I did not train for a government career in Washington, DC. In terms of energy as a profession, it all started for me on Saturday, December 20, 1969, when I attended a meeting at Amherst College as a favor to a friend and colleague. Up until that point, I had used energy like everyone else in traditional ways, but energy was part of the background and not of particular interest. That meeting changed my life and put me on a path that I’m still pursuing 47 years later. Here is how that change came about.In 1969 I was a young physics professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, MA, anticipating a traditional academic career in teaching and research (low-temperature solid-state physics). I had arrived at UMass a year earlier, after attaining my PhD at Brown University and serving as a post-doc at Brown for 19 months. I was working hard to set up my laboratory, teach my undergraduate physics courses, and attract high-quality graduate students to work with me in the lab.In September of that year, a new member had joined the UMass Physics and Astronomy faculty, Dr. David Rittenhouse Inglis, who had just retired from Argonne National Laboratory at the age of 65. He was a distinguished theoretical physicist who had been part of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos during World War II. He was
also a founding member of the Federation of Atomic Scientists (now the Federation of American Scientists), and a leading voice in the effort to control proliferation of nuclear weapons. He was central to the successful effort to ban underground nuclear tests in the early 1960s.David came from a long line of American scientists-one of his ancestors, David Rittenhouse, was a renowned astronomer and mathematician, and served as the first director of the U.S. Mint. When he arrived in Amherst, he was engaged in writing a book on energy and arms control issues, and started teaching a new course on those topics. This was the period when science courses were being designed specifically for non-science majors who had to meet a science requirement for graduation. David’s course fit right into that requirement.Somehow this young assistant professor and this senior full professor became fast friends. Thus, a few months later when he asked me to attend a Saturday morning meeting at Amherst College to which he had been invited but was unable to attend because of a conflict, I was pleased to say yes. He asked me to observe what happened at the meeting and then report back to him but never told me in advance what the meeting was about. It turned out to be a meeting of New England citizens concerned about plans to build a nuclear power plant in Vernon, Vermont, just 30 miles north of Amherst. I attended dutifully, listened carefully, and afterwards told David what I had heard. What came out of that meeting was a new environmental group, the New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution (NECNP), dedicated to stopping the nuclear plant construction.