operational requirements, of this powerful new tool. He actively facilitated the installation of transponder beacons on aircraft and naval vessels. Much of his time was spent in England where he became Deputy Director of the British Branch of the Radiation Lab (BBRL). As the war ended, the Rad Lab was preparing to close, and Jerry worked with Leland Haworth, a Lab Division Leader of Radar Groups, in contributing their technical analyses to the massive permanent record of the developments and accomplishments of the past five years.

Wheeler Loomis, the Associate Director of the Rad Lab, left to assume the Chairmanship of the Physics Department at the University of Illinois. Haworth, Jerry, and other lab emeriti also decided to reestablish their careers at this distinguished institution. Jerry became an Associate Professor and returned to nuclear research working with, and upgrading, the Department's cyclotron. It was a productive and rewarding period, but it ended in 1950 when Haworth, who had left Illinois to become Director of Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), persuaded him to come to Brookhaven in a management role. Within a year he became Deputy Director of the Laboratory and started a new career in the management of big science.

The decade of the fifties was a period of dynamic growth at Brookhaven. The Cosmotron and the Research Reactor became operational, new programs were initiated, and more advanced facilities were under construction or in the design phase. Jerry had responsibility for the administrative oversight of these activities, and he exercised it with such care and thoughtfulness that he quickly became an indispensable figure in the laboratory's day-to-day operations. Haworth, as Director, was able to focus upon scientific planning and dealing with ever increasing external interactions and pressures.

Brookhaven was founded by an independent scientific management organization, Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), which in turn had been established for that very purpose by nine major, eastern, research universities. AUI managed and operated the Laboratory under contract with the Atomic Energy Commission. The corporation had a small executive staff and a Board of Trustees comprised of eighteen distinguished scientists and administrators. During the fifties the president of AUI was Lloyd V. Berkner, an active and very effective campaigner for big science projects. In this period, he worked tirelessly to convince the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support a National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). The proposal was very controversial within the astronomy community and became a divisive issue among many leading astronomers. Success came late in 1956 with NSF's decision to establish NRAO under AUI management. Founding and guiding this new institution became a major new responsibility for AUI and for Jerry Tape.

At the end of the decade, Berkner retired from AUI and Haworth became the President. It was a short-lived tenure, however, because President Kennedy asked Haworth to accept an appointment as an Atomic Energy Commissioner, which he did early in 1961. I. I. Rabi, a founding Trustee, took on the presidency temporarily and brought Jerry Tape into AUI as his special assistant and vice president. After a formal search, Jerry was elected President of AUI in 1962.

It was in these new roles that Jerry Tape had his first responsibility for overseeing the development of the NRAO. His background in radar development was a great asset, and he enthusiastically accepted the challenges that this fledgling organization faced. Of prime concern were the cost and schedule overruns resulting from design and fabrication problems that developed in the 140-foot telescope project. These had to be renegotiated with the NSF, honing skills that Jerry had already developed. In the course of this, he also made an effort to reach out and understand the astronomical community and to mend some of the rifts that accompanied the NSF's first venture into "big science."

This all changed in 1963 when President Kennedy asked Leland Haworth to become the Director of the National Science Foundation and also asked Gerald Tape to take on Haworth's role as an Atomic Energy Commissioner working under the Chairmanship of Glenn Seaborg. All five Commissioners participated in all official actions of the body, but each one had special areas of concentration of effort. With some overlap, this assured fuller and deeper coverage of the broad spectrum of issues they faced. Jerry's special interests were nuclear weapons development; research in the physical, biological, and life sciences; and international cooperation. This menu was a broad one, and for six years of full-time effort it required endless travel to laboratories, conferences, and government-to-government meetings. International delegations involved civil as well as defense programs. Formal civil exchange programs were negotiated with many nations including the USSR. Negotiations on arms control issues involved contacts with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Atoms for Peace conferences. In the national research program area, Jerry became the lead Commissioner for the establishment of what became the Fermi Laboratory and its management organization, Universities Research Association (URA). Fermi Lab soon became, and still is, the primary United States high-energy particle physics institution.

In 1969, Jerry Tape returned to AUI as president where he was welcomed enthusiastically. Both BNL and NRAO had grown and were thriving. Plans were being formulated for major new facilities, a proton collider with superconducting magnets at BNL and the Very Large Array (VLA) at NRAO. Research output was first-class at both institutions. The NRAO was steadily drawing more young astronomers into a field that was just beginning to show its promise and its indispensability.

Jerry took a great interest in the development of the VLA and interacted closely with David Heeschen, the Observatory Director, and with Jack Lancaster, the Project Director. In the middle of the decade, he helped them to steer through some rough waters created by Congressional criticisms that threatened the program. He cooperated closely with NSF and obtained the necessary support to defuse the threat. His last official act for AUI and NRAO was to preside over the grand opening celebration at the site of the VLA. It was on the last day of his presidency, October l, 1980.

Jerry Tape clearly led an exemplary life when traced through the series of successful enterprises that marked his rise to ever increasing responsibilities and contributions. But the full measure of a man is also revealed in the way he filled the smaller but unrestricted periods of time that become available to him. Jerry was first and foremost a family man and was constant in his attention and devotion to this call. The AUI trustees recognized the importance of public service and encouraged his participation in worthwhile causes as long as they did not interfere with his primary duties. The AUI staff was small but dedicated and ably maintained timely and effective communication with him in his absence. Thus, Jerry found the time to contribute to issues and organizations that were of importance in his life.

Through the last part of the sixties, Jerry served for six years as the United States Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the rank of Ambassador. It was a demanding role, not only because of the frequent trips to the Vienna headquarters, but also because there were continuous official requirements for reports and documentation. A few years later, he returned to IAEA as a member of its Scientific Advisory Committee. In the early seventies he became a member of the President's Scientific Advisory Committee (PSAC) and also a member and chair of the Defense Science Board (DSB). For many years he was a member and chair of The Nuclear Intelligence Panel (NIP) of the Central Intelligence Agency. Continuing to serve his country, Jerry soon accepted membership on The General Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Energy Research and Development Administration and in his later years worked as a consultant for the Defense Nuclear Safety Board.

Jerry did not limit himself to serving government institutions and agencies. For more than thirty years he was a Director of Science Service Inc., the organization that so successfully operated the annual Science Talent Search that challenged and energized science-oriented youths around the nation. His long association with the program reflected the great pleasure he found in the annual opportunity to interact with these exceptional young budding scientists. The list goes on: the Advisory Council of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the University of Chicago Board of Governors for Argonne National Lab, and the Atomic Industrial Forum. Each of these efforts, and others, can be described both as a labor of love and as a fulfillment of a sense of duty.

These contributions did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Jerry's life was adorned with a stream of accolades, citations, and awards. A short listing will illuminate the respect he commanded for a broad range of achievements: Army-Navy Certificate of Achievement, Meritorious Civilian Service Medal from the Secretary of Defense, Department of Defense Medal for Public Service, Henry DeWolf Smyth Nuclear Statesman Award, Distinguished Public Service Award NSF, Distinguished Associate Award DOE, Enrico Fermi Award DOE, Fellow of the American Physical Society, and Member of the National Academy of Engineering.

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