Well, it was in late 1939. I was a graduate student in the
physics department at Columbia University. And ah, working part time for Leo
Szilard, doing some calculations that he needed done. Ah, I didn't...not
realize it at the time but these were the basic calculations that eventually
led to the first nuclear chain reaction. But in any case, ah, one day
Szilard came to me and he said, "I understand your brother has a car. Do you
think you could get hold of it this Saturday? I have to go down to Princeton
to see Einstein and ah, I don't drive ah, myself." And I said, "Well, I'll
see what I can do." And it turned out that I could get hold of it, and so I
drove Szilard down...down to Princeton, and we went into the Einstein's
office, and Szilard went in and I sort of sat ah, outside waiting for him to
finish. And a little while later he came out and Einstein came to the door
with him, and since I was there he had no choice so he introduced me to
the...to the great man and Einstein...he said...said I was a graduate
student at Columbia. So he said, "Hmm, what are you doing?" And I said,
"Well, I'm working on a problem. It probably wouldn't interest you Professor
Einstein, it's something to do with molecular spectra." And he said, "Oh, I
once knew something about molecular spectra. Come tell me." And he took me
by the arm into the office up to the blackboard, ah, and asked me to
explain. So I started out, I said, "Well, here's the approach I'm using."
And I wrote down a few things. He said, "Ah, very interesting. What would
happen if you tried this?" Then he wrote down an equation. And he said, "If
we went in this direction." And I said, "Excuse me Professor Einstein, but I
actually tried...have tried that approach, and it...it doesn't lead
anywhere, and I gave a couple of reasons. And he said, "Oh, of course,
you're quite right." He said, "But suppose we tried this other variation?"
And he wrote down something else. And I said, "Hmm, it never occurred to me.
I don't know, I have no idea what would happen." And he said, "Well, let's
see." And so he started out and started going, and I said, "Hmm, yes," and
ah, then about three minutes later the door opened and Szilard put his head
in and said, "Hmmm, hmm, Feld, we really have to get back to New York." And
so, if he had given me another ten minutes, Einstein would have done my
Ph.D. for me.