Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS


Go To
A/V Clips
On This Page

Golf With Bardeen
Typing out equations

Alternate A/V Clips

Golf with Bardeen
Typing out equations

Bette Sparks talks about typing out equations for Shockley:

"Working for him, I had to have a separate, special typewriter set of keys that were actually nothing but the Roman numerals, the equations, the little square root signs, and everything—the craziest looking symbols. And I had to learn, out of a big old-fashioned Underwood typewriter, how to change those keys. If I came across something in the text, I would have to remove a certain key—they all had a number on them—and replace it. And then I would type out this silly looking equation. (laughs) And it was really a—it got down to be an art, I think."

Bette Sparks

In the 1940s and 1950s, it would have been unusual to see a female scientist in the lab. Women did have a place there, though—as secretaries.  Bette Sparks, or Bette MacEvoy as she was then named, was Bill Shockley's secretary, and as such was an integral part of keeping things running smoothly.  

Bette worked closely with Shockley and says that he was a wonderful person to work with—though very meticulous. One of her responsibilities was to type up the huge amounts of notes, papers, and memos  that the researchers in the lab wrote. "That was such a prolific department,"  she says. "The men were always writing memos. There was an overwhelming amount of written work."

All that work didn't keep the lab from being sociable, though. Bette says that a number of the younger employees would regularly go picnicking and bowling together. One of the young men was Morgan Sparks, who once asked Bette to go see a production of Cyrano De Bergerac in New York City. When she turned him down, the rest of the women in the office were shocked and told her she'd never hear from him again. But Sparks was persistent and the two have been married since 1949.


Bette Sparks talks about playing golf with Bardeen and Brattain:

"The four of us did go and play golf, and John was really funny, because he'd—he was obviously a good golfer but if he hit a bad shot, he was just.... You'd think he would explode—now Walter would explode, probably—but not John. He'd say, 'Oh... pshaw!' You know, or some very simple little, subtle, (but) explosive remark for John (laughs)."

Bette Sparks talks about telephone before the transistor:
"Ohh, the telephone system. I remember, when we were first married, we were on a party line. That was all you could get at the time. We didn't have any rotary dials or... or yes we did, it was rotary dials. But very often you'd pick up the phone and you'd get to know who was on your other line. You know, by name or sound. And eventually you'd compare notes and say, 'Well I need the phone desperately.' And so they'd get off. And it was all very friendly. And eventually, when we got our own telephone number... I probably still remember the number, whatever it is (laughs)."

-- Crystal Fire by Michael Riordan and Lillian Hoddeson  
-- Bette Sparks, interview for "Transistorized!"

Copyright 1999, ScienCentral, Inc, and The American Institute of Physics. No portion of this web site may be reproduced without written permission. All Rights Reserved.