Awards > Awardee Interviews > Interview

Interview: David Castner

2018 Medard W. Welch Award Recipient
Interviewed by Dick Brundle, October 25, 2018

BRUNDLE:   So, my name is Dick Brundle. Today is the 25th of October. We’re at Long Beach, at the AVS 65th Conference, National, International Conference. I’m going to interview Professor David Castner from the University of Washington, who was presented with the Welch Award last night at the awards ceremony and who also gave an invited talk going with the award. I’m going to read out the citation here.
“For leading advances in rigorous and state-of-the-art surface analysis methods applied to organic and biological samples.”
I’ve known David for quite a long time. So, you’re okay with just “Dave”?


BRUNDLE:  So say, say “hello” just so that they recognize your voice in the transcribing clearly.

CASTNER:  Hello. This is Dave Castner. I’m happy to be here and I’m deeply honored to win this award, and having a great conversation with Dick. As, as he said, we, I think we met back sometime in the ‘70s. So, we’ve known each other for a long time.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. Okay. So, I’d like to start off at the beginning even though you did mention some of this last night in your acceptance speech, but, you know, this is for archive references.


BRUNDLE:  When were you born? Where were you born? And, maybe something about the background of your parents? I know, I know your Dad was an avid fisherman.

CASTNER:  Yes, my Grandfather was the avid fisherman.

BRUNDLE:  And, if you’ve got any siblings, maybe something about them?


BRUNDLE:  I’ll probably interrupt on the way, but – okay. So?

CASTNER:  So, I was born September 8, 1952 in Webster City, Iowa.

BRUNDLE:  Oh, not in Seattle area? Okay.

CASTNER:  Not in Seattle. In 1961 my Dad, who was a mechanical engineer, moved the family out to Seattle to, so he could work for Boeing.

BRUNDLE:  Ah. Yes.

CASTNER:  So, he had run a small family business back in the Midwest. My Mom and Dad decided to move us – myself and two sisters –  out in 1961, the year before the World’s Fair in Seattle. Quite a different spot than what Seattle is now. It was much less populated. Boeing ran the show.

BRUNDLE:  So, how old were you then?

CASTNER:  I was nine. Moved out when I was nine.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. And you have two sisters?

CASTNER:  Yeah. I have two younger sisters.

BRUNDLE:  Younger sisters.

CASTNER:  Yes. And so, then I spent the ‘60s growing up in Seattle, and graduated from high school in 1970. I started this southward migration. I was a swimmer and Oregon State gave me the best scholarship offer. They offered to pay for my education. So, I moved down to Oregon State to, to do my undergraduate studies. I always did well in science and math, no surprise given my dad and other family members were engineers.

BRUNDLE:  At high school?

CASTNER:  Yeah. At school.

CASTNER:  But my, you know, I love sports and fishing, and so when I went to college, I like to say, “When I went to Oregon State my priorities were to swim, have a good time, and, oh by the way, get an education.”  And, it took me five years to get my undergraduate degree.

BRUNDLE:  Uh huh. Because of that?


BRUNDLE:  When, I mean, when did you – did you decide that you were really going to go into science? Before you started at Oregon?

CASTNER:  Yeah. I enjoyed all the chemistry, physics, pre-engineering, math and calculus I took in high school.

BRUNDLE:   A good school, then?


BRUNDLE:  Yeah. And so, any – often I get the answer from people that there was one particular teacher that, in chemistry, that turned them on, or something like that. Was it like that for you? Or…

CASTNER:  Ah. There were a couple that I had – actually, one of my swim coaches taught the junior high science class.


CASTNER:  But I have always kind of thought I probably should have been an engineer starting out, but I drifted towards chemistry, and now I’m an engineering professor. So, I couldn’t completely (Laugh) escape. But, growing up I always liked to see how things worked. And so, I was always taking stuff apart. As a kid I had this little tractor that I would drive around on, then I could completely disassemble it and put it back together again. So, I’m always interested with how things work and, you know, taking it apart and figuring out how things work, and that sort of thing. And that started at an early age, even before I had moved out to Seattle. And it’s interesting, I saw the same thing in my son growing up. He started very young, just, “Oh, we’ve got to take things apart, figure out how it works.” And so, I knew he was destined to be an engineer, too. But, yeah, it’s this great kind of curiosity of how things work, “What’s the structure of things? How are they put together? How do they work? How can we make them work better?” All that sort of thing just, you know, it just seemed like a natural thing. So, after, my swimming eligibility was done my wife, who is a biochemist and had taken a bunch of the chemistry courses. And, she was on track and she actually graduated in four years. So, she’d had some of the classes that I was taking.

BRUNDLE:  So, is that where you met her?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Yeah. We met at Oregon State.

BRUNDLE:  And you got married there?


BRUNDLE:  In which year?

CASTNER:  Her last year at Oregon State we were married. So, so we got married there in 1973. So, she knew the chemistry faculty and she said, “Okay, this professor, Ken Hedberg,” who did gas phase electron diffraction to look at structure of small molecules in the gas phase, she said, “I think you need to go talk to him. You would really like his research.” And, as usual, she’s always right. I went and talked with him and he had a small research group and he said, “OK.” So, so 2-chlorethanol was the molecule that I had to, you know, synthesize and also deuterated analogs of, and then we actually put it in the vacuum chamber and ran the electron beam through it, and then you’ve collect the data – that was back, you know, before we had CCD cameras or anything. So, we had a photographic plate that we would expose and then you’d get the rings, and then you’d have to use a densitometer to scan those, and then put all that information on a paper tape that you them read in. I’m sure you’re familiar with some of that.

BRUNDLE:  Oh, yeah.


BRUNDLE:  My, my early research, I mean not only did we not have computers, we didn’t even have X-Y recorders. (Castner: Yeah.) It was an X-T recorder. (Laugh)

CASTNER:  So, anyway, that really caught my interest. So, as I was finishing up my chemistry degree at Oregon State, you know, I did that I kind of think, “Well, after swimming I will just be a swim coach, right, and teach at a local high school or something like that.” But my wife said, “No. No. You need to go to graduate school. You should look around.” And so, I, you know, I talked to Professor Hedberg and he gave me some advice – he said, “Oh, you know, Berkeley and a few of these other places would be good places for you to go.” So, I ended up, you know, saying, “Oh, yeah. Why not? Let’s go down to U.C. Berkeley.”

BRUNDLE:  So, yes. And, you were in Gabor Somorjai’s group?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Right.

BRUNDLE:  So, did you go to Berkeley to sniff around to see who was doing what, or you, had you had recommendations…

CASTNER:  So after I sent in my applications, and then after I got accepted, we were going down, coming down to California for – the last year of my swimming eligibility had entered, so I was in my fifth year of schooling and was the assistant swim coach at Oregon State. (Laugh) – for the Pac-8 Swim Championships in L.A. So I said, “Oh, okay. On my way down to LA I want to stop in the Bay Area.” And, went over to Berkeley and basically talked to several different professors, and realized, “Oh, okay. There’s several I would like to work for.” You know, I talked to one of the guys doing x-ray crystallography, and some of the people doing structure, you know, basically the P-chemists, and found that, “Oh, there’s several people that I would love to work for.” So, I did not go down with the idea I had to work for Gabor, but that’s, that’s how it worked out. And that was one of the best decisions I ever made. I would, if I had to do it over again, I’d do it exactly the same. I really enjoyed my time at Berkeley.

BRUNDLE:  So, is that the point, though, where you first started learning about surface science/engineering?

CASTNER:  Oh, yes. Exactly.

BRUNDLE:  Nothing before that?

CASTNER:  Nothing before that.

BRUNDLE:  So, now you are in Gabor’s group?

CASTNER:  Yeah. In Gabor’s group. And it, it’s really a dynamic group. And, you know, he took about three students every year and then, and then he had a lot of visiting scientists and postdocs. So, the group size was in the mid-twenties. So, lots of activity and, and stuff going on, and senior people you could learn from. And, obviously Gabor was, you know, he’s an unbelievably creative individual.

BRUNDLE:  Yes. Yes.

CASTNER:  And, and talking with him about data, and getting all that, and some of the ideas. And, it just was really thought-provoking to go in and discuss things with him, and you’d come back and kind of sit down and go over it and try and piece together what’s going on. And, some of the suggestions would be a bit off-the-wall, but some of them were really right on. (Laugh) And that, but that’s what I liked about it. He would brainstorm with you.

BRUNDLE:  Well, he had – yeah. He had many, many suggestions.

CASTNER:  Right.

BRUNDLE:  They couldn’t all be right. (Laugh)

CASTNER:  Right. Yeah. They couldn’t all be right, and they didn’t have to be. He was just trying to get you thinking about it and looking at it, looking at the data from different ways, and trying to interpret that. So, anyway, it was an exciting time and, you know, it, like I said it was really a lot of fun to do these sorts of things.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. At that time, were there any other people in his group that you still know?

CASTNER:  Oh, yeah. Yeah. What we affectionately referred to as the “Somorjai Mafia.” (Laughter) So, there’s…

BRUNDLE:  But really, you must have been right at the beginning of his group there, or pretty early on?

CASTNER:  Oh, I was about ten years in.

BRUNDLE:  Ten years. Okay.

CASTNER:  I think he got his Ph.D. in 1960, then worked at IBM for four, or five years, and then came back to Berkeley in the mid ‘60s. And so, I joined his group in 1975.

BRUNDLE:  Uhm-hmm. Uhm-hmm.

CASTNER:  Like, Peter Stair.

BRUNDLE:  Oh, yeah.

CASTNER:  Who I just was talking with him earlier this meeting. John Gland had already left and so, and then there’s Steve Overbury that, I run into him occasionally. He’s went to Oakridge. And so, some of the others I have lost some of the contact with, but, but, yeah, there are still some people we keep, keep in contact with. So, it was nice.

BRUNDLE:  Uhm-hmm. Yeah.

CASTNER:  And so after I did my Ph.D. with Gabor, I went over just a few miles away to Chevron.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. How did that come about?. Is it because, well Gabor was very much focusing on understanding catalysis?


BRUNDLE:  So then, it was that a natural choice to make? The oil industry?

CASTNER:  You know, when I was going to graduate school my objective was to get an industrial job.


CASTNER:  Okay? And so, I was looking around. And so, when I was finishing up I did a lot of interviewing at different places to see what was going on and that sort of thing. But, it’s interesting how I got the job at Chevron, because, well obviously Chevron, being a local company, came over to Berkeley to interview. And, it’s very popular because a lot of the students wanted to stay in the Bay Area.


CASTNER:  And so, as it turns out I, I guess I wasn’t quick enough signing up and I didn’t get an interview slot. And so, you know, I turned in my resume and nothing happened, and so I was interviewing on the East Coast and other things. And then, it turns out one of Gabor’s previous students, Don Blakely, was working over at Chevron, and, and I would run into him periodically. And, he says, “Oh, we’ve got an opening over here. Are you interested?” And, I said, “Well, I put in an application.” And, he said, “Oh, yeah. Its probably buried in HR.” He says, “Come over. I’ll invite you over for an informal interview and we’ll chat and see if you’re interested, and, and you’ll meet some people. And then, if if both sides agree we’ll have you back for a formal interview.” And so, I went out there and we talked about different opportunities there and what they were looking for. And so I said, “Okay.” And so then, we agreed and then I went back and did the formal interview, and then they gave me a job offer. And, and I’ve had a couple of other job offers on the East Coast. I thought, “Well, it might be fun to go back on the East Coast.” But then I said, “No. No. This was exactly what I wanted to do at Chevron.” It was an industrial position and they offered me to, basically to run the XPS machine and build all this elaborate catalyst treatment system, and…

BRUNDLE:  That was a question I was going to ask. So, the XPS was already there?

CASTNER:  Already there.

BRUNDLE:  But then you showed this picture in your talk of all this extra stuff? You added all that?

CASTNER:  Right. We added all that.


CASTNER:  So, the ironic thing, although they hired me to build all this they were concerned I was too instrumentation oriented, that was the concern. “Well, this guy likes to build instruments too much.” But, they were hiring me to build them instruments. (Laugh) And so, but anyway it was fun times. We got to build lots of different stuff and I had some great people working for me. And…

BRUNDLE:  And, what period was that?

CASTNER:  From 1979 to 1986.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, I’d been at IBM four years when you joined Chevron, and we had put a glove box on our HP instrument so that we could load things into the glove box, and then crush them up and slide them in without air contact.
And then we’d take them out and let them react with oxygen. Yours was much more sophisticated, but we had had ours like this for longer…

CASTNER:  Because, I think I visited you at, at IBM once when I was down there interviewing with a different division. And, you had a pretty extensive VG system at that point in time.

BRUNDLE:  That was later. When I first came (1975) Tung Chuang had already bought the HP and we worked together.


BRUNDLE:  And, actually, I don’t think he bought it. Somebody else did, who then moved out away from research, and Tung inherited that and started working on it. And, I joined. Actually, I had been doing some data analysis for them in the UK because I was waiting for my green card. (Laugh) I refused to come without a green card. And so, we worked together on that HP for a while. At the same time, I was ordering the UHV VG instrument for studying reactions at clean surfaces.

CASTNER:  Yeah. But, I think when I came through your lab it was like early 1979, and I do remember this big VG system that you had.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. We bought other equipment eventually, but that one was custom made compared to the things we bought earlier, which were more turnkey.

BRUNDLE:  So, when you built all this at Chevron it was entirely for research, wasn’t it? You weren’t being asked to, you know, (Laugh) – “I have this stuff here. Would you run it please and tell me what’s on it?”

CASTNER:  So, when I was at Chevron, my, it actually worked out pretty well. I got to do about a third of my time on stuff I would call more basic research.  About a third of the time was some of the more short-term stuff, basically issues that had come up in the refinery. It could last for – you know, so maybe they’d say, “Oh, we’ve got a catalyst out in this hydrocracker,” or whatever, “and it’s not regenerating.” And so, then they would grab me and they’d grab the electron microscopy guy, and the x-ray diffraction guy, and they’d put a bunch of us together in a room with some of maybe the catalyst synthesis guys, and they’d say, “Okay, here’s the problem. Can you guys solve this?” And, depending on the timescale, we’d get anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to come up and say, “Okay, the reason it’s not regenerating is because it’s sintered, or it’s done this.” And, actually those, those were a lot of fun. Obviously, we couldn’t publish those, but because we could solve some of these problems they realized, “Oh, this instrumentation is important.”

BRUNDLE:  It gave you credit.

CASTNER:  And, credibility.


CASTNER:  And so, and I was always wanting to buy new toys. And this gave me currency. So, you’d spend about a third of your time doing some of the short-term stuff. But, the upper management really liked that. And then I spent the remaining third of my time doing analytical services for the department. So, people synthesizing new zeolites. They wanted to know what the surface Si to Al ratio was – you know, some pretty routine stuff. So, what I didn’t show on the other side of that HP is we completely redid the front end and had an automated probe that would come in that we could load up multiple samples. So, before I went home, I’d load these things up, program them in and then the data would be there in the morning. So, so we did, you know, a third of basic, pretty routine surface analysis, and then a third of these short-term projects, and then a third long-term, and it was a nice balance, you know. And so, we got the, you know…

BRUNDLE:  But it’s interesting too, because I don’t think many industrial companies offer it that way anymore?  Now you would be under the gun all the time for the short-term things, (Castner: Yes.) and anything else is on your own time.

CASTNER:  Well, that’s one of the reasons in the mid ‘80s I could see this coming.

BRUNDLE:  Oh, okay.

CASTNER:  It was starting to come there.

BRUNDLE:  But you seemed to be enjoying yourself?

CASTNER:  No. I had a good time, but I was always, you know, I was a bit frustrated too working for big corporation. And so anyway, in the mid ‘80s I could see the writing on the wall. Chevron had merged with Gulf. They were, they had a few layoffs, pretty minor. I wasn’t worried because I could solve important problems for them. I wasn’t worried about getting laid off, but I could see I was not going to be able to do that third on research time. It was going to go get smaller and smaller, and the more routine was going to get larger and larger, which wasn’t quite as exciting. So, I started looking around at what other opportunities were and I saw this opportunity with Buddy Ratner up at the University of Washington.

BRUNDLE:  How was that advertised then?  I mean, what exactly was it that they were looking for?

CASTNER:  So, actually yeah, my career path is far from the standard academic career path. (Laugh) Right? So, seven years in industry, no postdoc, but seven years in industry. And then, Buddy had received a couple of years earlier one of these so-called P41 Center Grants from NIH to start the National ESCA and Surface Analysis Center for Biomedical Problems. He got that in ’83. And so, he needed somebody to run the Surface Analysis Lab. So, I got hired as a staff member. So, I said, “Oh, this is great.” You know, I love Seattle. It was an opportunity to come back and, and do more fishing, and… .

BRUNDLE:  But, you’re taking a chance there?


BRUNDLE:  Because, (Castner: Yes.) you could have ended up basically being shunted entirely into service?

CASTNER:  Yes. But, it was, it was exciting times even though there was a service component. But, we had a five-prong approach where we had our own core research projects to develop new stuff, collaborations. And, I really enjoyed working on teams and collaborations. And, and probably, you know, thirty-five, forty percent of the time was on the core research. Another thirty-five, forty percent of the time on collaborations, which are also research projects. Right?

BRUNDLE:  Uhm-hmm.

CASTNER:  So, all of those are publication-oriented. And then, you know, maybe ten percent of the time we’re doing service work. Ten percent of the time we’re doing training. And then, we had to do some other, you know, workshops, and all this. So, so it was still – and, there was a lot of exciting times and, and the bio field really did not appreciate surfaces at that time.


CASTNER:  Not at all. Buddy was doing his best. So anyway, so, so part of it was going out and educating the community. And so, anyway, it just looked like some fun challenges. And, even though I’d never had a biology class in my life, a point my wife continues to point out to me, because she’s a biochemist, (Laugh) I went in and spent most of my academic career funded by NIH. So.

BRUNDLE:  Well, the bio names and terms always seemed to trip off your voice pretty easily.

CASTNER:  Right.

BRUNDLE:  So how? (Laugh)

CASTNER:  Well, so she kept quizzing me always over the dinner table when I would mention something to make sure I knew what I was talking about.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. Yeah.

CASTNER:  So, Buddy says, “Okay. Well, I’ve got this staff position and you can hire in and run the lab, and if things go well in the next couple of years we can, you know, make you a research faculty member,” which happened after about three years. I converted over to research faculty, in which I spent the next fifteen years before becoming a full tenured professor.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. So, did you have to build up a curriculum, a course for students, as part of running the lab as research faculty?

CASTNER:  No. No. I did some teaching but it was, you know, it was not required. Teaching was strictly optional. So, basically, you know, for most faculty members you have to do your teaching, your research, and your service. For research faculty, you just have to do research and service.

BRUNDLE:  So, how did the – you had the workshop every year, then?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Right.

BRUNDLE:  How did that come about, then?


BRUNDLE:  And, how long ago did it start?

CASTNER:  Oh, that was actually going when I joined Buddy (Brundle: Oh, right.) in 1986. He was doing some of these things. We weren’t holding it in Seattle. We were usually doing it like at conferences like the Society for Biomaterials. He would hold a one-day workshop. And he used to, it was kind of like an AVS short course. He had to teach the whole thing all day. So, he was happy when I joined on because now, now he and I could split it. (Brundle: Yeah.) (Laugh) And, and we would, and so we did that for a few years and would run it at various conferences. And, we still do that. We still do workshops at conferences. But then, oh, probably in the early ‘90s we, we decided, no, we needed to add instrument demos and expand it out from a one-day to a three-day workshop where we had lectures in the morning and demos in the afternoon. And so, we brought it on campus and it’s been very successful. We keep it deliberately small, about twenty, twenty-five people so, because of the demo. But we, we get people from all over the world flying in just for this workshop. So, it’s….

BRUNDLE:  And, I don’t know if you remember, but you gave me some of your slides from that (Laugh) for quantitation in XPS for biomaterials, which have been very useful for my AVS course because it’s much easier to start at that point where it actually works and you know it works, rather than going to things like messy oxides and hydroxides.

CASTNER:  That was one thing that, it was really nice that we could make some organic surfaces with self-assembled monolayer polymers, where we could do really good XPS quantitation.


CASTNER:  Yeah. And so, that was a lot of fun. But the other thing is we would take turns teaching different stuff. So, you know, some years Buddy would do ESCA. Some years I would, and we’d swap back and forth. So, we’d each upgrade the slides so, it got to be, you know, these slides were just a combined resource that we both used.

BRUNDLE:  So, just the two of you?

CASTNER:  For many years. And then, then once we brought it back into Seattle then, then we were, we’ve been able to bring in other people over the years. (Brundle: Yeah.) And, we’ve, well you know, some of our research staff, and now Lara Gamble teaches a fair amount in there. And so, so now I’m down to, you know, in a three-day workshop I’m only giving three or four lectures. (Laughter) So, it’s pretty nice, pretty relaxed. Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, so how long have you been at U Washington now?

CASTNER:  Since 1986, thirty-two years.

BRUNDLE:  Thirty-two years. So, are you retiring?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Next, next…

BRUNDLE:  That’s a loaded question.


BRUNDLE:  I heard that you were.

CASTNER:  Yeah. (Laugh) Right.

BRUNDLE:  And, when will that be?

CASTNER:  My last day as a full-time regular professor will be June 30, 2019. So, I’ll go emeritus on July 1. So, I’ll have more time for fishing, (Laugh) which I’m looking forward to. Also, I’ve got some car restoration projects that have been just sitting in my garage collecting dust. I’ve got some oldcars, I like the 1960s…

BRUNDLE:  The muscle cars?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Well, officially they’re pony cars. It’s a 1965 Mustang Fastback that my wife bought me for my fiftieth birthday, that I drove around for a while, and now it needs to be restored. I have a 1967 Cougar, which is the Mercury version of the Mustang, the first year they made them. My dad bought that car new and I drove it when I was in high school, and then my kids drove it when, when they went to high school, and now it, we were, started restoring it and modifying it a while back, and I just haven’t had time to get to it.

BRUNDLE:  But, you’re going to do that?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Yeah. I enjoy it. My son is an automotive engineer, right, so he works for PACCAR. So he’s far exceeded my knowledge in cars. I, you know, I taught him all I could when he was growing up, but…

BRUNDLE:  That was the time when you could understand cars.

CASTNER:  Right. Exactly.

BRUNDLE:  Right? and you knew how they worked.

CASTNER:  Right.

BRUNDLE:  Not just computers.

CASTNER:  Right. Exactly. So, anyway, he works on developing, basically diesel, powertrain, and developing engines, and tuning them. So, he knows his stuff and he’s my expert that I can rely on for advice.

BRUNDLE:  So, you’ve got one son. Any other children?

CASTNER:  I had a daughter and she passed away six years ago, unfortunately.

BRUNDLE:  Oh. I’m sorry.

CASTNER:  Yeah. So. She had a brain aneurism


CASTNER:  So, it was, yeah that was kind of sudden. So.

BRUNDLE:  She was younger, then, than your son?

CASTNER:  No. She was a couple years older than my son.


CASTNER:  So. So, anyway, but, yeah, that took us a while to get over that. But, you know, so life goes on. Everybody faces different challenges and difficulties.

BRUNDLE:  How old is your son?

CASTNER:  My son’s thirty-eight.

BRUNDLE:  Is he married? Do you have grandchildren?

CASTNER:   No grandchildren.


CASTNER:  No, but he’s got a really nice girlfriend now.


CASTNER:  So, (Laugh) we’ll see how that goes.  She seems to be putting up with him fairly well so we’re hoping that that’s a permanent situation.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, let’s talk a little bit about fishing.


BRUNDLE:  I remember you showing a picture where you’d had to rebuild your garage or something?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  So you could get your boat in it? Because, you bought this big boat?

BRUNDLE:  And there was a question whether the neighbors were going to appreciate that?


BRUNDLE:  So, before you had that boat, what were you using as…

CASTNER:  So probably shortly after I moved back to Seattle, I bought a 19’ fiberglass runabout boat that I just kept out in the driveway. And, this was a used boat.

BRUNDLE:  A bit more like your dad’s style then?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Yeah. Or my grandfather’s.

BRUNDLE:  Your grandfather.

CASTNER:  Yeah. My dad wasn’t much of a fisherman, but…

BRUNDLE:  But, your grandfather was?

CASTNER:  But my grandfather was a hardcore fisherman.


CASTNER:  So anyway, yeah. It was more that style. Just a little bigger engine. We could do a few more things, go a little further abroad with that. But, so finally we got tired of before every fishing season having to put too much time in to get it running and reliable. So, so a few years ago we just decided, “Okay, we’re going to take the plunge,” and, and my son and I were looking around to see, okay, what, what type of boat we wanted to get and all this, and we ended up getting this custom-made boat from Wooldridge, this 26’ off-shore boat that we really liked. Well, then all of a sudden after I bought it, you know, I had convinced my wife that this was a good thing to do…

BRUNDLE:  I was going to ask about her take on this.

CASTNER:  Right. Yeah. She was very understanding, (Laugh) because she was thinking that, okay, if I buy this boat and do this sort of thing that maybe I will even think about retiring. (Laugh) But, she was hoping that that might get me there. So anyway, I bought this boat and once you place the order it takes like nine months, because they are really busy. And, these are stall built. These are built by craftsmen. They’re not production-line boats. And then, all of a sudden, I realized, “Well, you know, I’m buying this boat. I really don’t want to leave it out in the driveway. And, it’s not going to fit in my garage.” And so, so, I go, “Oh, well, we really need to remodel the garage.” So, then I had to go back to my wife and, and get permission to spend almost as, about the same amount of money on the garage remodel as I spent on the boat. Right?

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. (Laugh)

CASTNER:  And, she was very understanding but she had one stipulation. She didn’t want it to look “stupid,” you know, (Laugh) I think was the word she used. She says, “It has to look,” you know…

BRUNDLE:  It has to fit?

CASTNER:  Yeah. It has to fit with the house So, then I knew, “Okay, my son and I can’t design this. I’ve got to go get an architect to draw it and get the drawings approved by my wife,” which we did. We got an architect. They drew it, gave us varied options. She said, “No, [tapping table] this one will work.” I said, “Yes, that’ll work because it has a twelve-foot opening, and about almost forty feet of floor space.” And, and so, I said, “Okay.” So we, we were able to agree on that, got it done, and so now on one side of the garage I have my boat and the other side I have a couple of my car restoration projects.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. So, when you do retire, you mentioned you will be emeritus, so you’re going to stay involved?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Yeah. I’m going to stay involved. You know, I’ll still come in and do some things in the lab and, you know, keep my hand in it for a while. We’ll see.

BRUNDLE:  And, you’ll still be coming to meetings for a while at AVS?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  Good. We wouldn’t want to lose you. I mean, you’re a very willing and able worker, always. I see you on all these committees and I’m sure the AVS (Laugh) are not going to let you go. There are many things that they want you to do.

CASTNER:  Yeah. They keep me busy.

BRUNDLE:  But, you’d also like to spend a lot of time fishing? Does your wife go fishing with you or does she just send you off?

CASTNER:  She, she usually sends me off with my son. She goes out occasionally. She went out with us once this summer to, salmon fishing. But what she worries about, because my son and I, given the opportunity, will fish from sunup to sundown. And, she doesn’t like that. She only likes to fish for short periods of time and doesn’t like to start early in the morning.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. Did Michael tell you the motto it had on the wall at the fish place up the road? Did you see that?


BRUNDLE:  You know, there’s this phrase, “Give a man a fish and it’ll stop him being hungry for a (Castner: Yeah.) day,” (Castner:  Yeah. Right.) or something, “but teach him how to fish” – and, it’s supposed to say, you know, “He’s set for life.”

CASTNER:  Yeah. Right.

BRUNDLE:  but this one says, “but teach him how to fish and he will sit all day in a boat drinking beer and fishing.” (Laughter)

CASTNER:  Yeah. We do. We do have the cooler stocked with beer. That, that’s part of it, you can’t go out fishing without beer.

BRUNDLE:  So, what do you do together with your wife? What are the common things that you both enjoy?

CASTNER:  Yeah. Well, she loves to go to Hawaii and go snorkeling.

BRUNDLE:  Right.

CASTNER:  So we, we try and go a couple times a year, and do snorkeling, and travel. And, she loves to garden. So, I help her with some of that.

BRUNDLE:  Sounds like my wife.

CASTNER:  Yeah. Yeah. So, anyway, so we, and, you know, do some vacation and, you know, we’ve done some bird watching and other sorts of things. So, so I think what we’re going to do, the plan is that we’re going to buy a camper for our pickup and so we can do some camping. You know, she’s beyond sleeping in the tent or the back of the pickup.

BRUNDLE:  Well, you know, we actually have gone the other way. We used to have a Westphalia camper for years, but now it’s not very reliable.


BRUNDLE:  And, in any case, the way it works, I always slept on the top cot when the top was pushed up, and eventually I just found it very difficult to get up there (Laugh) and get into that. So, we prefer tent camping.


BRUNDLE:  The idea is, if it’s nice you tent camp. If it’s not, then you go to a motel.

CASTNER:  Yeah. (Laughter) And, I think that’s nice. Well, my son and I we have, you know, our pickup we use for pulling the boat and we just have a canopy on the back of it. And, we have a platform that I built that we can put mattresses on and sleep there and keep our gear underneath. And, this is the way we’ve been doing it, you know, since the ‘70s. I mean, I had, I still have a 1973 F-100 pickup that we built this way. So that’s the way the family used to do the family camping, is we’d just car camp. And so, we’ll do that. But my son and I will still do it in some pretty nasty conditions.


CASTNER:  But my wife prefers either a cabin or, or she says she’d be happy with a camper. So, we’re going to try that and see how it all works out. But that’s, when we were first married, we used to do a lot of camping up in the mountains in Oregon and along the Oregon Coast, and things like that. And, and then once all the international travel started up that disappeared. And so, we want to get back to that, because we really enjoyed just exploring around the Northwest.

BRUNDLE:  Do it out of season, though. It’s really, gets really crowded now.

CASTNER:  That’s what I’ve heard. And so, I’m a little worried about that. But, but what we’ve been doing the last couple, the last couple years, because she really likes to go to the beach and we haven’t even been down there, so we’ve just been renting like cabins out on the Oregon and Washington coasts and going out there for, for a few days. And, and you know, that’s been a lot of fun. So, we can do it…

BRUNDLE:  We, we came down the coast a year ago from Vancouver Island, actually, all the way from there, and then all the way down the coast back to California.

CASTNER:  Oh, that’s a wonderful trip.

BRUNDLE:  It was a great trip but it was in the summer and getting campgrounds, sometimes, was not easy…

CASTNER:  Well, that’s the thing that we’re worried about, because we’re always used to – we just drove in and, “Okay. What’s the best campground?” and just always found something, even at the beach. And, back then, even in the ‘70s the Oregon Coast was pretty popular. A lot of the Californians came up. But you could always find a spot, you know. You didn’t have to reserve in advance. So, I guess I’m going to have to figure out this new system. And, but the nice thing is that now we don’t have to go on a weekend. We can go during the middle of the week.  So, yeah. I’m going to have to adapt to that, because, yeah, things are just much busier now.

BRUNDLE:  We’re going on a camping trip with Michael and Christine Grunze, immediately after this conference. But we’re going to start in Anza-Borrego State Park. But apparently, it’s going to be ninety-five degrees (Laugh) this week.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. We’ve been going quite a long while and there’s always a question that I ask at the end of this. Okay, you’re towards the end of your career. It’s been very successful. It’s taken a few twists and turns. You’ve got the industrial experience, teaching experience, research professor experience, and you have seen what science was like when we were graduate students, and you can see what it’s like now. I think we probably both agree that it’s much more difficult for people now. So what advice would you give to somebody who is maybe considering going to do a Ph.D. now, but isn’t quite sure where this is going to lead him or what new opportunities… 

CASTNER:  Whether it’s a Ph.D. or a business career, you’ve got to go with what you’re passionate about. Right? Because, you’re going to be doing this and you need to enjoy it, and even if there’s not a lot of opportunities if you’re passionate you will succeed. Right? So it’s got to be something that you care about and you’re passionate about, and I think that’s first and foremost. Because, particularly if you’re going to be a professor, you’re going to be putting in long hours and you better enjoy it. It better be exciting to you.


CASTNER:  And, and I really look back and I think that, that’s the great thing, particularly being a professor, interacting with all the students. You’ve always got each year a new crop of students joining your group. Its rewarding and seeing these students come in and learn about research, and get involved, and make new discoveries. It’s really rewarding.

BRUNDLE:  So, you originally intended to go into industry though?

CASTNER:  Right. Right

BRUNDLE:  Chevron? So, would you recommend that people try that before they go into teaching or become professors?   

CASTNER:  I think it’s, it’s a good thing to do. I’ve always, you know, when my students are graduating, you know, and they want advice about jobs, I said, “There’s not a right or wrong, or better or worse.” Right? “They’re just different, you know. In industry you have a different set of pluses and minuses than you do in academia. And so, you’ve just got to decide what works best for you.” Now, it’s interesting. Most of my students go out and work in industry, but most of my postdocs go out and get academic jobs. In recent years I’ve had a few students go out and get academic jobs. But, most of my students tend to go out to industry.

BRUNDLE:  Well, I guess that’s because they have the training and the rigor and what  they’re doing are things that actually are useful in industry?

CASTNER:  Right.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, is there anything else you’d like to add?

CASTNER:  No. I don’t think so.

BRUNDLE:  Then, well, thank you very much for the interview and, congratulations on the award.

CASTNER:  Thank you. AVS has been my home society for a long while. I joined as a graduate student. A senior graduate student said, “Oh, you’ve got to join AVS and then, “and you get free journals.” And back then, you know we got like Phys Rev.

BRUNDLE:  What year was that?

CASTNER:  I probably joined around, as a student member, around 1976 or so. My first AVS meeting was 1978. The San Francisco meeting. You were probably there.

BRUNDLE:  Oh, yeah.

CASTNER:  I remember seeing you in 1979 in New York, the next year, when I was at Chevron.

BRUNDLE:  I think I was the chair of the Surface Science Division for that one. But, my first one was also New York. I was actually invited by Jack Rowe, because I had been at Bell Labs (Castner: Yeah.) and I’d gone back to England, (Castner: Yeah.) and he invited me over. So that was as an invited speaker and that was a big deal for me, and just like you I’ve grown up in the AVS. It’s been my scientific home ever since.

CASTNER:  It’s been my home. Yeah. It’s been my home. So, it’s, it’s really a great honor to, to be selected for the Welch Award, given my deep roots in AVS.

BRUNDLE:  Well, thank you very much again for the interview.