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Martin Mandelberg’s Interview

Manhattan Project Locations:

Dr. Martin Mandelberg is an engineer who is writing a biography on his doctoral advisor, Manhattan Project mathematician Richard Hamming. In this interview, Mandelberg discusses his work at General Dynamics, the Naval Underwater Sound Lab, SAIC, the Defense Department, and other jobs. He provides an overview of Hamming’s life and career, highlighting Hamming’s many important contributions to computing at Los Alamos and Bell Labs, and Hamming’s passion for solving big problems. Mandelberg also praises Hamming’s mentorship of his graduate students.

Date of Interview:
March 16, 2018
Location of the Interview:


Cindy Kelly: I’m Cindy Kelly. It is Friday March 16, 2018. I’m in Washington, DC, and I have with me Martin Mandelberg. My first question for him is to please tell us your name and spell it.

Martin Mandelberg: Absolutely. My name is Martin Mandelberg. M-A-R-T-I-N. M-AN-D-E-L-B-E-R-G.

Kelly: That’s perfect. We would like to know, in a snapshot, an overview of who you are: when you born and where, and your education and career.

Mandelberg: Absolutely. I was born October 12, 1946 in the Bronx, New York. Grew up in northern New Jersey, Hackensack High School. A mediocre student, B minus. 

Followed a second cousin to Drexel Institute of Technology, now Drexel University, in Philadelphia. Five-year program in all electrical engineering, cooperative education program. During that time, I learned how to learn. I overall graduated with like a 2.7 grade point average on a 4 scale, but my last two years were A’s and B’s. I had to overcome the freshman, sophomore, “How do I possibly do college?”

I then started a seventeen-year career as an electrical design engineer, first for General Dynamics Corporation and then ten years with the Navy at the Naval Underwater Sound Lab, changed to Naval Underwater Systems Center, in New London, Connecticut. During that time, I designed hardware and software systems for sonar underwater tracking devices, communication devices for submarine surface ships and ground stations. A number of my developments as a hardware engineer are still operational today in the Navy.

As a result of not doing too many things wrong and a few things right, I was rewarded with promotions and a total of three graduate fellowships for my Master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, for a Master of Arts in strategy and national security at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Then in 1977, I was awarded a full fellowship for a year at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California where I, four and a half years and a lot of gray hairs later, achieved my PhD in electrical engineering with honors, with minors in math and computer science. 

After completing my doctorate, I went to the Coast Guard for three years, and became head of the electronics and navigation section of the Coast Guard. I was there three and a half years. I ended up running the branch for the last year and a half. During that time, I worked on precision navigation. The precursor of GPS satellites that are in your cell phones used to be large boxes that made ships navigate better than they could before. Technology has been wonderful since. Early computers, programs, and a large database information management system for the Coast Guard aids in navigation: that was my next significant project, which I received a national award on.

After leaving the Coast Guard because they were cutting back on research due to budget cuts, I went to General Dynamics for one year and started working on proposals and classified information systems. At that time, I had finished my doctorate. My wife had finished her Master’s. My wife is Lois Marie Mandelberg, and we’ve now been married thirty-eight years. Our younger son had graduated high school, and we chose to come to Washington.

I had accepted a position in private industry. I called my friend down here and said, “Where does one live in northern Virginia if I’m going to work in Tysons Corner?” It turns out that he was part of a special program at the Pentagon to support national defense programs in the middle of the Cold War.

He says, “How did you know we were talking about you?”

I said, “What?”

Because he was a classmate of mine at Monterey. He got his Master’s and I got my doctorate. He says, “We need a chief scientist.”

I said, “Where are you?”

He says, “Office of Secretary of Defense on a joint program.”

Cut the story short, they invited me down. I had an interview, and I was in three hours given a political appointeeship to work for the Secretary of Defense. They gave me the level of a GM-15. I had previously been a GS-14. They matched the salary that industry was offering me. During that three years and seven months working for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, I worked on some major national programs, some of which are still classified. The success of the group of people I was with enabled us to achieve some national goals. I was rewarded with my second major medal, the Director’s Award from the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

At that time, I chose to leave government service after seventeen years, for reasons that if you’re interested, you’ll ask me and I’ll go into. But a little controversial, but not on my part. Just the people I was working with. Well, I’ll say it. The people I was working with, I started to question their ethics.

This was in the end of ‘86 beginning of ’87. Not the direct people I was working for, the senior people who were directing political decisions on technical and managerial and military programs. I decided that I was going to speak truth to power and not follow what they were wanting me to do. So I passed up a senior executive service position at age forty.

Went to private industry, had a wonderful career in a company called Science Applications International Corporation [SAIC].

During those seventeen years, I was on the corporate staff of the president, Dr. Robert Beyster, who hired me. When I joined the company, it was 5,000 individuals producing about $500 million a year in revenue and we didn’t make any physical devices, like airplanes like Lockheed did. At the end of seventten years, those 5,000 people Dr. Beyster, with some help from me, grew the company to 43,000 people and $8 billion a year. It was an employee-owned company called Science Applications International Corporation.

And, it became, for similar reasons of questioning the ethics of some of the people above me—I had been reporting directly to the board. I was a corporate officer for the last four years as a senior vice president. I was on the board of part of SAIC for fifteen years. I decided to leave and form my own company, Mandelberg Consulting Group.

I consulted to academia, government and industry on strategic planning and government contracts, mergers and acquisitions, employee stock ownership plans, technology. Along the way, I taught college and for ten years—actually, eleven years, twenty-two semesters, a series of colleges which are in my resume. Fully retired three years ago at age 68 to enjoy my grandchildren.

Kelly:  You had mentioned as we were getting ready for the interview, several moments in which you were working in nuclear issues, and maybe it was scattered throughout your career. Is that correct?

Mandelberg: That’s correct.

Kelly:  There were a few things you wanted to mention.

Mandelberg: I’ll mention them short, and if you have more questions we’ll go into it.

In 1962 or ’63, I was a junior in high school in northern New Jersey. The Atomic Energy Commission wanted people to build fallout shelters, and they wanted young high school and college students to be proponents for it and facilitate the calculations for bomb shelters. So they “certified” people if you took this test—studied, and took this test. I have a certification from the Atomic Energy Commission that I passed the course in fallout shelter design. I never put that to any practical use.

At Drexel, which was a cooperative education program—it takes five years to get a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering degree, but there are no free long vacations. Drexel’s program after your first year, you alternate six months of school. The school ran on the quarterly system, so two quarters of school and then six months working in a paid position in industry as a junior engineer and an engineer.

Three major companies I worked for: General Signal Company in Rochester, New York—nothing related to nuclear—and Lockheed Missile and Space Company in Sunnyvale, California. I was twenty, became twenty-one years old when I was out there, and I was involved in instrumenting and testing scale model versions of the Navy’s Poseidon Missile, which was a submarine launch multiple nuclear warheads missile. At that time, it was applied for me and I received top secret clearances, since it involved a nuclear warhead. That was 1966.

Upon completing my program at Drexel and graduating, because of my clearance and my experience testing scale models of the missile’s warhead—General Dynamics electric boat division in Groton, Connecticut, had the contract to put that new nuclear missile on nuclear or atomic submarines. They discovered that [my qualifications], interviewed me and paid a premium to have me come to work for them. For a year, I helped instrument the testing of the first missile launch of the Poseidon. Along the way, they also spent an extra effort and gave me about 150 hours training in the Navy reactor, the S5G made by General Electric.

I had occasion to be instrumenting a nuclear reactor sitting on top of a submarine at 3:00 in the morning with a crew of people that I was junior to, but I was operating the early digital computers at that time. I think it was a PDP-1 or 2. Very early. There were no screens, there weren’t keyboards. There were paper tape input and paper output. You really didn’t have screens and keyboards like you have today with tablets and laptops. This was 1969.

I recall at 3:00 in the morning, I’m there clicking the buttons on the computer and hitting the enter, putting a basic code instruction into a computer and basically programming it putting in data. It’s 3:00 in the morning and we’re in a metal trailer, say 15 x 50-foot-long, that was bolted on top of a brand-new nuclear submarine. It was the SSN-671 [misspoke: SSN-674], the Trepang. It had just come off the launch area. It was now floating. The reactor was on board.

Since I was trained with the reactors, I and other people were initially starting up the reactor getting neutron flow, getting early, early, controlled fission. I feel behind me the presence of somebody. I look around, and everyone like in militaries is braced against the bulkhead. I turn around, and I’m about six foot one. There was a five foot one individual, white hair, open collar, white shirt glaring up at me with his chin, and I didn’t know who he was. He said, “How is everything going?”

I said, “Fine.” I shrugged and turned around and went back to work. It was Admiral Hyman Rickover. He was checking the people working on his boat, because it was his boat, his reactor. He was the admiral in charge of Navy nuclear. He’s the father of the nuclear Navy. That was my experience with him then.

After a year, General Dynamics had a large layoff and like most bureaucracies, they have a simple policy. The last 5,000 people hired were fired, regardless of your success and what you did in that period of time.

I was without a job. I had a couple weeks’ notice. I was able to get a position with the government at the Naval Underwater Sound Lab in New London, Connecticut, because of my nuclear background and electronics background. One of my early projects involved a nuclear reactor.

The reactor was a SNAP-21 radioisotope generator. Basically, it was a couple of pounds of strontium-90 in a heavy thick container. There’s some of them on the moon. There’s some of them in outer space. It produces heat. With thermocouples, the heat creates electricity, and the electricity was needed for an underwater beacon.

As a design engineer, I was given the job of coming up with early electronics to marry with this, and it was used in a military sonar system off the island of Bermuda. That was important in the Cold War. Because of my clearance, I could handle it. I published a paper on that in 1971, one of my first publications with the IEEE transactions and ocean engineering. That was nuclear.

Direct involvement with anything atomic or nuclear? Yes, after I completed my doctorate in 1982 when working for the government, I had reasons to have some classified programs done at national laboratories. One of them was Bell Labs in New Jersey, and one of them was Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico. I had reasons to go out and expend some government money on some research and development and prototypes of systems. That was the last time I had direct involvement with anything related to atomic energy or nuclear. 

Kelly: You have a passion, which is to write about Richard Hamming. Tell us about him. Who is Richard Hamming?

Mandelberg: In 1915, Richard Wesley Hamming was born in Chicago. Grew up in Chicago all of his life, in fact, in one or two apartments three blocks apart, his whole life. He grew up in a normal inner-city. In his own writings, he said he grew up poor and decided he didn’t want to be poor.

He applied himself and it turned out he was a very good mathematician in the Depression. At age twelve in 1927, 1929, his mathematical skills were evident. He went to Crane Technical High School, which is like a Boston Latin, or an equivalent in major cities. It was one of the better technical and professional schools. He graduated near the top of his class. The exact level I’ll find out, but it’s on the web. And wanted to be an electrical engineer.

He graduated high school about 1932, middle of the Depression. There were no scholarships at the University of Chicago, which is where he wanted to go, in electrical engineering. In fact, there wasn’t an electrical engineering department, and there still isn’t at the University of Chicago.

He was offered a full fellowship in mathematics, which he took and graduated with his Bachelor of Science. He did two years of community college, and then two years at the University of Illinois. That was the solution that was proposed, and he did well. He then went on for his Master’s degree and ultimately his PhD, first at the University of Wisconsin and then his doctorate at University of Illinois.

His doctoral advisor—it’s in my book—was [Waldemar] Trjitzinsky. It was a mathematical PhD. Along the way, he met Wanda Little, a person who got her Master’s degree a few months, plus or minus, from his doctoral degree. They had gone together for a few years. She’s four years younger than him, also from Chicago. She has a master’s in teaching and mathematics. Upon graduation, they get married and have a sixty-year life together.

They went off to teach. This is 1943, ’42, ‘43 he’s graduated college. The war is on. For reasons not yet clear to me, he was not directly involved in the military. He’s still in Chicago and he’s teaching at the nearby college.

After three years of teaching algebra and mathematics to military officers who were going to college, he received a phone call from a friend to say, “There’s something interesting going out here in New Mexico. Why don’t you come out and help?”

He might have had an idea, because University of Chicago was involved in the nuclear program at that timeframe. He speaks very little of that, and I’m still researching for my book, what was happening in Chicago at the timeframe and what he might have been exposed to through faculty or research.

He in fact got on the train with his wife and went out to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and then up the hill to Los Alamos. His direct boss was Hans Bethe and his wife Rose, which you’ve interviewed on your Foundation. Hamming was at that time twenty-nine years old. He was given the job of figuring out how to run this new thing that IBM had just delivered. I think it was serial number two or three, effectively the first operational digital computer.

Prior to that, math was done on the blackboard or with an old-fashioned click, click pull down the corner calculator, which you show some allusion to about the women and the math in Los Alamos. And analog computers, which Richard Feynman, [Enrico] Fermi, [J. Robert] Oppenheimer, and others were using with only modest precision. Because an analog computer only has say two digits or at most three digits of accuracy like a slide rule. Then this digital computer came along and had 8, 10, 12 digits of accuracy. 

I have not confirmed, but I believe Richard Hamming was involved. Well, I knew he was involved in verifying the designs of the bombs that the physicist had come up with. During his eighteen months there, he ran the computers, helped the physicists turn their questions into math and run it on a digital computer, which is totally different than running it on an analog computer. Produced results, and I believe his results had impact on the design and the success of Trinity, Little Boy and Fat Man. 

In fact, Hamming was so excited about this computer simulation of a digital computer of a real-world phenomena, something that he hadn’t worked on in his life, after Manhattan Project ended, after Japan surrendered, he stayed for a number of months at Los Alamos and documented how the computers were used to successfully satisfy the physicists. This whole field of computer simulation, of things that used to be done in the lab and were now done with numerical methods on computers, was a field that would drive the rest of Hamming’s life.

Soon afterwards, he was offered a position at AT&T Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. His boss was [George] Stibitz––I may be pronouncing it wrong––who had also been at Los Alamos. Because of his work at Los Alamos, he was invited to join the theoretical math and computer department at Bell Labs.

During that time, he ended up staying there for thirty years and retired as the vice president of research at Bell Labs. He had three patents for some beautiful things in mathematics and computer science. He worked with five individuals who would win Nobel prizes while at Bell Labs. One of them was Claude Shannon, the father of computer science. In fact, Hamming and Shannon were officemates for a period of time in 1946.

After a successful thirty-year career, three patents, two books, some of which are still in their second or third edition, Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers. This practical mathematician who was part engineer, part mathematician; he had taught as a visiting professor at five universities: Princeton, Stevens [Institute of Technology], City College of New York, Stanford, and UCLA at Irving. He would take his sabbaticals during his three years and go teach or in the case of Princeton, which was nearby, he taught statistics in the evening in the 1950s. More details of this will be in the book that I’m coming out with.

After a thirty-year successful career financially and personally, he chose to retire with a full retirement from AT&T Bell Labs, because he wanted the money that Bell was spending to go to the younger researchers. Because there is a phenomena later in life: newer ideas and inventions are somewhat harder, and the younger people full of energy and the willingness to work eighty hours a week, he wanted the money left to them.

He, for reasons that his wife chose, chose the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey California. He arranged for and was awarded a full professorship in computer science.

I need to back up. In 1968, because of his work, Richard Wesley Hamming was awarded the highest prize in mathematics [misspoke: computer science]. It’s called the Turing or A. M. Turing Award. It is offered by the Association from Computing Machinery. Back then, its prize was—in 1968—besides a medal, a gold medal, $100,000, which was about ten to fifteen years’ salary. A significant prize. Today, the Turing award—and the 52nd Turing was just awarded—comes with a million-dollar prize. It is the Nobel Prize of mathematics [misspoke: computer science]. It’s referred to as that. Hamming was awarded that in 1968. Much of his other work followed. He had financial means.

He and his wife had chosen not to have any children. I won’t go into why, because he never discussed it. I believe his work was so important, he felt it wouldn’t be fair to the children because both he and his wife had full lives. Let me leave that there.

He went to the Naval Postgraduate School in California, which was a coup for the Naval Postgraduate School, because not many universities have Nobel laureates or the equivalent. In fact, he’s the only laureate at the Nobel level, even though his was the Turing. The only other quote “equivalent” level math award is the Fields Medal, and that’s given only every four years and it must be given within ten years after receiving your doctorate. In Hamming’s case, that wasn’t applicable.

But the Turing and the Association of Computing Machine, which Hamming later was at one point the president of, that and his other successes at Bell Labs, which I’ll be writing about more my book, made him famous and very valuable to the Naval Postgraduate School.

He chose to be a professor there. He taught courses, he wrote seven more books, about another forty articles, and had a number of Master’s students. He didn’t want a lot of them, because it takes a lot of time to mentor a graduate student. He wanted to do his research, he wanted to write his books. He was still an active researcher and reviewer of technical articles.

Along the way, a young Navy electrical engineer was given a fellowship to the Naval Postgraduate School, went out, completed the coursework, started on the research and ran into a technical problem: a mismatch with his advisor. The advisor had a certain way of doing things. The student had a different way. That conflict ultimately ended up with the advisor saying, “You’re not going to graduate. You need to go see another professor, because your math is not good enough. You can’t prove theoretical things,” and that’s what PhDs in 1977, ’78, did. 

Hamming was a mathematician, so this student went to Hamming. Hamming listened to what the student had to say. Asked a lot of questions. Reviewed the first three chapters of his dissertation, and then put him through a series of tests. The student passed the test, and Hamming says, “Okay. I’ll be your doctoral advisor.” That saved that student’s life. That student was me.

Hamming had a number of—I believe nine Master’s students, and I was his doctoral student. It took me an additional three years and in 1982, I was awarded my doctorate and it impacted positively my career, my life, and my way of dealing with complex problems.

So I am writing a scholarly—hopefully scholarly–, we’ll see what the reviewers say––biography of Richard Wesley Hamming. Its title is, “Richard Wesley Hamming: Man, Mathematician, Mentor.” It’s about what he did for me and other people.

The analogy I like to use is—there’s a quote, “A person’s legacy should not be limited to what they accomplish in their lifetime. It should include what they enabled in individuals from the next generation.” This is why a college professor teaches. Hamming influenced a number of people.

In closing, I wish I had started this project twenty years ago, twenty-five years ago, when Hamming was still alive. He died in 1998. His wife of sixty years, Wanda Little Hamming, died ten years ago in 2008. They had no children.

I’m having to research by sources, by people who knew him, by children or cousins or relatives of people who might have known him and are helping me fill the book. The book will appear in 2008 [misspoke: 2018]. The first article is being submitted to the ACM [Association for Computing Machinery] this month, is complete and about much of what I just said, and the details of how he helped me.

Kelly: What was Hamming’s personality like?

Mandelberg: Hamming was an interesting person. He was brought up without much religion in his life, or I haven’t been able to find a strong religious—I’m sorry, let me say some. On a scale of one to ten maybe a four, not a two. Without children, he was devoted to his wife. She was devoted to him. I met her. I knew her. I had a meal with them, while I was a young student. He was my advisor when I was thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four. I graduated when I was thirty-five years old.

He and his wife like to—well, didn’t socialize the way people do today. They did not have a lot of friends. They had a few close friends. I’ve talked to some of them, and I have some anecdotes of their life in the last twenty years.

During the time at Bell Labs, it’s hard, 1946 to ’76, most of those people who would’ve known them are either at a point—and likewise of Los Alamos, I’m hoping for some more information of someone who might have known him. Rose Bethe, if she could hear this, I would love if someone who knows Rose’s story of the Hammings, because Richard Hamming worked for her husband Hans. Rose was, I believe, in the housing office for a period of time and might have in fact chosen the housing that the Hammings lived in, so she would have known Wanda.

I know Richard and Wanda Hamming liked to dance. I have pictures and information of them dancing, photographs. I know he liked poetry. In fact, he wrote some poetry. Never published. It was in his personal files, which have been made available to me from the Dudley Knox Library at the Naval Postgraduate School. His wife left the content of his office and his personal office at home to the school, where it stayed in a special collection set of eight boxes for nineteen and a half years. With the exception of one professor who was working on the video of his courses, they were unseen. Likewise, his work at Bell Labs have not been seen by anyone for the last thirty years. The archivist of Bell Labs has enabled me to have access to those.

I’m trying to pull the picture—I mean, I have high school yearbook, college yearbook. But as far as people who were alive at the same time he was, there are precious few that are available for me to catch their anecdotes now. I’m having to go through the children of, or the students who received a Master’s degree under his tutelage to understand what he was like in his last twenty years of his life.

Some thought him a little reserved. Again, he was a Turing Award winner, and some people thought he was a little intellectual. He thought he was maybe a little better than other people. Some people might agree, he was a little better. Some of the people he worked with were little put off by him.

He had humor. He liked puns. He wore, in the pictures of him, you’ll see a bright red plaid jacket. He wore it for a reason. He says, “It’s attention-getting.” While at Bell Labs, he decided, “If I’m going to be effective,”––one of his words––“I need to be noticed. I need to learn how to speak well. I need to learn how to write well to get my ideas across, as any good scientist.”

The plaid jacket at some point became his signature. In many of his courses and videos, he’s wearing this bright Tartan red jacket, and he’s Dutch by heritage. He chose that for some reason. He had at least four of those jackets, so one was always clean. I believe one was behind his door in his office, because over half the time I saw him, he had one of the four red jackets on. Many of the pictures, and the picture of that will be on my article, shows him and that very distinctive jacket.

He and his wife were involved in a number of things, but not as a socially popular level. He has a couple of good friends who are still alive. One is Professor Herschel Loomis, who is helping me in reviewing my first article and giving me advice and giving me anecdotes, because he was Hamming’s probably best friend for the last fifteen or twenty years of his life, when they were both professors at Monterey. A very valuable person, for that last twenty years, and his wife also.

Hamming, in summary, was like many professors who had receive international acclaim. He didn’t waste time. He was driven. Like the Russell Crowe movie “A Beautiful Mind” where the person was fixated on getting his stuff done, Hamming was fixated on having insight into problems.

His most memorable book, it was actually his second book—and it’s actually, I believe, in its third or fourth or higher printing and in many languages, including Russian—is entitled Numerical Methods for Scientists and Engineers. It had a subtitle, which is a quote that is most alluded to for Hamming. The subtitle is very succinctly, “The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers.” You do a computation because you may take an action. You need insight to make the right choice, whether the number is seven or nine. The accuracy of the number, if it doesn’t affect the decision, is a calculation that doesn’t need to be made. He drove to work on big problems. He didn’t want to spend time on trivial. That probably isolated him from a lot of people who didn’t want to learn how to solve big problems.

Another Hamming quote is, “You have to be prepared to invest 10,000 hours in order to really know a field if you’re going to make a major contribution.” That, interestingly, is equivalent to about the number of hours I worked on my dissertation, and many others are. Those of people who will see this interview may well identify with the amount of effort it takes to make a significant or meaningful—a better word—meaningful contribution at the doctoral level. It has to be original work. It has to be complete. It has to stand the test of time. Your work should not be disproved two years later. Good work lasts. To do that, Hamming’s quote was “10,000 hours.” Translate that into how many hours a day you work, and you can get whatever years it takes.

He drove to work on big problems. He used computers to gain insight. The number itself was—even though he was a mathematician, he was a mathematician, an engineer, he was a problem solver. He used mathematics. And not higher math, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson might use astrophysics to describe something in the universe. That wasn’t Hamming’s domain. He was interested in how algebra was taught. He spent a period of time deciding, “Here’s a better way to teach algebra.” Wrote a textbook, which is still being used today. He decided, “Probability and statistics needed a makeover.”

During his 50+ year career, he morphed about five times from numerical methods, to calculus, to probability, to digital filtering, to engineering, and finally how to do research. During his last four or five years at the Naval Postgraduate School, he taught what I will call his capstone course, which is how to do research. It was called “Hamming on Hamming.” Its videos, the Naval Postgraduate School is working to put it in high quality and it will be put in an archive that I’m happily to be helping set up. So that all of the findings that I’m allowed to put in that archive will be available to future researchers, mathematicians, students, college professors.

His “Hamming on Hamming” was a sixteen or twenty-week lecture where he would—stand usually in his plaid jacket—and from memory, because it was his words, enthrall an audience of probably a couple thousand students have seen this course. It’s like the Feynman lectures at UCLA. His course has been seen internationally and in fact, will be taught next semester at the Naval Postgraduate School. I’ve been asked to consider coming out and giving a couple of the lectures, since I believe I may be the only student, only person who spent three years with Hamming while he was developing some of this work. His work was phenomenal in its effectiveness.

Hamming was more interested in effectiveness than winning awards. He won a number of awards. But he liked to teach. He liked to mentor. He did not like to waste time. He spent from the time in Bell Labs, through all his time in Monterey, with something he called “Great Thoughts Hours.” It was Friday. Every Friday afternoon, he would devote to sitting and thinking about big problems, and talking about it with whoever you could. He would come into your office and say, “Have you ever thought of—?” And he’s already spent a thousand hours thinking of this.

He would bounce an idea off the graduate students and the other professors. Sometimes, their answers would reaffirm something he was doing. On occasion, their answers would make and veer off into a totally new direction. He would jump up and say, “Thank you!” and run out of the room, and then write a paper and get recognized for doing something else.

He believed in closure. He didn’t seem to care a lot of what people might’ve thought of him. He was comfortable in his own skin, doing things the Hamming way.

Kelly: Sounds a lot like Richard Feynman.

Mandelberg: In many senses. Remember, he worked with Feynman. Feynman was around the same age or a little older. Feynman, besides keeping the analog computers going—I don’t think Feynman had his doctorate quite yet, or sometime during Manhattan [Project] or soon thereafter he was awarded his doctorate.

In one sense, they were probably friends. Hamming mentions Feynman. Feynman I think alludes a little bit to Hamming, but no great detail. They were I wouldn’t say in competition; Hamming was a mathematician, Feynman was a physicist. But they both worked on related projects. I wouldn’t be surprised if they in fact didn’t talk at both a professional and social level. There’s a similarity, Feynman was eloquent. Hamming was eloquent. They grew up of the same era. They both wanted to excel, and they both did.

Feynman got the PhD. Hamming got the Turing and also the [Eduard] Rhein [Foundation] Award two years before he died from a University in Germany, which also came with $100,000 prize. Much recognition. His books are in six or seven languages. I’ve had occasion to meet members of the Russian Academy of Science at an international conference, where I happened to be presenting my doctoral results and my CV was available. At a cocktail party, two members of the Russian Academy of Science came over and said, “Dr. Mandelberg, thank you for your keynote speech. It was very interesting. So your Hamming’s student?” That and many other things he did are very powerful to me.

Kelly:  I know at the time, you were the only doctoral student. Are you the only doctoral student he had ever, or where there others?

Mandelberg: He had Master’s students where he was either—I have all the information. He had nine students that he was either on the Master’s Committee, or the advisor. He may have been on another doctoral committee. I believe, from everything I’ve been able to find, I am the only doctoral student where he was the primary advisor, and I spent three plus years with him.

I am still looking to see if there’s somebody else. But when he was a visiting professor, he would teach courses and did not have students. I believe all of his students were during the period of the ‘80s at postgraduate school. I have the copies of the thesis and the abstracts and the signature page. He only appears as primary advisor for a couple of Master’s students’ thesis, which is typically a one or two semester effort.

My effort to over three years to complete, and I have not yet discovered—I would welcome another doctoral student who Hamming was there, because the closure of my book, the last chapter, is on the mentorship, what Hamming did. It’s my intent to speak with and communicate with each of the people who he influenced, including the doctoral and the Master’s students, and ask for their story of how Hamming’s mentorship enabled them to succeed.

Hamming’s work is valuable. His Turing Award was for error correcting codes. It is a way of representing information with additional bits, such that, the communications you enjoy today—the cell phone, the text, the email, the music, the video—comes through error-free, even though it goes through a communications channel. Error correcting codes, which was a patent that Hamming has—I have the documents of the patent in his notebook awarded at Bell Labs—enables things like error-free communications, DVDs, CDs, email, whose words don’t get garbled. It corrects away.

That is what most of Hamming’s awards—and there are number of them from the IEEE, the National Academy of Engineering, the Rhein, the Franklin Institute, the ACM [Association for Computing Machinery], American Mathematical Society, are pretty much related to his earliest work at Bell. Typically, it’s the young researcher who comes—they’re rewarded for the young work.

Hamming commented to me once, “Albert Einstein is one of the few people who received in a Nobel Prize for his doctoral dissertation. Most people, it’s the work afterwards.”

Hamming gave me a quote when I completed my degree. He says, “Okay, Marty.”

I said, “Yes, Dr. Hamming.” I was Marty, he was Dr. Hamming, until I was Dr. Marty. 

He says, “Your doctoral degree is not supposed to be your best work. It’s supposed to be your first work. You have learned how to be a researcher. Now go forth and do more, and teach and write and present.” I hope I’ve lived up to the challenge he gave me. 

Kelly: Do you want to make a specific appeal at this point?

Martin: I do. Thank you. Since Richard Hamming was born in January of 1915, if he were alive today, he would be 103. Anyone who was a teacher of him that might have been older is probably not hearing these words. Children of them might be. While he was at Los Alamo’s or at Bell Labs, he might have had younger individuals who might be alive, or their children who might be alive, who would have some anecdotes or facts.

I would hope that those who hear these words or read the transcript of this interview or read my first two articles of the book, would help me complete a thorough scholarly tribute biography of Richard Hamming by correcting where I misinterpreted, and if there are errors of interpretation they’re mine. But my footnotes and references are pretty extensive. I really try to have source material for most of the things I say, as many as possible.

Where I’ve omitted or misconstrued something, I would love corrections in a revised version that I will publish. But I will be publishing a book this year. I don’t know what publisher it will be. Maybe it will be the ACM or the IEEE. But it’s my goal to get a large circulation. Both the major journals in the ACM and the IEEE are monthly journals with 100,000 readership. It’s my intent to attempt to publish there. I may use some blogs. I may use some other methodology.

It’s not going to be a standard textbook. I don’t want to wait the year and a half. Because as time goes, those few people with the ability to fill in the holes are getting older. I’m not doing this for profit. There will be no profit to me for the publishing of this book. I’m doing this as a tribute for person who saved my life.

Kelly:  How old were you when you were saved?

Mandelberg: I was born in 1946, October. The saving happened when he agreed to be my advisor and replace the other person, who no longer wanted to be my advisor, which is a terrifying thing, for a young person to be rejected by an advisor. But there was a disconnect. My bad. I chose the wrong advisor. He had a way of doing things. I was young, and probably little brash and had my way of doing things. The article, I go a little into that. But I don’t blame that advisor, and I thank him for sending me to Hamming.

I was sent to Hamming in approximately October of 1978, so I was thirty-one, just approaching my thirty-second birthday. I graduated in June of ’82, so before October of ’82, before my thirty-sixth [birthday], so I was thirty-five when I completed. In that period of time, from three and a half years from my thirty-second birthday to just before my thirty-sixth birthday, Richard Hamming was the most instrumental influence, except for my wife, in my life. Thank you, Lois, my wife of thirty-eight plus years. In allowing me to hopefully become a good researcher. Hopefully live up to the challenge that he gave me.

Sidebar. My wife said, she got her Master’s and I got my doctorate twelve days apart. She says, “Okay I’ll support the family if you want to sit home and do research. But you better have dinner ready.” That turned out not to be necessary, the support. The dinner, we tried to work on together.

Did I answer your question?

Kelly:  Yeah, that was great. It was great. Well, I hope this comes to pass that people do see this interview and contact you.

Mandelberg: I would welcome that. Please include my email address in the transcript, which is mandelbergm at hotmail dot com. I would welcome email from anyone who wishes, and once initial email contact I’ll go over, but if they wish, I will travel to get source material, copies of. I would welcome pictures anecdotes, source material relevant to Richard Hamming, Richard Wesley Hamming the man, Richard Wesley Hamming, the mathematician, and specifically the mentorship. That’s sort of the theme of my book, because that’s the tribute I wish to make.

Kelly: Terrific.

Mandelberg: Thank you.

Kelly: That’s fabulous. Is there anything else that you want to add?

Mandelberg: My wife has allowed me to work on this project for about fifteen months, so I think it’ll be another mind nine months, so it’s a two-year effort. I enjoy writing. During my fifty plus year career as an engineer and a strategist and a scientist both in government and industry and academia, and my own private company, I’ve enjoyed writing.

A biography is a challenge. You need a good coach. You need a good editor. I’ve known the value of an editor. I’ve recently learned the value of a coach. A shout out to Carla Hunt, my coach from Naval Postgraduate School on reading and turning my engineer English into hopefully author English, and improving upon my writing style and editing. She has a degree from Berkeley in creative writing. She’s involved in a number of books. She is a significant help in hopefully making this a worthy tribute.

When I finish this, I have a couple of other books in mind. One related to the value and interaction that may not be known—much of the research in this country, many people think was government-funded or academically funded. In fact, since around the year 1900, much of the valuable research in this company came out of industry. [00:54:00] Edison, Corning, Sarnoff, RCA Labs, General Electric, private companies choosing to put their earnings back into research.

In many cases, for applied programs, the government puts money in like weapon systems or communication systems. But the basic research that enabled much of what we enjoy today, was funded by industry. I have a number of people who are encouraging me to write that story. That may be my next book.       

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