Aden Goes to War
Aden B. Meinel
An OSA past president reminisces about
his wartime experiences.
Courtesy of Aden Meinel
Aden Meinel has led a distinguished career
in optics. In 1952, he won the Adolph Lomb
medal. He went on to become the founding
director of the Optical Sciences Center at the
University of Arizona in 1970. Two years
later, he took o ce as the president of OSA.
In 1980, he received an Ives Medal.
Meinel also earned distinction in the
field of astrophysics. He was the associate
director of the Yerkes Observatory in 1953;
he served on the site survey team for the
National Astronomical Observatory from
1955 to1957; and he was put in charge
of construction of the Kitt Peak National
Observatory and became its first director.
Back in 1940, Meinel was 18 years
old and just starting college at Caltech. He
had a part-time job as an apprentice in
the optical fabrication laboratory of Roger
Hayward. ere, he learned how to grind
and polish lenses, and how to make aspheric
Schmidt corrector plates for telescopes. Aden
had a girlfriend, Marjorie Petit, whose
father was an astronomer working with the
150-foot solar telescope at Mount Wilson.
Not long ago, an old friend mentioned
those early days. Aden responded by writing
his reminiscences, which are presented here
almost verbatim. He is now retired and living in southern Nevada. He remains active
and continues to write about astronomy.
– John N. Howard
What a wonderful surprise to
get an echo of years long past.
Back in those days, I was working with
Roger Hayward to refine his new way
of making Schmidt plates. It started the
summer I graduated from 12th grade at
what was then Pasadena Junior College.
Roger was great fun, always singing a
ditty from Gilbert & Sullivan. I learned
a lot that I was to use later to make the
infrared grating spectrograph that I
would use for my dissertation at UCB
(the University of California, Berkeley)
after the war ended.
I was able to skip freshman year
at Caltech and was accepted as a
sophomore. at September, I tried to
continue working with Roger in the afternoons and do my Caltech homework
in the evenings and on weekends, while
tending a polishing machine. But that
arrangement did not allow me to do my
best at Caltech, so I soon quit.
But learning to make Schmidt plates
actually saved me from dying when the
U.S.S. Indianapolis was sunk after it had
delivered the first two atomic bombs to
Tinian Atoll. Here’s how that came about.
During my junior year at Caltech, all
of us students had to join the Navy V- 12
program or risk being drafted. Upon
graduation, we would become o cers. I
was not exactly eager to become a Navy
o cer, so I joined Willy Fowler’s team
in Kellogg Lab and became an expert in
rocketry. Marjorie joined the rocket team
after she got her M.S. at Claremont College. She was already my girlfriend. But
after two years there, and the week after
we returned from our honeymoon (spent
at Keptyn Cottage on Mount Wilson), I
got my draft notice. Willy gave me a let-
When I left Jena, I was in charge of leading a convoy of six
trucks bearing key items of advanced optical technology—
including two captured Soviet periscopes—all the way to
Dover. My secondary task was to help key people at Zeiss
and Schott to escape to the West.