Memories of My Senior Thesis Advisor, Doc Edgerton

Xenon flash lamp, 1960.

by Joe Parchesky (MIT ’64)

January 7, 2011

I was an undergraduate student at MIT from 1960 to 1964 and graduated with a BSEE. I had the pleasure of taking a couple of the courses that Doc Edgerton taught. I have fond memories of the time spent in the Strobe Lab taking high speed pictures of rifle bullets in flight and other assorted things. Doc was also a guest lecturer in some of my other classes. I loved the wax ‘foot’ candle he used to carry around whenever he was lecturing on something related to light. My favorite Edgerton-ism that I have remembered for 50 years was when he was describing the current decay waveform for a flash tube: “It decays out to infinity which might be as long as 10 microseconds.” Doc was also my senior thesis advisor. I did a study of the triggering on a small xenon flash lamp using an EG&G TW oscilloscope, which was the fastest available at the time.

My association with Doc Edgerton extended beyond the academic one at MIT. I also worked four summers and part-time during my sophomore and senior years at EG&G in Boston (and later in Bedford). Not only did I earn a significant portion of my educational expenses, but I gained a wealth of practical knowledge and experience that served me well in my early career. Three interesting experiences from that job are (1) working on underwater power supplies with an aeronautical engineer; (2) spending 6 weeks in 1962 on Christmas Island during the final days of the atmospheric nuclear testing program conducted by the US; and (3) helping to develop a xenon flash tube system for the Gemini-Agena space program that was used as a manual docking aid for early space

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