When Japan concluded the nervous diplomatic game of late 1941 by attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7, the University quickly mobilized itself behind a nation that had suddenly been forced into a fight for life.
". . . Each one of us stands ready to do his part in insuring that a speedy and complete victory is ours. To this end I pledge all resources of Harvard University," President Conant told the assembled students on December 8.
Within a few months the many civilian students who departed for war were being replaced by personnel enrolled in newly established Army-Navy schools. With only two dissenting votes, the Faculty agreed to the president's suggestion to convert to a tri-semester basis in order to conform to the demands of the armed forces.
60,000 Men Trained
Despite their hasty inception, the 13 service schools processed some 60,000 officers, officer candidates, and enlisted men and sent trained technicians to every battlefront of World War II before demobilization.
Eighty labs, policed by solemn guards, were set up and were assigned contracts, usually allotted by the office of Scientific Research and Development, of which President Conant was a member.
University Tasks Are Varied
"Our war effort was not remarkable for the enormous size of any one job, but rather for the extraordinary diversity and number of the jobs undertaken," Sterling Dow '25, associate professor of History and War Archivist, recalled in an interview last week.
"There was a high degree of cooperation between American universities," he continued. "Each had a special assignment. Harvard scientists studied soil mechanics, blood fractionation, treatment of burns, underwater sound, electrical phenomena in the ionosphere, and countless other fields of military importance.
The largest single University laboratory was the Radio Research Lab, set up in March 1942 in a wing of the Biology Building. Directed by F. E. Terman, now Dean of the Engineering School at Stanford University, the lab turned out 150 devices, including aluminum foil "window," and "carpet," to confound enemy radar. Its developments were credited with saving 450 American bombers and 4,500 lives.
Fiber Eliminates Flight Noise
Soon after Pearl Harbor, the Electric-acoustic lab became the first war research group at the University. Work of Leo L. Beranec's staff centered around the carefully constructed "dead room," which reproduces the virtually soundless conditions of high altitudes and is considered the best sound chamber in the country.
With volunteer conscious objectors acting as guinea pigs, the electro-acoustic researchers developed a fiberglass sound-proofing for aircraft that climinated the nerve-shattering vibrations of flight.
The Psycho acoustic lab had been requested by the surgeon general's office to investigate the 14 hearing appliances then on the market. Unlooked for results of their research were revolutionary improvements in hearing aids for the deaf, by-products of urgent military research.
Over on the Boston side of the river, the Business School, competely converted into an Army-Navy establishment by June 1943, put its Fatigue Lab at the disposal of military authorities investigating the various climatic conditions under which fighting could take place.