During the summers from 1955 on, for several years, Mike went to Columbus, to take regular 4th quarter
courses for a master’s degree in nuclear physics. There was interest at that time in the
effect of radiation on iron, in case the reactor vessels of steel, in submarines and on land,
might lose their strength and explode. Mike was directed to irradiate iron powder and to
identify the decay scheme of the resulting radioactive material, so that the theoretical
model of the iron atom could be determined and its departure from the familiar steel
To bombard the iron powder into radioactive material, Ohio State University had an
“atom smasher” called a cyclotron. A separate block house had been constructed by the
Olentangy River to house the 20-ton instrument. So much power was consumed at
maximum bombardment that some experiments could only be carried out at night
because much of the campus power had to be borrowed to satisfy the atom smasher.
Mike was fascinated by the facility, but was also mystified by the mysterious workings in
He requisitioned many bombardments and spent long hours watching the decay spectrum
buildup on spectrographs. However, no discovery was emerging, for only well known
radioactive decay sequences emerged, and this had been obtained by many labs.
There was a problem, namely the quick decay, or the short half-life, of the “hot” atoms.
One prohibition in doing the experiment was that the test specimen had to be very tiny for
all the geometry formulas to be valid. Trying to get a longer exposure by putting a bigger
sample in the spectrograph simply overloaded the radiation counters. But then Mike
thought of a way. He started by making a tiny target specimen. Then he made a second
target twice the size. Then he made a third target four times the size. In this way when
the first target got too weak, the second target had decayed to a level like at the beginning
and could be inserted. When this one got weak, the 4–fold sample had decayed to the
level of the original radiation rate and would not overload the detectors. Of course, the
geometry was violated, because the sample was no longer a point source. But it worked!
A spectrum was now printing out that showed clearly that there were peaks on the graph
showing four radiation lines. It was a major discovery and Mike’s professor readily
assigned the project to be Mike’s master’s thesis. In addition, the university now had an
original scientific discovery to report, and Mike was sent to the Physics convention in
New York that year, to read his paper at the nuclear symposium whose chairperson was
Madame Wu, the renewed Chinese nuclear authority. Mike Stimac graduated with a Master of
Science in Nuclear Physics in March 1959. But all of this would not have happened if
the Cyclotron had not worked – and it did break down in the middle of Mike’s
More data runs were needed. It was a frustrating time – having the likelihood of a major
scientific discovery and not having the radioactive materials to prove it.
Mike got an idea: fix the Cyclotron. This was not a reasonable idea, but it was enough to
have the professorial overseers give him the key to the cyclotron lab. Nobody was interested in the
useless thing, so he had the lab all to himself!
Imagine the miles of wiring, the cables, the big ducts leading from a side equipment
room, and then the long channel sprouting from the main body of the monstrous
assembly where the target atoms were smashed. All of this had to be maintained under perfect
vacuum so an array of low level and high level vacuum pumps lined the walls.
What could a ham radio person possibly hope to figure out here!? Mike prowled around
and scrutinized the equipment area by area. Suddenly a grand discovery – a BC 610
transmitter was wired into the electrical section of the gigantic machine! The BC-610 is a
1945 army field transmitter running about 600 watts, and for any amateur, just another
little old “rig”! This was driving the 8 Million Electron Volt Cyclotron! From it two big
coaxial feed lines went to the vacuum section of the cyclotron. Suddenly the mystery
evaporated. The top of a cyclotron has two half-moon sections each one fed by one of
the coax lines. It was quickly obvious to Mike that a cyclotron is nothing more than a
peculiarly shaped dipole antenna, and just as the two halves of an antenna oscillate, going
from plus charge to minus charge, the two “D’s”, as the cyclotron “antenna” is properly
termed, alternate from plus to minus, jerking the proton projectiles back and forth. The
20-ton magnet provides a field that keeps the atomic particles going in a circle until they
get accelerated to 8 million electron volts and then break out of the track and smash the
target. How simple, now. –but certainly a major accomplishment the when it was
Mike promptly warmed up the BC 610 and tried to power up the cyclotron. As he started
power from a few watts and got just past 300 watts going into the D’s, the transmitter
unloaded --everything just went out of tune, like when high winds blow apart an antenna on the roof
and the transmitter can't tune up a faulty load.
Mike studied the problem – something was wrong with the ‘antenna’, and this is what he
reported to the professors. They took the amateur radio expert’s word for it! Promptly
the problem was discovered --- some ‘smart’ professor tried to increase the power of the
OSU cyclotron and he rebuilt the D’s, making them larger. But in doing so, he used thinner copper
sheet. Radio Frequency currents cause heating and so the new Ds’ would start to get
hot and expand and change their dimension, throwing the whole system out of tune!!!
Ripping open the monster, they installed nylon supports to keep the D's from sagging, and
happy day, the cyclotron was running again. Mike now had all the ‘hot’ samples he
wanted with nobody asking questions what he was doing! In actual fact he was having
fun getting better and better spectrographs of the Iron-55 nuclear decay.
The nuclear part of studies involves much math and theory, but the practical side is all
electronics and the SJHRC would have been at home in those laboratories.
Ohio State University held one more attraction for radio Amateurs. There was a man,
Professor John Kraus, W8JK who was a leader in antenna theory. A small expedition with mobile
equipped cars went to Columbus to view the installations. This gave meaning to the
SJHRC emphasis on trying to scientifically perfect antenna operation.
Each year there was a field trip of this type, a new group of students would
learn how to gimmick up installing Ham radios in another group of cars. There were
usually a few "veterans" who had done this before and showed them how. Those were the days
when cars still had 6-Volt electrical systems and inefficient "generators" unlike today's alternators,
so challenges, and dead batteries, were frequent.
But the radios were invaluable in keeping the group together both physically as well as
conversationally. There were no "freeways". The roads were single lane with many curves and
"no passing" double-yellow lines. Of course with a lead car sending back the message
that the road was clear, the act of passing slower cars, even on "double yellow", was done with complete
safety. Those drivers being passed up were undoubtedly thinking the worst!
At another time, when the SJHRC was allowed to make their Easter retreat going down to
the Trappist Monastery where Thomas Merton was a monk, the route led through
Columbus. The little caravan of cars could have easily separated, and using their radios,
rejoined further down the road, but there was another way. A left turn had to be made in
a complicated intersection, so the lead car boldly stopped in the middle of the
intersection, big 8 foot whip antenna waving, while the 5 other radio cars roared past, to
be followed by the paused leader. The sight must have been intimidating to the
unknowing traffic, for there was not a whisper of impatient honking or anyone pushing
The Link Trainer. . .
SJHRC members could do anything, so when the aviation program got going, the bright
idea of having a Link Trainer, used by the army for instrument flight training, came up.
The Link had instruments which had to be maintained in adjustment, and it had an
electric plotting device which scrolled the meanderings of the pilot flying under the hood.
These occasionally became available through the government surplus disposal channels,
but the club thought they would be in high demand and their chances of getting one
would be very low. However, then club members surmised that very few people could be
able to keep up with the electronic maintenance if they did get a Link from the Army. So
after a bit of creative thinking, and asking around, soon a bright yellow Link Trainer,
with cables and plotter and power supplies was being unloaded at SJH! After conquering
so many problems with all kinds of army surplus radio units, the Link wasn’t even
considered much of a chore, --let alone a challenge. You see, this particular unit had
been given to a Civil Air Patrol unit on the west side of Cleveland and they were happy to
see it go, realizing they could not keep it going!
. . .and More Lessons in Just Plain Getting the Job Done!
Such was the reputation of SJHRC that whatever idea popped up and equipment was
needed, people did not hesitate to give it. One day in 1959, project planning saw the need for teletype
equipment. A request was promptly sent to Teletype Corporation along with a package
of clippings and reports of the SJHRC accomplishments and ssome plans of how such machines
would be used. A freight truck
arrived shortly thereafter with a pair of brand new Model 28 Teletype machines, with paper
tape punch and tape readers! Besides using them for ham radioteletype modes,
one of the ambitions the club had was to send a radio signal toward the moon and try to detect
the return signal, --called "moonbounce". The teletypes with their paper tape "memory" would be used to
key the transmitter, pause for the 5 seconds so that a signal might take to complete its
bounce and be received on the other machine.
The SJHRC did things in grand style. When an order of 20 Heathkits – oscilloscopes,
multimeters, signal generators, etc. was needed for the electronics class, a flight with a
Cessna 172 was made to Benton Harbor, on the other side of Michigan. The Heathkit
Company was not accustomed to this kind of order pickup, but in very friendly fashion
they drove the boxes out to the Benton Harbor airstrip and stuffed them into the
Another time, needing an electronics unit for decoding the Model 28 Teletype signals,
a surplus dealer was located, but he was down south in Lima, Ohio. An hour flight
was made to pick it up right away. It might have looked like impatience, but in fact
SJHRC had facilities available and used them without second thoughts about the ways of
the rest of the world.
Of course, those were also the days when a car could still have its gas tank "filled up"
for $3.00, and a small plane for $40, and UPS and Fedex were not around yet.
Who participated in all of these adventures? Everybody. If truth be told, the record
would read like a roster of the radio club. One amazing feature, looking back, is how
every person was a full member of this club, whether a freshman who was only learning
the code, to members with commercial licenses already making adult wages. One might
say the training and lessons learned with the radio club had become a way of life,
and for many it never ended.