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Credit: Southern University Department of Physics
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Interview of David Zierler by Stephen McGuire on July 3, 2020,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,College Park, MD USA,www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/45283
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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Stephen McGuire, James and Ruth Smith Endowed Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Southern University and A&M College. McGuire recounts his family’s heritage in Louisiana and his upbringing in New Orleans, which was completely segregated during his childhood. He describes his early interests in physics and how NASA and the space race captured his boyhood imagination. McGuire describes his undergraduate education at Southern, where he was given a full scholarship and where he pursued a degree in physics. He explains his decision to enter graduate school at the University of Rochester where he focused on experimental nuclear physics and was supported by the NSF on the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory. He discusses the import of the Cold War on nuclear physics during his graduate school years, and his work with the Fulbright Group, named after Harry Fulbright, who worked on the Manhattan Project. McGuire explains his decision to transfer from Rochester to the Applied and Engineering Physics Program at Cornell for his Ph.D. and where he studied under David Delano Clark, who was the director of the Ward Laboratory of Nuclear Engineering. He discusses his postdoctoral work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he joined the High Flux Isotope Reactor group, and his subsequent work as a professor at Alabama A&M. He describes the satisfaction he felt teaching at a Historically Black University and how the proximity to the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center led to his collaborative work with NASA. McGuire explains his decision to move back to Cornell where he had a joint appointment in the nuclear reactor laboratory and the physics department. He discusses his subsequent move to Southern, where he became chair of the physics department, and he explains the origins of LIGO’s Observatory in Louisiana. McGuire explains Southern’s contributions to the LIGO collaboration, his specific research on reducing noise in the test mass mirror substrates and coatings, and he provides an overview of how the project has changed over his twenty years of involvement, and what we know about the universe as a result of LIGO. At the end of the interview, McGuire reflects on his efforts to make physics and STEM more inclusive of under-represented groups and why optimism in the future has and continues to serve him well as a citizen and as a scientist.
OK. This is David Zierler, oral historian for the American Institute of Physics. It is July 3rd, 2020. It is my great pleasure to be here with Professor Stephen McGuire. Steve, thank you so much for being with me today.
It's my pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation.
OK, so to start, would you please tell me your title and institutional affiliation?
My title is the James and Ruth Smith Endowed Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Southern University and A&M College.
That's a mouthful.
[Laughter] They made me do it, OK.
[Laughs] When did you go Emeritus, Steve?
I went Emeritus in April of 2019. It's been a little bit over a year when I've been in that capacity, as it turns out.
Before the pandemic, were you still going into the department?
Oh, absolutely. I retired in 2018, and I was appointed to the Emeritus status in 2019. And having been appointed to the Emeritus status, the condition is that I'm able to now continue to go back and forth on campus to access my office and also to access my laboratory, which I built there over the last twenty years or so. And so I have a hang tag, so can I have access to the campus. And I also have an email address, which I use mainly for university-type communications. So the email that you have for me now is probably the best way to get in touch with me. So, yes, I go back and forth, even as I speak to you, to the campus mainly to continue the work that I do in my laboratory. No question about it. And then any other things that need to be done on the campus. So it's been good that I've been able to have that access, no question.
Well, Steve, let's take it right back to the beginning. Let's start first with your parents. Tell me a little bit about your parents and where they are from.
I understand. My parents are Harry and Ruth McGuire. My dad came from a small town of Napoleonville, Louisiana. It's basically sugarcane farming country. It's on the west side of the Mississippi River. And he migrated to New Orleans as a teenager, as it turns out. And so my mother, she's from Mississippi and the name of the small town escapes me right now, but that's OK. It's a Gulf Coast town there in Mississippi. I'll get the name here in just a moment. But anyway, it's a small town, and she migrated to New Orleans also. And she and my dad met, and they did what people did in those days. They fell in love, they got married, and they began to raise a family. And that family ultimately involved eight children. And I'm the third of the eight, as it turns out, four boys and four girls. And eventually Dad got a job working in an area of the city known as the Tremé. It's a historical area there for various reasons. And that's basically where I grew up. So Harry and Ruth McGuire, Napoleonville, Louisiana. And Mississippi Gulf Coast area, there's where Mom is from. She's from Waveland, Mississippi. Thank you. [laughs]
It would come to you.
That's all right. That's it, Waveland, Mississippi. So, yes, they migrated to New Orleans and then just basically did what people did in those days; met, fell in love, settled down and raised a family. Dad worked outside the home and Mom was a dedicated housewife with both working together for the welfare and development of their eight children, 4 boys and 4 girls.
What neighborhood in New Orleans did — you grow up in?
In New Orleans, I mentioned the Tremé. It's the geopolitical Sixth Ward. However, it has the historical significance that it was a neighborhood that was carved out of a parcel of land right adjacent to the French Quarter. And it has a reputation of being the oldest African-American community in the city of New Orleans. And it came into being as a result of a number of individuals being basically transported from the French colony of what we call Haiti nowadays, Saint-Domingue is what it was named at the time. And they were transferred to that particular parcel of land to be settled, in the New World, at that time. This was toward the end of the 19th century, when all of this occurred. So it had that historical significance to it. You may be familiar with the Plessy vs. Ferguson case, the Supreme Court decision. That originated in that area, Tremé. It turns out that Homer Plessy was a part of the Citizens Council who wanted to argue for equal treatment under the law at that time. So if you look up the history, you'll see the Tremé. And I think the full name was Claude Tremé, but check me on that. I'll check that also. Item number one. The other thing I would mention is that the plot of land is right adjacent to the French Quarter, and was part of the old Morand plantation. That land was purchased from the plantation owner, as a place for these people who were being brought to the New World to live and build a community, which they did. It's also known as the birthplace of jazz. [laughs] New Orleans, OK.
Steve, I want to ask, by law and, sort of, unofficially, how segregated was your childhood?
Well, it was absolutely segregated. I grew up in the Jim Crow segregated South. Throughout my youth I only attended public schools, such that the facilities of my elementary, middle and secondary education were strictly segregated. I can also remember riding on the buses whereby there was a sign that was attached to the back of each seat of the bus. Every seat had a place for a sign which said that colored persons could not sit forward beyond this particular position. Such that, when the bus was filling up with individuals, a white person could, in fact, take that sign and just move it toward the back, until you're all the way at the back of the bus. And then black people had to stand up. So I remember that as a kid growing up, riding the buses with my dad, going to various places in the city. No question about it. I remember the “white only” and the “colored only” signs on the drinking fountains. I mean, for us that was just a humiliating part of life..
Did your parents ever give you lessons or advice on how to navigate between, sort of, keeping your dignity and not getting angry?
Oh, absolutely. For sure. To be honest with you—let me make the following comment. It was interesting. Because you see, the Tremé was an area of town that originally was quote-unquote “integrated”. Very diverse. There were whites, Creoles, blacks all living in the same area. And even during the time I lived there, there were white persons, white families, in our neighborhood. Right around the corner from my house was a white girls' Catholic school. Three blocks from my high school, there was the major white high school in the area. So it was a rather interesting situation. On the one hand, and I'm talking from a standpoint of a child, you see all these "white" and "colored" elements of segregation. But I played occasionally with white kids and had informal interactions with white kids. We were neighbors. You simply can't keep the children apart all the time, by the way. So it didn't make any sense in a way because you've got to be able to interact with people. But, boy, when it came time for things like school, church, recreational facilities, eating places, movie theaters or anything public there were segregated facilities. NO. That didn't happen in my particular case.
OK, let me get back to your question directly. Mom and Dad, on the one hand, they did not have much formal education. Neither graduated from college. In my family, my generation was the first generation to go to college. But growing up in my household, there were things that they taught us to navigate and excel in life. You raised that question, not to become angry, but just how to navigate life. And there were general guidelines —and I just reduce it to these four, principles that I learned growing up in our home. They had a reverence for God. They weren't very religious people, necessarily, but they, in fact, knew the importance of the Lord having a main place in your life. And so there was this practice of always keep God first in your life. On the one hand, I went to church. But, you know, we grow over time and begin to understand these things better by and by. But that was the first thing I would mention. Always keep God first in your life.
A close second, a very strong second, was to “get your education”. They taught us that the way to a better life in this world is through education. And so, as a consequence, indeed, we had that, sort of, drummed into us. And I believed them. As a kid, your parents are talking to you, and so you just take their instructions, put it that way. The other one was that wherever you go, whatever you do, you give a good account of yourself, your family, and the community that produced you. I mean, that was, I would say, the third principle.
You mean represent well?
Absolutely. You did not want to come home when there'd be a bad report. [laughs] No bad reports. They did occur, but, you know, they were handled in the proper way.
Steve, did your parents have a sense of hope that inequality would get better over time? Would they be surprised at all the terrible things that are happening even today?
Would they be surprised at it? Not really. Let me give you the fourth thing. The fourth thing in this summary I was giving was, insofar as its [unclear] for me and for everybody, was to always take care of your family. That was very important. You felt that the family unit as well as the extended community family was extremely important. And years later, I learned that it was important from the standpoint of propagating those values that made the community successful. Propagating them to the next generation. That's the key. That's job number one. Prepare the next generation. Now, David, you asked me a question a moment ago. I didn't mean to jump ahead. But you asked me, did they ever give me a what now? Would you repeat your question?
So the question was, there's a balance between, you know, you don't want to rock the boat too much and get yourself in trouble. But you also want to maintain your sense of dignity and have you know, a degree of knowing that the situation of being second-class citizens is unacceptable. And that's a line to walk, right?
Yes. And basically, you know, given everything I've said so far, yes. They understood the potential difficulties with crossing that line. My dad grew up during a time—this was in rural Louisiana, OK. Napoleonville, Louisiana. And he told me things about experiences he saw as a child growing up. To warn me, he actually did this. When I would speak in terms of the civil rights movement. That was the movement of the day. When I would speak, he never would disagree with me. He knew that there was unequal, unfair treatment under the law and he knew that they were wrong. But he also had a sense of what kinds of retribution he had seen. And so out of an interest, I would say, in terms of protecting his family, he basically told us, you stick with what we tell you to do, OK? And you, in fact, don't accept these things that you see going on around you in terms of segregation, in terms of the idea that you're not as good as somebody else. He and my mom basically taught us we can do anything we put our minds to. Just follow those four basic principles. Don't forget your education. And go where the opportunity can be found. If you can't get it here because of one reason or the next, and you have a possibility of going somewhere else and continuing your education, for Heaven’s sake, do it. Take advantage of that. Don't settle for what you have here, no question about that.
So, yes, they were concerned about our welfare in more ways than one. Certainly within the context of what they knew were the forces that we were going to encounter in time. And so they helped prepare us for that. I mean, I learned later on that the laws in Louisiana, insofar as education, were truly outlandish in terms of how we were—look, even in my own experience, if you look at the quality of the facilities and the schools that we attended, well they were far less than the whites received.
Of course. Separate and unequal.
Very unequal in terms of materials and physical environment. The books that I got in school were used books, and they had the names of people in them that I didn't know anything about. The newer versions of those books were, in fact, given to the white students, and we were given the old books, as a means of keeping us less prepared. I remember that very clearly. My dad, when he moved to New Orleans, one of the things he did was he became what was called a “roving custodian”. And As such he would go from school to school when called upon by the school board and clean up the school when the regular custodian couldn't be there. And from time to time, he would bring us things home that people discarded from those schools. And I saw the same thing there. It was the used books with the names of all the students who had used those books over time. So we were treated absolutely as second-class citizens. The state of Louisiana—I'll give you another example—I learned later, would actually pay people interested in obtaining graduate education. Would pay them to go out of state to schools elsewhere to maintain segregation, in higher education for example, at LSU. They would pay them. I didn't know this at the time.
But there was another side to this. And this is the good part. We had teachers who were the best. They came from the community, so they understood us, culturally speaking. And most importantly, they cared about us and our success. The teachers would visit my home and talk with my parents, sometimes unannounced, about me and what I was doing in school. And this is giving you my own experience. So there was a certain understood unity. My parents knew what the problems were, and they did their best. They gave us their best to, in fact, prepare ourselves for the world that we would see. For, their commitment, concern for our welfare and preparation and their sacrifice, you know, I'm eternally thankful. Because in spite of—oh, I'll give you another example.
The high school that I attended, Joseph S. Clark Senior High School, the building that they gave us, was founded in 1947. That was the first high school for African-American students in what's called the downtown section of New Orleans, not just the Tremé. They gave us a building that was originally an elementary school to conduct business. Of course, there were so many students who wanted to go to high school, they had to have a platoon system to accommodate all the students. That is, there would be classes in the morning for one group and then classes in the afternoon for a second group. So the building was kind of overwhelmed with people who were indeed interested in getting education. Interestingly enough, my dad, originally, he was promoted to a head custodian at that school. So we basically grew up right there next door to the first public high school in the Tremé section of the city, which was in the downtown section of New Orleans. So I got a chance to see education in the action while growing up, so to speak. And by the time I got to high school, you know, I saw it in full effect. Strict discipline by the principal. Mr. Jesse O. Richards, I recall. And that permeated to everything in the school: the classes, the expectations that were placed on us, the requirements for discipline, the encouragement and the stimulus to do your best. I mean, nobody necessarily used these words, per se, but you saw it in the way that we were treated. Of course, being youngsters, you know, we think these folks are just being tough on us sometimes. But, no, they were doing the right thing, in retrospect.
Perhaps I’ve been going on and on and on about my experience of growing up and how my parents handled it, how the community handled it at that time. And, of course, New Orleans, as you know, beginning with Plessy vs. Ferguson, was a place where there was always civil rights activities going on. No question about it.
Steve, were you interested in science and the natural world sort of even before you were exposed to these things as a student?
Yes. That's the short answer. If I could take your question and couch it another way, I would say how did you get involved in physics? How did I get involved in physics? And there's a story behind it. And it relates to what you just asked me, David. How did I get interested in the natural world and how it works? How did I get interested in physics? I had to ask myself that question some time ago. And there's a multipart answer. The short answer is, I don't know, OK. [laughs] All I do know, however—As far back as I can remember, I remember wondering about how things worked, why things were as they were in terms of physical phenomena. We've got this moon, which is bigger than any other star, any other light in the sky, you know what I mean? And I have these trains coming down these railroad tracks right in front of my house there. Why is there this—I didn't know it was a drainage canal. But why is there this water, this man-made stream right in front of my house there, in the neighborhood where we lived? So I always remember wondering about how things worked as a child.
OK, so you grew up. You go to school. And eventually I wound up in an elementary school located a few blocks from my house. Turns out the previous elementary school, the first elementary school in that area, was just overwhelmed with students, so they built us a new one. Brand spanking new one right in my neighborhood. And so I went to school there. And one of the things that the principal and the teachers did, they wanted to expose us to different kinds of activities and things that were going on in our neighborhood. In our city, in our area. They knew that we might not have access to that kind of experience otherwise. So, enter the field trip. We would go on field trips, and they would take us to places like the HOLSUM bread factory, the Browns Velvet ice cream factory, City Hall, to see how politics worked. We'd go out for the afternoon and see some things, and then we'd come back to school.
Around 1963 or so, NASA came to town. Sputnik had occurred, and Louisiana was chosen as a place that would help build rockets. And so a town called Michoud, Louisiana, was set aside to build this plant. NASA was interested in connecting with the local community, I learned later on. And lo and behold, field trip. we're going to go out to the Michoud plant for a field trip. That was the big news at the time. So we get on the bus, and we go out to the Michoud plant. We drive up to the facility. It was only about fifteen miles away from where we lived, but it may as well have been in another galaxy, insofar as what was going on there. But, remember, the teachers wanted to expose us to things outside of the world of our local environment. In short, they were committed to broadening our horizons.
So, on that fateful day we drove up to the NASA facility there, and I can remember getting off the bus. Single file, as we did, we walked into this building. And a man came out of the back of the facility, and he began to talk to our teacher. They seem to be whispering over here on the side something, as far as I could tell. I was just standing by, waiting with the rest of the students. But my eyes wandered over to this machine that had all these blinking lights on it. And then there were these people who were taking these big racks of cards and feeding them into this machine. It sounded like a machine gun or something. And they did this religiously. And then they had these big structures there. I don't know what they were. Like, I don't know, some kind of spaceship. Then the man turned his attention to us and began to speak on what they did at that place. And as he was speaking, my eyes continued to wander. And as he continued to talk about, what they were doing ………. was building rockets that would ultimately put people in orbit and take people to the moon and take people into space, I thought to myself, and I can remember to this day, "Wow, yes, this is the place for me."
How old were you when you had this thought? Do you remember? Eight, nine years old?
I can tell you. I was eleven years old. No question about it. So what do you do? You get on the bus, and you go back to school, eventually. Now, I had no engineers and scientists in my family, OK. So there was no one who could take my ideas and, sort of, run with them, this kind of a thing. That's OK. That fire had been lit, so to speak. That light bulb had been turned on to high. So I just went back and, you know, went through junior high school, and I go on to senior high school.
Now I'm back at the first public high school in that area. The Joseph S. Clark Sr. High School in New Orleans. And I'd taken biology, and that was great. Biology was great. I loved it. I mean, I studied everything. My older sister had, in fact, gone to college. She had finished her first year. She took biology as a requirement, and her book was there at home. So, guess what? When I took my biology class in high school, I would study the book that we had, but then I would read the book that she left at home. So that kept me always ahead of the class in that regard. Fascinating stuff, though, as I went through it. Then, of course, the next thing you take in the college prep sequence is chemistry. So I took chemistry. Now, in chemistry, you had to do lab work. And that was the next, I guess, “turn-on”, so to speak. So we did experiments, and we took data, and we did calculations, and I just thought that was wonderful. I did. I had a great time in chemistry class, especially when doing lab exercises. The next course in the sequence, by the time you get to be a senior, is physics. So I was enrolled in a physics course. And I had one of the most brilliant physics teachers there was around. A lady by the name of, ultimately, Dr. Olympia E. Boucree.
Mrs. Boucree was a different kind of teacher for me. Extremely knowledgeable. She would always challenge you, that's for sure. And she—it was interesting. Of all the questions I asked her, she never answered one. She would always respond with a question. "Have you thought about it this way, Steve?" Or, "Remember back when we did this particular problem, remember what you did there?" And then she would disappear. And then I would go back to study and then get the answer, look up, and she was gone. So the next day in class, I would, you know enthusiastically come in saying, "Look, I solved the problem. I got an answer. I want to tell you about it." “Well, Steve,” she would say. Why don’t you go to the board and show the class.” I guess she wanted to keep that interest going with me so much so that she entered me into physics competitions around the city. And we had good success with that, as it turns out, winning first place in the city and runner-up in the state competitions. So much so that when I was in the library reading on one occasion, and I read that book that said that physics was the only subject that attempted to explain everything. When I read it, I said to myself , "This is what I want to do." So, eventually, with her recommendation, I received a full academic scholarship to go to college to study physics at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA.
And so that's the long-winded way of saying, you know, what happened to me? How did I get involved? Did I know I had this in me? No, but I knew something was there. It had something that turned out to be an interest in the natural world, which, you know, fortunately, the school system that I went to encouraged that. Did I have the best books, the most advanced books? Did I have the best laboratories? Did I have the best facilities? Not really! Remember, this building had been constructed for use as an elementary school. So I learned later that, you know, it wasn't equipped with the kind of laboratories, equipment, and things that a high school would have for proper instruction at a high school level. There was subsequently another high school which was built basically in the “white” area, so to speak, of town that was given the name of my elementary school. You see, my elementary school was Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, but you couldn't put the name of a white person on a black school. So they gave me the name of what had to be the greatest leader in education in the state of Louisiana. A gentleman by the name of Joseph Samuel Clark, who became the founding president of Southern University at Baton Rouge campus. So in any case, we had to just operate under those circumstances. We didn't have a gymnasium, for example, to play basketball and do physical education until I was a senior in high school, back in 1966. So we didn't have the facilities, however we had people who encouraged us. Beginning at the home, extending to the community, the church and definitely reinforced by the teachers in the schools that we attended. That's what I saw. I'm sorry, am I answering your question? Hopefully, I am.
Absolutely. Absolutely you are. When it was time to think about college, were you already intent on physics? Did you know you wanted to pursue physics as an undergraduate?
By the time I was midway, I would say, through Mrs. Boucree's class, there could be no doubt about it. I wanted to learn as much as I could about physics.
And did you connect in your mind that light bulb that went off as an eleven-year-old and realizing that physics was going to be the way that you'd get to where you wanted to go?
At the beginning I didn't know what physics was, but I know what you mean. [laughs] Look, David, all I knew was that I had this drive inside me, this burning to learn. And that's always been there. Children have that in them when they are born. But we have to be careful not to allow systems to beat it out of them [laughs] by the time they become seniors in high school. Got to keep that going. In my case, that wasn't a problem. So on the one hand I didn't know it was physics, but I knew that's what I wanted to do. Now the point you raised is a good one, in that, you're right. By the time you graduate from high school and you go to college, you're going to college to get an education in order to be able to provide a life for yourself and your family. That's the firstpriority. Can I get a job doing physics? Well, first I've got to get the education. So it turns out that I was awarded a full academic scholarship to attend Southern University and study physics. So I couldn't turn that down. That was an opportunity of a lifetime to obtain a college education.
Did you apply to schools that were not historically black colleges also?
Say it again, please.
Did you also apply to schools that were not necessarily historically black colleges and universities?
Yes, I did apply to LSU and Tulane. But the key for me was, how do you pay for college?
So my question is, you weren't specifically looking to go to a historically black college? That was just great that they were able to offer you the free tuition?
It turned out that the scholarship to Southern covered tuition and fees. That opportunity was not to be taken lightly. My parents and high school counselors emphasized the value of the offer to me and expressed much pride in the accomplishment. A golden opportunity.
I had seen my older sister go to college. I saw my older brother go to college. And I knew, by that time, about this business of tuition. Fortunately, they were local schools, and then they had room and board, but there was tuition involved in it. Eight kids. Dad, he worked two or three jobs, ultimately, for us. We made it through. We managed the money carefully. But this college thing was just another financial burden. So I actually began to think long and hard by the time I was a junior in high school about how I'm going to pay for college, how are we going to pay for college. And at that time, to be honest with you, there were two avenues that I knew about. One—about that time, we're talking the mid '60s—college sports begin to be, or become, a big-money enterprise. So the universities were recruiting athletes, and there were people in my community who had received scholarships to go to college to play football, and/or to play basketball. So that was possibly one avenue that was available. And I actually thought about that seriously inasmuch as by the time I had completed my junior year I had been selected as a member of the ALL CITY basketball team. But then, Mrs. Boucree entered me into those physics competitions, and that got the attention of Southern University, who, I didn't know it at the time, were building an exceptional undergraduate physics program there. And they offered me that full academic scholarship to study physics at Southern. That was just a blessing beyond imagining. I was thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. I had this wonderful possibility. The door had been opened!
Now when you go to college, it's a new environment and everything, but you're in a position now to learn and prepare yourself. It was at Southern University that I answered that question that we were talking about earlier having to do with, how do you get a job doing physics? And the answer came from one of my professors, Dr. Joseph A. Johnson III. On one occasion, he gathered all of the physics majors that were there with him into a room and he said, "Now, what are you guys going to do with your physics degrees?" And I told him what I would like to do is obtain a master's degree in physics and then go work in a laboratory where I can do research. So he looked at me, and he said, " You want to do research?" I said, "Yes, I want to do research." And he said, "Well, no, you have to have a PhD to do research." I said, "PhD? All right, then that’s what I will do."
So, in a way somewhat similar to Ms. Boucree, he helped prepare me to, in fact, go to graduate school. In fact, he sent me off to graduate school at the University of Rochester. But it was that professor who opened up my eyes. Now, the university helped with that in the following sense. There were, for example, summer programs that were being offered, basically supported by the government and certain schools outside of Louisiana. And what happened was there was one program that was being sponsored by the Carnegie and the Ford Foundations. And it was called the Harvard-Yale-Columbia Intensive Summer Studies Program (ISSP). But the point is that they would allow you to come to that school for the summertime, take classes, do field trips, this kind of thing, enrichment types of activities, and work in a laboratory. And that was another eye-opening, door opening growth experience for me. I should mention also that during that summer of 1968 I spent at Columbia University I had the honor of studying modern physics laboratory in Pupin Hall under the guidance of distinguished Columbia University physics professor, Dr. Lucy J. Hayner.
Then right after that—Oh, also, Dr. Felton G. Clark, the Southern University president selected me to participate in an exchange. program with University of California, Los Angeles, and I went there for a year and studied physics. No, no, you're right. That was the first time I was in a classroom with white students and other students from other ethnicities. So that was a new experience in itself. But learning, being able to learn the subject and continue my personal and professional development in that particular arena, was very important to my growth. And then, when I went back to Southern after that junior year, that's when my adviser, Dr. Joseph A. Johnson III said, "Your grades are good enough to get into graduate school. So I'm going to recommend you go to the University of Rochester." So I did, as it turns out.
What was the connection to Rochester with your professor?
Oh, I would say two things. One, he had a classmate from Yale who was a faculty member there, and he knew about Rochester. My professor, he went to Yale for graduate school. So he was familiar with, you know, what physics was being done there, as it turns out. And that was really a good thing to have access to that kind of knowledge. So I would have to say, his knowledge of the reputation of school, and the fact that he knew somebody who had gone there, from Yale. My professor was Professor Joseph A. Johnson III, and the faculty member at Rochester was Professor Thomas Ferbel. At Yale, both were members of the same research group, — Do you know him?
I talked to Tom last week, actually.
You talked to Tom Ferbel?
I talked to Tom Ferbel.
Would you please tell him that you spoke with me?
And give him my best regards and thanks for all that he did.
Now both, Joe Johnson and Tom Ferbel, were particle physicists, but my professor Joe, he went over into plasma physics after this. But, more importantly, how's Tom doing?
He's doing well, thank goodness. He's having some trouble walking, but other than that, he's sharp as a tack. He's editing and writing like crazy. He's doing great.
That's wonderful. Thank you very much for sharing that with me. I really appreciate that. That's great. I didn't know what happened [laughs]. So that was great. So where were we now?
Steve, I wanted to ask, did you know that you wanted to focus on nuclear physics before you got to Rochester, or you landed on that after Rochester, after you got there?
I landed on it afterwards. I wound up working at the National Science Foundation-funded Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory at Rochester. At that time, it was the largest single land-based physics project in the history of the National Science Foundation. In retrospect, it was similar to LIGO.
And Steve, my two other questions with your undergraduate. First is, did you come out of undergraduate thinking that you wanted to work more on theory or more on experiment? Did you have those kinds of decisions already set?
Not consciously so. But ever since I can remember, I was a tinkerer. Take it apart, put it back together. Knowing how things worked and making them operate a certain way was important and interesting to me for some reason.
And then the other question is, when you got to Rochester, how well-prepared did you feel relative to other students who might have been coming from schools with more resources?
I understand what you're saying. Actually in terms of just the sheer preparation and whatnot, I was at a disadvantage in terms of depth of exposure to the subject, I would say. But in terms of determination, capability and desire to learn, I never doubted my ability to excel, I don't think so. You know, I was someone who would learn everything that I could. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
You were able to make up lost ground pretty quickly?
Well I had better. Yes. My approach was that no matter what the circumstances, you know what the objective is, so you have to commit yourself to achieving that goal. And that's, I mean, there was never any question in that regard. You had to give everything that you had in order to be successful. Give it your absolute best shot. You don't look back. You continue to look forward, always keeping your eyes on the prize.
Had you ever been as far north as Rochester before? Was this like a totally new world for you?
Oh, that was—oh my goodness. The people would look at me, and they'd say, "Oh, here comes Steve with his Louisiana winter jacket on." [laughter] "He'll learn." [laughter] So, no. Oh, the first year I was at Rochester they was forty-two inches of snow. [laughter] There was a bit of a culture shock, OK. Weather shock, in any case, it was an interesting change.
You know, your question does raise a good point. And I'll tell you what that point is. We talk about, you know, preparation in terms of the subject matter. But when people, students like me, come from schools like I came from and they go to schools like Rochester or like Cornell or say, Berkeley, there is a culture shock, a different way of thinking both socially and culturally, that those students will encounter. I guess it was just like if those students from those schools came to, say, Southern University during that time, they would see something different, something they had never seen. Going in the other direction, there's a bit of a culture shock that you have to be able to adjust to, also. Because you're now with—whereas before everybody in the classroom came from basically the same social environment. [unclear] and so you understood things, you communicated well, so forth and so on. But now you have to adjust to those changes in expectation as well. And what I found is that that can be a determining factor, that is, how well you adjust to those differences in cultural environments.
And so, in my advice to students, and in my, what's called nowadays mentoring, with them, I make them aware as they see it of the difference in lives there and not to get distracted by it. But again, to learn from it. Build that into your background. Make it a part of your professional preparation. In a way, that's part of it. Not the physics. This field. You're going to have to ultimately interact with people. You're going to have to deal with this environment that you're now a part of. And the environment, say, for example, in physics will be somewhat different from the environment in, say, education and other areas. So you have to learn that culture as you're going along. And it may be a kind of a step function you have to go through, if you go from a school like mine to a school that's very different in terms of how things are viewed, put it that way. That whole value system that you come into. So you don't want that to be a distraction is the point, OK. You want to grow, and you want to benefit from it. You want to strengthen yourself from it. And you can do that, but you have to be prepared for it.
Yes. So Rochester was a bit different. Very interesting city, historically speaking. I found that out there also, as well. So there was a lot of benefit to be gained there from that that you'd simply have to take advantage of and use as a positive thing that you have available to you for your continued growth in that particular environment.
Steve, how did you refine and help define your specialization in physics during your time in Rochester?
How did I define it? I guess in terms of—well, to be honest with you, everywhere I went at Rochester, I was recruited to go join this group or that group. And the first group didn't seem to have much promise in terms of what I would say is productivity. Sometimes you can work in an area which, in the three or four or five years you want to get your PhD, you may not see that you're able to, in fact, accomplish what you want to accomplish in that time period. That is to say, you may have to build apparatus from scratch and get the bugs out and all these other things. And again, being a tinkerer, that was great. I was recruited, however, to join a group at the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory. And the place was up and running, as it turns out. I mean, they were doing things, getting data, publishing papers, the whole nine yards. And also there was an experimental group there, and that appealed to me as well. So I basically—it was a good experience. I just gravitated to it because of what I saw in terms of potential associated with it.
OK, so you're in the Cold War, also, correct?
So this is nuclear physics, correct?
Nuclear physics is at the foundation of the whole… of the arms race, right. So there seemed to be a connection with being able to go there, get experience in that arena, and then be able to, in fact, move into something where you could get employment, you know, stable employment, over time and continue. By that time, I was close to my master's degree, I had a family, a young family, my wife and daughter. So I began to think in practical terms. Considerably, OK, at that particular point in time. You must consider also that universities in United States had invested tremendously in terms of PhD scientists. You're in the Cold War now. And so there was just a bumper crop. I just figured the competition was going to be tough, so I'd better, kind of, optimize my chances at being able to do what I loved but, at the same time, provide for my family insofar as this preparation and graduate school was concerned. So it took on a certain practical aspect to it for me, at that particular time. And there was a lot of interesting—there were a lot of things in nuclear physics, problems that were not understood very well at that particular time. So it provided an environment that, I guess more than anything else, appealed to me.
So I made a decision to go over there and join the Fulbright Group. Harry Fulbright was a Manhattan Project physicist, . He was an experimenter, so he was connected with the Cold War, no question about that. And he knew a lot about what was involved in—not necessarily into weaponry but into nuclear physics applications areas. He was a very practical person. He was an experimentalist. As a physicist, he was quite good at what he did. So he was a good person to learn under, put it that way. And the subject was something that I saw and had a lot of promise at that time. We didn't know where the Cold War was going, in the end. But there would be a need for expert personnel to be able to work in that particular area. So, I mean, my interest as an experimentalist was certainly satisfied in that laboratory. There was just no end to what you could learn there.
OK, so you're going to measure nuclear properties. How do you do that? You have to be able to take the instruments. You have to build the apparatus in all respects, ground up. You have to test it, you have to confirm that it works properly, you have to take the data, have to analyze—and they had the whole picture, right here. So I went that route basically for that reason. Wasn't necessarily the most popular. It was very strongly experimental. You asked me earlier, did I have a preference for theory? Well, one had to do the theory and understand the theory in order to be able to—experimentalists basically test the theory. They compare their data to what the theory predicts, and then you make a decision in terms of which one is actually right, so to speak. If you get a match, that's confirmation. But if you don't, then you have to somehow explain that in terms of what happened in the experiment, or maybe there's something not quite right with the theory, as it turns out.
And if you do the experiment, I'll say correctly, then there's only two possible outcomes, right? One, you confirm the theory. Or two, you disprove the theory. The confirmation is good, and that's a positive outcome. But if you've disproved it, now you've made a discovery. And that basic principle sort of stuck with me, all throughout everything, all throughout my career. I mean, even into LIGO, as it turns out. Tough experiment, incredibly challenging, right? But oh, my goodness. [laughs] Say hello to challenge. So, for me, that was kind of an obvious reaction to this experiment called LIGO. But that approach had been with me for a long time, and there was no bigger challenge, at least as I saw it at the time.
I'm getting off the subject. I didn't mean to get off the subject. But why nuclear physics? The experimentation was part of it. The fact that you had to, in fact, still compare the theory with experiments. I mean, how much growth it could provide. And the possibility for, in fact, getting a stable employment, long term, is the way I saw it. Oh, go ahead. I should let you talk.
No, that's OK. So what was your thesis on, at Rochester?
The thesis at Rochester was an experimental study of the structure of medium mass nuclides, specifically calcium-40 and zinc-62, through the use of the method of direct reaction spectroscopy. These nuclei were produced using the alpha particle transfer reaction, (6Li,d), at the Rochester MP Van de Graaff accelerator, the most powerful of its kind at the time. In short, 6Li nuclei having an energy of 28 and 32 million electron volts were shot at the targets with an alpha particle being transferred to the target nucleus and a deuterium (d) particle emitted. A major part of my responsibilities was to fabricate the Ar-36 gas targets and the self-supporting Ni-58 thin films needed to carry out the experiments as well as implementing an upgrade of the spark chamber used to detect the outgoing deuterium (d) particles.
During that time, a major problem was achieving sufficient resolution in the angular and energy spectra of the outgoing deuterium particles to enable identification of the energy, angular momenta and parity of the product nuclei. Our work resulted in the first large-scale demonstration of this reaction as a useful spectroscopic tool for studying the structure of medium mass nuclides. Of importance was how the neutrons and the protons, in fact, were arranged in the nucleus. What were their properties, in terms of their spin, for example. And also, do we have the physics of the interaction—Oh, I should… Let me pause for a moment. So how do you test that? OK, we use the basic idea that we've used in nuclear physics .since the beginning. One, you shoot something that you know at something that you don't know, and then something comes out. And so you analyze what came out, and then you interpret it in terms of what must have been the state, or nature, of your target nucleus at the time of the interaction. So the idea is, there's this business of you had to understand the details of the interaction, and you had to understand that within the context of the properties of whatever came out.
So the experiment that I got involved in was something called lithium-6, d. What is that? You shoot a beam of lithium-6, it's a separated isotope, at, for example, a target of nickel-58. So the idea is you shoot it, and then there's an interaction, and then a deuteron, which is a proton and a neutron bound together, comes out. What that meant was that you, in fact, transferred an alpha particle. Now, when you transferred that alpha particle, you created a nucleus, a product nucleus. Now, the properties of the angular distribution of the deuterons when they come out, which we measured, when they come out of the reaction itself tells us something about the final stage of nickel-58 alpha particle system there. And so, in that way, we learned something about—you start off with a known entity, the ground state of the nickel-58. But then you go to an excited state of the particle nucleus. And so you determine, then, the properties of product nucleus in terms of its structure by looking at the distribution of the deuterons that came out in your experiment. This work was done at the split-pole magnetic spectrograph at the University of Rochester. And my job was to, in fact, understand all of what I just talked about in terms of building the target. I also had to build a detector to properly interpret the pattern of nuclei that came off. In this case, the deuteron particles. And so that was a big challenge to get the resolution that needed. In fact, our experiment was the first one that had sufficient angular resolution that we were able to make specific spin assignments to the final nucleus state.
Because before then nobody else could. I mean, the energy loss of the lithium-6 inside the particle obscured all of that. And so there's two things that had to be done. I need to bring it back to [unclear]. One, you had to make the target thin enough such that you didn't lose much energy when you entered but you got a good interaction. And what that meant was I had to build a target that, indeed, was self- supported. Most of the targets that they used in those experiments were on some kind of substrate. Ah, but now you're losing energy on the way out, OK, so you got scared of the final state. As well, in fact, as the spin of the final state. If you could, in fact, get out of that experiment well-defined. maxima and minima in the deuteron distribution, then you're in a better position to determine not only the energy but also the spin of the final state. And, therefore, the structure of the product nucleus, as it turns out. It's kind of like looking at a diffraction pattern of light. You bounce it off a small object, and you get this diffraction pattern. But it's not quite the same. But the idea is that they're all particles or waves, and so you see this analogy with the experiment. All right, OK. But there were problems like that that existed. And you could learn as much as you wanted, in that particular environment.
Steve, was the plan always to move on for your PhD, or did you consider staying at Rochester for that?
No. I considered staying at Rochester. The idea is this. There was a serious bumper crop of nuclear physicists coming out. [laughs] I remember sitting up nights in the control room at Rochester, and the idea was that even the guys who had been out there would say, "Steve, I don't know about this nuclear physics thing. It's just hard to get a job on it." One of my closest colleagues in those nighttime experiences was a fellow who, I can't remember his name right now, but I think he was the first president of the organization that corresponds to physicists in medicine, medical physics. Orhan Nalcioglu, was his name. He took his nuclear physics and he applied it, now, to biological systems, OK, in medicine. Now, some of that was going on already, back to University of Chicago. But it wasn't organized as a as a society. And there were also additional applications that were possible. Proton therapy is routine nowadays, right, taken for granted, but back in Orhan's day, it wasn't. So he went that route, which was very practical, as it turns out. So that was on my mind. Now, Rochester, of course, is a very, very competitive place. I liked that about it. You could learn as much as you wanted to. But, I suppose, something happened along the way, so to speak. And I'll tell you what that was. OK, I'm still thinking about, you know, my family and getting secure employment, and this kind of thing. So what I did—stick with me, David, OK. [laughs]
I ran across a program that allowed you, at least on paper, to do physics and also prepare yourself in practical areas. It was called applied and engineering physics (A&EP). Just looking at the different advertisements that I came across. There were lots of them, stacks of them. And the program was at a place called Cornell University. I had never heard of applied and engineering physics before. So I read about the program, and I said, this might be something that would help me out in making a determination of what my next step is going to be. So on my own, I just decided, I'm going to go down to Cornell and talk with somebody about this program before I made any decisions about making any changes in my graduate studies. So I got in my car one day, I went down to Cornell, and I went to the department, and I asked to speak to the director. And the director came out, and he graciously sat down and spoke. They listened to me. I told him what I was interested in doing, and he thought, and he said, "Well, look, given your background in nuclear physics, the person that you want to talk to is over in the Ward Laboratory for Nuclear Engineering." And I say, "Who?" He says, "You should talk with Dave Clark." I didn't know who Dave Clark was.
So I thanked him and went over to the laboratory. Went to the receptionist and said, ", I'm visiting the campus today, and what I would like to do is to talk with David Clark." "And who may I say is calling?" I gave her my name and why I was there. So she paged him over the intercom system, I recall, and he picked up. And then she told me, "Look, you have to wait in the lobby." I didn't know where he was or anything like that, so I just took a seat in the lobby and started reading magazines or whatever was there.
So after about maybe half an hour, toward the end of the day, it turns out, he emerged from the elevator. The secretary directed him to me, so I got up and introduced myself. And then Dave and I started talking. I gave him some of my background and he listened. Gave him my background, told him what I was interested in, why was there. No, I didn't get invited, but I wanted to come down here to see what you had, so that I can, you know, help me make a decision about what I'm going to do. He listened. And then out of the blue, he said, "Oh, look, we're still [unclear]. Why don't you come down to my laboratory, and I'll show you my experiment." Well, we went down the elevator, entered the bay area, and he talked to me about his experiment and what he was trying to do with that beam of neutrons coming out of that reactor. So, in my case, I listened, and it seemed to be rather interesting. And so we finished up, and we went back up to the lobby. So I said, "Well, how can I get involved in this experiment?" And he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Hey, gee whiz, you'd have to be a graduate student here." And so I said, "OK, well, what do you think my chances are of being able to get into this program?" He shrugs his shoulders again, and he says, "I don't know. You would have to apply." [laughs] Yeah, I guess that is kind of obvious.
So I went back to Rochester and continued my work at the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory. And, by that time, I had completed a master's thesis using this lithium-6,d reaction to study these medium mass nuclei. And I was still working on some of those things there, at the time. And I applied to the program. And later on that year, that summer, I remember getting an acceptance notice for the program. So I said, wow, this is great. So I went over to Dr. Fulbright, and I sat down, and I had a conversation with him. "Look, I got this notice from Cornell that they accepted me into this program." And he said, "Yes, I know, they called me up and talked with me." I said, "Well, what did you tell them?" "I told them what I knew." They gave me the details, as it turns out.
So, to make a long story short, I conveyed the news to my wife, Saundra. And so when it came time to enroll in the A&EP program at Cornell, I packed up my bags and took the family down there and started graduate school at Cornell. So the experience at Rochester was great, no question about that. I want to be very clear on that. The key issue here for me—not an issue, but the key element, I should say, is a very competitive environment. A competitive environment. You want to do physics? It's there somewhere. And then you had opportunities, you know, beyond measure. And I helped, actually, during my first summer there to put in, install, the first laser energetics laboratory, which was in the basement of Bausch & Lomb Hall, I remember, while I was there. I worked with Dave Douglass, for a summer, on his aluminum bar gravitational wave detector. I didn't know what gravity wave astronomy was at the time but it sounded like an interesting experimental project. Basically, we found out the bars didn't have the required sensitivity, but at the time I didn't realize all the details involved.… And then, of course, I worked over at the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory. There was just an enormous amount of opportunity that was available. Because, in part, of Tom Ferbel, if you want to get right down to it. If he didn't, you know, support me in that initial stage, I don't know. I don't know what would have happened. Because Tom Ferbel was the only person that I knew when I went to Rochester. That's a fact. Could you please remind me of his wife's name.
Oh, I'm not sure if I caught it myself. She was there, though. I saw her. She brought tea to Tom. So she's there, she's well.
Wonderful. Please convey to the whole family. I think he had a couple of kids while I was there, also. You know, Joe Johnson, Tom Ferbel, are the two personswho helped form the foundation for my career in graduate studies leading first to a master's degree with Harry Fulbright there. That was a good experience. People talk about growth experiences. And, again, it goes back to the advice of my parents … Wherever the opportunity is, you go there, give a good account of yourself, and you'll be all right, so to speak. Education is the way to a better life. Those principles kind of manifested themselves during that particular time period. Am I answering enough about the Rochester experience? Or do you want more? [laughs]
Let's move on to Cornell. What year did you start at Cornell?
It must have been 1974.
Nineteen seventy-four. And were you looking to continue on with nuclear physics, or were you looking for an opportunity to switch up fields a little bit?
I just wanted to have a balance. I want to have some flexibility, OK, in terms of what I did. I would prefer to stay in nuclear physics and eventually I did, complemented by experience in nuclear engineering and applied physics. That was important at that particular point in time.
What professors at Cornell did you become close with?
Professor David Delano Clark. He was the director of the Ward Laboratory of Nuclear Engineering. PhD in nuclear physics from Berkeley under Owen Chamberlain, postdoc work at Brookhaven. The first faculty member in nuclear science within applied and engineering physics at Cornell University. So he was a senior faculty member. He had a group and an experiment at the laboratory, but he also was the director of the laboratory. Dave built it, along with advice from Hans Bethe. There was another environment there that had this practical aspect. He became my adviser, and he was an excellent adviser.
But then I learned something when I got to Cornell. At some point, you'd have to sit down and get advice in terms of coursework that you'd have to take. And in all my enthusiasm, I sat down with Dave and I said, "OK, what courses now do I have to take in order to be able to proceed in this program?" And he said, "Well, you know, at Cornell, in the graduate school, we have no required courses." I said, "We don't? How does that work?" [laughs] He tells me, "So you have to put together a special committee of three people or so that have expertise in the area that you want to go into, and you let them guide you in terms of the coursework that you have to take as you go along, so as to complete your graduate studies in most effective way." So that turned out to be Dave Clark was my chair. Mark Nelkin was there. And then Vaclav (Val) Kostroun. They were the three. Dave was nuclear, Val was a combination of nuclear and atomic physics, and Nelkin was definitely nuclear engineering. So I was going to get a taste of all in that program, and I did, as it turns out. So I chose my committee and then I proceeded to take classes and do TA-ships or whatever else they wanted me to do in the program. And I joined Dave's group along the way.
So I came to Cornell in 1974 and just rolled up my sleeves and started to work. Now, along the way, between '74 and '78, our second daughter came along. So our first daughter was born in Rochester, the second one was born in Ithaca. So anyways, my family grew, and we all grew in the process. Saundra worked at the university teaching students. Mainly chemistry. That's what she does. So she was able to find professional advancement there, as well. She did a master's degree, a master of arts in teaching, in this case with an emphasis on chemistry. So the whole family grew during that time period, and I certainly did. And by the time I got to the end of it, I began to interview for jobs. And the one that appealed to me the most was at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Oak Ridge, TN.
I got to Oak Ridge, and that was another situation where—well, they looked at the background, I think, and they found a place that would best match, and it was one that wasn't narrowly focused, but you worked on a problem, but you had to be able to work on other practical problems along the way that were of interest to the lab. The lab, in its organization, had different groups that were specific in their responsibilities and their tasks that had to be fulfilled in order to satisfy the mission of the laboratory. The laboratory had become more mission-oriented by the time I landed there in late 1978. More mission oriented. And so you just couldn't go there to work in your laboratory and your little cubby with your cubicle forever. I was called out to work on quite a few projects while I was there, no question about it. In a way, it was like a kid in a candy shop. [laughs]
Steve, did you specifically want to work in a national laboratory environment after your PhD? Was that most compelling to you?
At that point, yes, absolutely. I wanted to go to the national labs. The National lab has a tremendous reputation. I was nuclear, it was Cold War, and the national laboratories, I don't have to tell you what role they played in terms of ending the war, as it turns out. So, oh yeah, that was a great place to work. And when I found out that they were becoming more and more multidisciplinary in their character, that suited me just fine. I'd have to say, I used everything that I learned between Rochester and Cornell on that first job, no question about it. And there was more, as it turns out. You know, for a moment I began to think, these people think I can do anything. What's going on here? [laughs]
Steve, what were some of the major research projects that were going on at Oak Ridge that you joined?
I was assigned a member of the group at the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR) complex. Now, the primary purpose of the High Flux Isotope Reactor was to produce, recover, and apply transplutonium elements. And that was done inside the High Flux Isotope Reactor facilities. So, yes, I had direct experience with how nuclear reactors worked from my graduate school experience at Cornell. Because, I didn't say this in the previous part of my discussion, but idea is that I did my PhD out of the tangential beam port at the TRIGA reactor at Cornell University. Now to do that, you have to understand the total apparatus, so I understood how reactors worked. I understood safety considerations associated with them. Now, everything is being ramped up when you get to the largest-power neutron source reactor in the world. However, the basic principles are the same. So that was a reasonable place for me.
Now, it’s important to recognize that, you have known nuclear technology from the standpoint of being able to separate the many different nuclei, and identify them according to their radiation products. And so that's something that I learned also, you know, at Cornell, and, to some extent, at Rochester as well. So that was something that was in my bailiwick at the time, that expertise. And they wanted somebody who knew nuclear physics but who also could work in the experimental area. Now that turned out to be a big one because it's through the experimental area that they, in fact, solve problems. So we were the United States' supplier of transplutonium elements development, it turns out. People came to that laboratory for some of the most exotic nuclei you can imagine. Theorists, and they're designing an experiment, but they have no idea how you, how would you make this particular isotope? How would you get it to exist? And once you get it to exist, how do you have to handle it in order to be able to achieve your experiments?
There was a close connection between the outside world and what went on the inside, and that laboratory wanted somebody who understood the nuclear physics of what was being produced in the reactor within the context of what the potential experiments, what the potential applications were. There's a world of possibilities there. No question about it. Projects fell into the category of special nuclear materials, and so that meant that you had to be careful, you would be very careful, in terms of what you spoke about and what you wrote about in the open literature. That was just a part of life for me. That was a new part of life. Before, it was, you do an experiment, you get a result, you write a paper, and you publish it. No. Doesn't quite work like that. But that was OK, all right, because, I mean, it existed. And there was some publication, don't get me wrong, but the idea is that there was the issue of security that was extremely important. So, you were asking me about…
The major research projects at Oak Ridge.
Oh, well, that was a major one. I mean, that was it. For me. That was the project. You could spend your life on that, forever. The funding for that project exists out into the future. Did you have the ability to, in fact, move up professionally within the laboratory? Could you take that expertise to other areas? That is on the mind of the administration. They see the employees that come in as investments that they can get a return on outside of just that one area that they were working in.
And so, again, I was exposed to many other projects going forward, put it that way, at the laboratory. And I probably could have—I guess I would be retired from the laboratory right now, I guess, if I had stayed there. But it's not likely I would be working in that particular area that was close to my heart, you know what I mean? No, no, it was good from that standpoint—you know, I worked for a while…
Well, that was the major one. But I also worked for a while on the issue of the long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste in the United States. That was a subject that, even back then, was very much on the minds of people, the scientists, and the leaders within the country. We're making all of this nuclear waste. What are we going to do with it, long term? So I was put on that project. I did not realize it at the time but to this day, that project is still alive. That concept, that issue, is still there. I'm a member of the American Nuclear Society, and I see it in the reports, even to this day. So, yes, I probably could have done a whole career just in that area. My division director knew that it had a long-term importance, and he wanted to make sure that, in fact, Oak Ridge played its part in satisfying that problem, solving that problem, addressing that issue.
Steve, did you think you were going to make a career at Oak Ridge? Were you looking for a change of scenery? How did the opportunity in Alabama come about for you?
Well, in the time I was at Oak Ridge, I had developed, as my own inventory, about a dozen different physics projects that I was interested in working on. But you couldn't work on them at the laboratory. You did what was assigned to you, when it came down to it. And so, it basically was a decision that I made based upon my longstanding interest in doing physics. Why Alabama A&M? I don't know. It was a university. A university that had an interest in growing. It was in an area that had technology and science associated with it, so one should be able to go there, become a faculty member, and develop a research program that you could make available, now, to your students and, in the process, expose them to things that they otherwise might not see, might not know about.
So how did I get to AA&M? They offered me a job, as it turns out. And it's something that I saw a lot of potential in, in terms of my own growth as a faculty member. That was my step into academia, and it carried with it the flexibility to work on things that I had an interest in. And that's what drives me, in the end.
So you were recruited there? You weren't looking to leave, specifically?
No, no. I was recruited. No question about it.
Were you looking forward to getting back to a university environment and taking on students and teaching?
Yes, yes. I mean, absolutely. That came up on the radar screen rather prominently. I missed that. I guess that's another way to say it. I missed it. It is falls into the category of purpose number one: prepare the next generation. If you don't do that, then all bets are off, OK? Because they can go in any direction. How do I do that within the context of my own situation and my circumstances in life? Certainly you do it with your immediate family. How do you extend that to your profession? At that point in time, I saw an opportunity. What can I say? I saw an opportunity. So I decided to take advantage of it, looking at the long term possibilities.
Was the prospect of teaching at a Historically Black University, was that personally important to you?
It was, in the sense that, having come from that experience, I knew the difficulties and I knew what the—I'll put it this way. I knew what the potential was. I knew what the possibilities could be. Now, I did a little looking into the history of the school. I always do that before I go [unclear]. There was a possibility there. I saw something that could be done that certainly would be additive to the environment within which these kids were coming into. And hopefully I could be part of that. I could do [unclear]. So there was a possibility there that I didn't see where I was at the time and where I was going there at Oak Ridge. So I decided to take advantage of it. Along the way I had to. It was compelling, in a certain way. It had been put there a long time ago. The drive to do that had been put in me a long time ago, and that was just one mechanism by which it could be played out.
So I took the plunge and made the move there, began to teach classes, of course, and began the process of building a research program, which ultimately led me to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center. You're right next door. You're a government science facility. You have a university, right, that has young people. You're going to need well-trained, experienced people. They're going to need opportunity, in terms of their own professions. There was just, to me, an obvious opportunity there. A tremendous opportunity. But I had to go there to take advantage of it. So I did, and I worked for, let's see, I was there for eight years, I think it was. And we did an enormous amount of work. Many things got done, no question about that.
You mean both on the education side and on the research side?
Sure. No doubt. Whether it was the education, research, or community side, you name it. We accomplished a lot. I listed those things in that narrative that I have there. I mean, and we were recognized, no question about it. One thing I didn't know, in going to Alabama—I just missed it. My focus was just too narrow—was that the state was in the midst of a lawsuit filed by the United States, which charged Alabama with maintaining vestiges of segregation in its higher education system, particularly at the graduate level. So while I was going along—teaching my classes and doing my research with Marshall, which was great, and advising my students—and along with that, I got pulled into that particular effort to make the case for the state of Alabama. And that was an interesting learning experience. Now, Huntsville is different from most of Alabama because of the Marshall Space Flight Center and the fact that there's so much in the way of outside influence there.
It's a little less like Alabama than the rest of Alabama.
I used to tell people, "I can take you fifty miles outside of Huntsville, Alabama and make you think you went back in time fifty years." [laughs] So, in a way, I was shielded from that. I'd have to say, Huntsville was a great place, no question about it, to live and raise a family. By this time, we had a full complement of family, and things were coming along very well. Huntsville itself is a great place, no question about it.
So I ran into that, and I did give testimony. I was called in to give testimony with regard to the capabilities that were at Alabama A&M. It turns out that the state was saying that, you know, "A&M can't do any of this. Why would you even bother with it?" Why, that wasn't true. And I knew it wasn't true. Well, I was called in to testify, down in Birmingham, and I did. And eventually, Alabama did win the lawsuit, in terms of gaining the PhD program in applied physics at Alabama A&M University. I mean, before that, at one time, A&M—I think A&M existed before University of Alabama, Huntsville existed. But the financial support was going across town to build the UAH program up and nothing at A&M. We have students, citizens, who still come to A&M, and they need resources to develop, also. Look, you're systematically biased in terms of your use of taxpayers' dollars to educate the citizenry of the state. So, they lost the lawsuit.
So I got involved in that, and eventually we were successful in getting—there were two things, three things, I would point out. One was that we received permission to develop the PhD program in applied physics. Secondly, we received money to build a new science building, which we put into place. Then there was—well, the program was that a PhD was there. We got the building for the program itself. And there was one other thing. Oh, yes, of course. We put together a lecture series where annually, or as the opportunity presented itself, we would bring to campus a Nobel laureate to, in fact, talk to our students and our faculty and to just stimulate interest and give a higher profile to our programs at A&M. All those three things got put into place, and they all exist to this very day, OK, and they're very active. So we had the program. I don't have statistics at this point in time. I was called back to give a talk at a symposium that was held some time ago, but I got the impression from the symposium that everything is in good health and it's continuing to progress accordingly. So I felt pretty good about that.
Now, the other thing that happened while we were at A&M was that I became the president of the National Society of Black Physicists during that time. And there were a number of things that were happening on the international front, which we supported, that I participated in. There were a number of things. I could keep you in here all day. But I guess over time it became perhaps a little bit much. [laughs] I'll put it that way. In terms of being able to handle all of those things, you know, raise the family and keep the profession going and whatnot. So it was tough. Being able to—there was change going on in the culture of the university only will allow you to move so far so fast, as it turns out. It just became tough. You need resources, as it turns out, to do that. Things are up and running, and I received another, I guess, my second opportunity from Cornell University to come and join the faculty there. And so I decided to take advantage of that with the idea that, gee whiz, faculty members there, they do their research, that's the expectation. They have students. Gee whiz, I should be able to recruit students to a program at Cornell University, students who would benefit from it. And they teach their classes, and they're doing some committee work, which, gee whiz, the burden has to be lighter than what it is here at [unclear]. [laughs] Self-preservation—
Steve, I'm curious—
Go ahead, sure.
Leaving for Cornell is obviously, it's a step up in terms of prestige and the kind of research you'll be able to do. Was it hard, in terms of your sense of loyalty, though, leaving a place like Alabama? In terms of the educational mission, and what you might have to offer students that did not have all the privileges that students at Cornell might have had?
Let me point out that throughout my adult life I have never wavered in my commitment to the well-being of the community that produced me. If anything, my determination has grown over time.
For example, while at Alabama A&M I was able to impact the university environment in various ways. In addition to a rather heavy teaching load as an assistant professor, I broadened and deepened educational and research opportunities for the undergraduate students there. I did so for example by way of my research collaborations with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) George C. Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Department of Energy (DOE) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Through NASA, I became a member of the Japanese American Collaborative Emulsion Experiment (JACEE) experiment. In 1989 my work with the JACEE-3 experiment, for example, was recognized with NASA’s Technology Utilization Award for the “creative development of a technical innovation”, the result of my work on the analysis and interpretation of secondary particle distributions from high-energy nucleus-nucleus collisions. I should note that students were involved in my research on campus. Further, I provided critical expert testimony in the federal lawsuit: United States v. State of Alabama that led directly to the creation of the Ph.D. program in Applied Physics at AAMU, only the second of its kind at an HBCU (Historically Black College and Universities). Included also in the settlement was the construction of the Howard Foster Science Building, in addition to funding for the upgrades in the physics research and teaching infrastructure at AAMU.
An additional successful outcome of the lawsuit was the creation of the Memorial Annual Nobel Laureate Lecture Series designed to heighten the profile of the university in the local, state and national communities.
Further, I served on the National Organizing Committee of the First Edward Bouchet International Conference on Physics and Technology, held at the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy, June 8-11, 1988. Complementing these achievements was our receiving one of the first National Science Foundation (NSF), Minority Research Center of Excellence (MRCE) Awards, the Minority Center for Nonlinear Optics and Optical Materials, on which I was a co-principal investigator. These are just a few highlights of my experiences at AAMU that served to create the foundation for my career in academia.
Without question, these activities provided significant enhancements to the learning environment within which the students who attended AAMU could grow and develop their talents within their chosen fields.
In choosing to move to Cornell I saw an opportunity to contribute to its academic and research environment while strengthening my professional background and in doing so improve my long-term ability to broaden and deepen the landscape of opportunities for students. And, for certain, there were students at Cornell from varied parts of the US and the world whom I believed could benefit from my own professional experience and commitment to their career development. You might say that my approach to achieving success was always to have science provide the background for carrying out my program of teaching and research and providing sound advice and support to the students for whom I was given responsibility.
So let me be clear in that I never lost my strong commitment to the community that produced me. Thank goodness for my parents and teachers, particularly Mrs. Olympia E. Boucree, who, in fact, stimulated and encouraged me. When you are doing something very different, it’s important to have some respected person from your community come and say, “This is alright. What you are doing is good!” And this kind of encouragement becomes particularly important when you are operating, in a sense, within “unknown waters”. [laughs]
In what ways did that mission fulfill itself at Cornell? What were you able to accomplish at Cornell that you might not have been able to do at Alabama?
As you’ve mentioned, a principal difference between Alabama A&M University (AAMU) and Cornell was that the latter provided access to a well-endowed world-class research environment both on and off campus as well as the prestige of University’s reputation. Further, being an Ivy League institution of higher learning, it was private and possessed a very selective majority student population. ‘Very different from AAMU. Nonetheless, during my time at Cornell I was able to significantly expand my research and teaching capabilities as well as strengthen my reputation through the combination of faculty collaborations, students, campus facilities, and educational programs. Of course, an expectation of the institution is to excel and lead in world-class research. Having access to these resources created even greater opportunities for my own professional growth in addition to providing opportunities for young people to develop far-reaching goals and realize their career potential.
Please keep in mind that access to the next generation of students from the community that produced me was still quite possible and in some instances encouraged through a variety of programs within and outside of Cornell. Further, one could stay in touch, from a broader vantage point, with the opportunities on the educational landscape that were occurring and the challenges they created. Let me note that I served as the faculty advisor to the Cornell Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE-CU) which kept me in close contact with the community of minority students within the College of Engineering and beyond.
The challenges and expectations we’re particularly high when you become the first African-American faculty member appointed to the endowed College of Engineering at Cornell. Clearly, for me, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thus, after having started my career in academia via AAMU, “I took the plunge” and returned to Ithaca.
As I’ve mentioned, there were new vistas to be explored in both research and teaching. My appointment was in the Engineering College’s Nuclear Science and Engineering (NS&E) Program which was housed within the School of Applied and Engineering Physics (A&EP) so I taught graduate courses in NS&E and undergraduate course in introductory calculus-based physics, the latter being a requirement for the engineering undergraduates. As a result I was assigned offices at both the reactor laboratory and the physics department. Over time I developed research collaborations with faculty and students from both areas.
For example, there was a collaboration with Professor Louis N. Hand of the physics department with whom I worked on energy dissipation sources in synthetic sapphire for potential uses in microwave resonators. Now, just by the very presence of a paramagnetic impurity atom inside of the crystalline matrix its absorption properties can change such that the microwave energy can be converted into waste heat. One practical application was that of rapid detection of unexploded ordnance in abandoned regions of warfare.
Then, with private funding from the General Electric Foundation, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the National Science Foundation-funded Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR), I initiated thin film production and characterization studies having applications to radiation effects in micro- and nanoelectronics. This work involved faculty from Physics (L. N. Hand), A&EP (V. O. Kostroun and J. Silcox) and NS&E (David D. Clark). For the most part, the facilities for pursuing these problems existed in various laboratories at Cornell.
Due to the need for intense cold neutron beams for characterizing nickel boride films fabricated at the CCMR (graduate student J. D. Sulcer) I developed a collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) (G. P. Lamaze, L. Mackey, W. May).
With increasing interest by the College in having undergraduates become involved in faculty-led research, I took on the recruitment of students for on-campus summer research (REU) experiences. This was complemented with local and statewide participation in science education outreach programs at the middle and high-school levels. (J. Silcox, D. D. Clark and D. Holcomb). These are just some examples. At a place like Cornell you have available many possibilities in terms of people with whom you can discuss problems and develop possible solutions in a wide variety of areas across fields of study. That’s been the nature of the research environment at Cornell from the very beginning and it is for reasons like that I was attracted to the University from the beginning.
I've heard that.
I should mention that over the years I maintained contact with students within the HBCU community through summer programs at Cornell and involved them in my lab research. Indeed, they came from Louisiana, Alabama and Virginia. I used those experiences to motivate them to think of graduate study if they hadn’t already. One of them Jarvis D. Sulcer, returned to Cornell and did his Ph.D. in Nuclear Science under me.
Through these activities, as well serving as the faculty advisor to the Cornell Chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE-CU) over a 10-year period, my objectives in returning to Cornell were being satisfied in a manner that built upon the foundation that had been laid at AAMU. Keep in mind that the landscape of opportunities to carry out my work had been significantly broadened through research and other educational mechanisms and professional connections. In doing so the possibilities for impacting the community that produced me had increased significantly. The stage had been set to add administrative work to my experience. I witnessed it. I experienced it. And so I knew that about the place, as it turns out. And, of course, I did a lot of service work, in terms of connecting the Materials Research Society, for example, to minority communities and places like where I came from down in Louisiana, down in New York City. My goodness.
And yet Southern calls, and you're back there after a decade.
[laughs] Well, I'm going to go on, OK. Here we go. Stay with me, OK, David?
You got it.
One of the things that I did while I was at Cornell was to begin the process of integrating my research with the undergraduate experience. During that time recruiting the best undergraduates and keeping them, even at Cornell, had become a very competitive process especially among similar institutions. As such, the university administration decided to expand its emphasis on faculty research, generating funds, producing accolades etc. but also making the research available to the undergraduates who are paying all of this tuition. In short, they want to use forefront research as a recruiting and retention tool. Let me go on the say that this is strictly my interpretation of the situation. How do you, in fact, integrate research into the instructional curriculum? This was not necessarily anything new to Cornell, but in terms of widespread application and expectation that you do that with undergraduates? That was a bit. But to me, it was OK. It was good. So that's what I began to do. I began to collaborate with my faculty mentor, Dave Clark, the laboratory director and program director. And from physics, I collaborated with Donald Holcomb. Don Holcomb, senior physics professor, just an outstanding, more than outstanding, educator. Don had been a two-time department chairman and at least one-time president of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) amongst many other distinctions. I had the good fortune of working under him while teaching in physics. You might learn a thing or two, doing that. He basically emphasized, to me, this idea of being able to integrate what you did in your research with what you taught in the classroom. So that's what I began to do.
And, ultimately, that led to a paper that we published. I received a notice at some point, that the American Association of Physics Teachers were holding its winter meeting in New Orleans, LA. So I submitted an abstract in the program, and I was going to go down to New Orleans to present this paper. On the way down, on the plane, I began to read the abstract book. As I was reading through the abstracts I came across an abstract that said, in essence, that the National Science Foundation is building an experiment, half of which is in the state of Louisiana, and it's going to place the most stringent tests on Einstein's general theory of relativity to date. And it's in a place called Livingston, Louisiana. I said to myself, "Livingston, Louisiana. Hmmm. That can't be more than an hour away from Southern University." I'm wondering, does anybody at Southern know about this? David, that's the first time I ever heard about this experiment. I'm reading this. So, I say, well, I don't know, but I'm going to go to the talk to learn what this all about. So during the meeting—it was a plenary talk. I went to the talk, and the gentleman got up and spoke about the experiment. Catching waves. He described the experiment in exquisite detail, identifying very clearly what the challenges were. If you were going to see this incredibly small effect, 10-18 m, what problems you'd have to overcome. That's the first step when you begin to design an experiment. That is, what's the required response of your detector? What does it have to be? What are the requirements? So, I was convinced they understood the problems and had accepted the challenge of performing this measurement. At the end of the talk, there were questions of various sorts. But basically, I sat there in the audience startled. I didn't know anything about this experiment. Nothing, Until then.
An hour from Southern. I made a decision right then. It's time to go home. I didn't know anybody on the experiment. But let me remind you, since the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory at the University of Rochester, I had been working at large facilities. During the summertime at Livermore, at the high energy particle astrophysics laboratory at Marshall Space Flight Center, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. I'd worked at these large facilities. They provided enormous opportunities for people in the area of science preparation, professional experience, and science education. While I don't know the extent to which any laboratory in particular uses it’s resources to generate that opportunity, it is certainly exists. Now we're talking about, again, this business of, how do you stay connected to your community? I was stunned. What I saw at that moment in time was an incredible opportunity, nonetheless in my home state of Louisiana. Certainly, anywhere you place a facility such as LIGO there will be potential benefits to the local education community. Just how it plays out depends on the details.
OK, so immediately afterwards I make a few phone calls to people whom I knew in Louisiana and guess what? No one has even heard of the experiment! And at that moment I envisioned was that, there's a possibility this can become a reality. You couldn't lose by doing the experiment. It's an experiment that has to be done. My mind was racing. This experiment has to be done. And, of course, we think in terms of those two possible outcomes. You do the measurement, and either you see the theoretical prediction or you don't see it. This is my approach to doing science as an experimentalist. You either confirm your theory or you make a discovery. But the magnitude of it, either way in this case is tremendous. And along with that comes this opportunity for impacting scientific research and science education within the university. So that's primarily what I took away from that talk. Upon my return to Ithaca, I had a talk with my wife. We'd lived in Ithaca now for, you know, eighteen years, first as graduate students and now as faculty. [laughs] It is cold, but it is comfortable., But, for us, I saw an opportunity to come back home.
Now, over the years, and you can imagine this, even before A&M, I had been courted to come back to Louisiana to chair the Department of Physics. I’m not kidding. I'd been asked. It's been suggested. But I never did, basically because I've always thought to myself, that would be quite an honor to, return as department chair, but what would I do within the context of the research aspect of my profession? That was always the question for me. You have to make sure that you can continue your science. I'm not a theoretician whereby I can just take it along with a computer. You have to have a lab and funding, as well as access to students. I know my university doesn't have these kinds of facilities, no more than A&M has the facilities that you have at Cornell. No more than that. So I thought to myself, Hmmmm. Seems to me now that that problem is solved. And so the next time it was suggested that I consider also chairing the Department of Physics at Southern University, I began to talk to people at Southern. And I did the usual thing. You go there, you give a seminar and you speak with the Dean on the possibilities. Indeed, there seemed to be a serious interest and effort on the University’s part.
So, to make a long story short, based upon the fact that I could chair the Department of Physics at Southern, and you had this possibility of a world-class physics experiment next door, if not in your backyard, there as well, with which you had no connection at that point time; It was available, so to speak. It was time to go home. Sometimes life presents you with compelling situations you simply have to do it. And, simply put, that's what it came down to, David.
Accordingly, I began the process of transitioning from Cornell to Louisiana. You know, I accepted the position at Southern. I'm trying to get the timing right here. When I came back—the talk occurred in New Orleans on January 5th, 1998. By February 1, 1999. I was in Louisiana and had accepted the position at Southern. OK, so why so fast? Well, it wasn't that fast. You have to wind things down from one place, and you have to wind them up at the other. So it takes a while. It takes time. However, I had made such a transition before and therefore had some experience to build upon. And also, the other factor is the experiment hadn't been completed in terms of some of the internal apparatus hadn't been finalized. So it was in the early stages. The thing hadn't been turned on, as of yet. So it was an excellent time to come in and to find out what the problems were and to begin to see if you can make some contribution there, in that area.
So, yes, Southern called. But it turns out, Southern had this opportunity associated with it that I saw myself being able to take advantage of. That is to say, to make that connection between the local university and this world-class National Science Foundation-funded project. I didn't know any more details until April 14, 1999, when I was able to break away from my administrative responsibilities for the afternoon and visit the LIGO Livingston Observatory. After having called, Caltech and just telling them, "Hey, gee whiz. I'm at a local university, I'm a Department of Physics chairman, and I would like to talk with someone about possible collaborations with the LIGO facility." And they took the message. Next day I got a phone call, and I talked with the head of the facility there for about forty-five minutes, after which he said, "Why don't you come on out here and take a look at the place?" I said, "Sure." So April 14, 1999, became the first time I set foot on that property. There was a combination of things. But I would sum it up by saying that there was a compelling argument there. That doesn't happen every day. I couldn’t sleep well that night thinking about it. [laughs]
Steve, I have to ask, before this momentous day, were you thinking at all about gravitational waves? Was that on your radar at all?
No, not really. It was the implications of the experiment for our understanding of the universe, as described by Einstein's general theory of relativity that captivated my imagination. Item one. Item two: the experimental challenge. I don't think you'll find any one that was greater. I mean, you're going to do a measurement at what level? 10-18m? Look, I accepted it, OK, but I can guarantee you I spent many a night afterwards figuring out, how, exactly, are we going to do this? How is this going to happen? Well, first and foremost, I had to understand the details of the experiment. But, you know, that's true in any case, and I didn't develop the experiment. But nonetheless, you know, it was something new. For me, it was definitely an opportunity for a growth experience, no question about that.
The other aspect I would emphasize to you: there is, you're right, the principal physics that you're after, which is clearly rooted in cosmology. However, there is the physics of the instrumentation that you have to deal with, also, to make the measurement possible. And there's always this interplay between the two. The theory tells you one thing and suppose the experiment gives you another result. You have to reconcile the two all the time. So, no, I didn't know anything about gravitational physics. With one exception. And this is not known. This is just something that came to me after I—it was a "wait a minute" moment. In 1990, I happened to be at a conference in Ghana, West Africa and one of the breaks—you know, you do a thing, you go to the university [unclear] shop places. One of the breaks, I went to the bookstore and bought some books, one of which was entitled 20th Century Physics. Just stick with me, David.
Physics of the 20th Century: History and Outlook. Hm. Sounds interesting. So I just read the book, right. And I came across several things, the one of which—well, it caught my attention because of the way it was stated. That there can be no doubt that one of the most important problems of the 21st century is going to be the existence of gravitational radiation. And the book was written by Vitaly Ginzburg, A Nobel laureate author here. But a particular comment caught my attention like no other.
Here it is. I just found it. It says, "There is no doubt that the issue of gravitational waves and gravitational wave astronomy will remain among the key problems of astronomy well into the 21st century." I highlighted it. Amongst other things, too. Some time later, it was like, "Wait a minute. Where have I seen that before?" [laughs] Anyway, that's quite an aside. So there was a combination of things that formed a compelling argument for me to come back to Louisiana. It was the sum total of all of my experiences before then, so I can't say I didn't have experience with these different things. These different environments and these different situations.
I should mention also that during my stay at Cornell I had ventured into several new areas of experimental physics. They included investigations of the impact of paramagnetic impurities on the performance of synthetic sapphire materials for microwave applications, production and characterization of multi-element amorphous thin films by ion beam sputtering and my introduction to the uses of X-ray absorption in condensed matter systems for atomic composition and molecular structure studies through the use of synchrotron radiation.
These new areas of expertise gave rise to fruitful collaborations with external entities such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, in Menlo Park CA, and were relevant to LIGO’s ongoing effort to achieve the necessary predicted sensitivity for the detection of gravitational waves. This pre-existing capability provided a springboard for my eventual membership in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), the international organization of scientists that develops the research carried out by LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory). For me, the experimentalist, the possibilities were very exciting!
Steve, I want to ask, when did you know that your involvement with LIGO would become what it eventually was? In other words, when you first set foot on that facility, was it right away where you realized, I'm going to be a part of this for the long term, or did that sort of develop more slowly?
Here's the situation, OK. My original plan was to be a part of it for the long term. You're quite right. To be a part of something, you have to be welcome there. You have to be invited there and you have to be welcome there. And I didn't know anything about the folks in LIGO. I didn't know anybody in LIGO at that particular time. So my plan, from the very beginning, was to be in it for the long haul, no question about it. How to do it? That's another matter.
Shortly after I returned from the American Physical Society’s 100th Anniversary meeting in Atlanta, I called the Caltech Office in Pasadena, identifying myself as the Chairman of the Physics Department at Southern University in Baton Rouge and expressed my interest in speaking with someone about working with LIGO. The next day I received a phone call from a gentleman by the name of Mark Coles who at the time was the head of the LIGO Livingston Observatory. After some discussion, he invited me to come out and visit the LIGO Livingston Observatory the following week. So I did, and met Mark for the first time. That was on April 14, 1999.
It turns out—remember that talk in New Orleans that I went to? Mark Coles was the guy who gave the talk! I didn't remember his name. When I met him, he asked me the same question: how did you learn about LIGO? And my comment was that I'd heard it at a talk. He looks at me, and he said, "Yeah, I'm the guy who gave that talk." [laughs] A little bit embarrassing. [laughs] But nonetheless, we met, Mark graciously gave a tour of the lab and made me feel welcome. Subsequently, Mark was instrumental in keeping me connected to LIGO. That is, making the laboratory available if I wanted to come out there and learn more. In those early days, that was extremely important.
One of the things he was particularly interested in was getting people from the community to come out and tour the place. And so I say, "Great. I teach students that summer. We're going to come." And so I began the process of putting a visit to the LIGO Livingston observatory in my syllabi. We did it every year. I have, you know, lots of pictures of that particular experience. Local high schools. I think I brought the first high school from East Baton Rouge Parish out there for a visit. Now, keep in mind, this is back in '99. You know, we didn't turn this thing on until much later. So the idea is that a lot of people didn't know about it. The point was, I was going to make sure that people in my environment knew about it. When I first went to Southern, I couldn't find anybody who knew anything about this thing called LIGO. That had to change. So Mark was instrumental in enabling me to begin to come out there. You know, no program or money. We're just going to go out there because it's a good thing to do. People from my community needed to know about LIGO.
Now, eventually, I learned that LIGO met routinely at the LIGO Livingston Observatory. During one of those meetings, Mark said, "I want you to come on up." I said, "Sure, that would be great." Then he told me, he said, "Bring your dean with you." [laughs] Now I had to bring my dean. I had to tell my Dean about this. But the idea was that, in my case, I was flying under the radar until I knew what I was doing. But Mark said bring the dean, so I invited and brought the dean, and I had to tell the dean about what I was doing, trying to do. And so we went out there for that meeting of Caltech and NSF personnel. I couldn't attend the sessions because I wasn't a member of LIGO, but in the breakout sessions I was able to meet people —and Mark introduced me to the director of the LIGO laboratory at the time, Barry Barish. And so I had a conversation with Barry. And basically he said, "Well, if you want to do something with LIGO, just stay in touch with us, OK? Stay in touch with us through Mark." So I said, "OK. That's all right with me." And I went back to what I was doing. So I subsequently get a phone call from Mark saying — LIGO has a laboratory-wide meeting of the collaboration at least once a year, during those days. He said, "Why don't you come on out to the meeting? And, oh, by the way, be prepared to talk about what you might do technically to contribute to LIGO." Fine. So I said, "Great."
I went to Stanford, to the Stanford meeting, and it was at that meeting that I was introduced to a group from Stanford who were concerned with materials' properties. That is, optical properties of the mirrors that are used in LIGO. These were still under development. We didn't know where it was going to land for the actual instrument at that point. So I said, "Sure". So I began to have conversations with them, and there seemed to be some overlap—there was some overlap—between the work that I had done with a physics professor by the name of Louis Hand, or just Lou Hand, in physics while I was at Cornell. There was some clear overlap there. And so I discussed some of the results with them in terms of my work with him, in terms of impurities in sapphire, which was being considered as a substrate for the LIGO end station test mass mirrors at that time. So we had a discussion there. And then eventually Mark introduced me to a guy by the name of Rai Weiss, Professor Rainer Weiss, from MIT. So, it's like, "Rai, I want you to meet somebody." So he introduced us. So I began to talk with Rai Weiss. "What are you doing here?" So I just figured I'd talk. So we talked [unclear]. So that was fine. And basically, I walked away from the meeting with the idea, well, just keep doing what you're doing right now. Well, eventually, I was a little bit, I guess, agitated by it. Look, I want to keep doing what I'm doing, but, you know, I really want to be a part of this operation.
What do you do? So I sent an email to Ray Weiss because he was the first, that is, the inaugural, spokesperson for the LIGO scientific collaboration. I don't know, we might have had twenty-three people in the collaboration. Between three institutions in the collaboration, at that time. Something like that. Not like today. But the idea is that I sent an email to Rai saying, "You know, I really would like to become," affiliated or a member, I forget my exact words, "a part of this experiment formally. How do I do that?" Well, sure enough, he sent me an email back, and he told me what to do, in terms of how I should proceed, you know, in preparing a proposal, presenting it before the plenary group, and I'd have to be voted in. So I thought to myself, ‘Fair enough. Now I know what to do. And so that's what I did. It was August of 2000. I had put the proposal that I would present together. So I went to the meeting at Hanford—the Hanford, Washington site—and I made the proposal for research and answered all of the questions. I also attended additional sessions to explain things to people. Because what I was doing was something that was a little bit new, and so you have to do a little bit more explaining when you're presenting this kind of thing. So I did. And lo and behold, I was informed, first and foremost by Rainer Weiss, that I had been elected to membership in the LIGO scientific collaboration.
As a matter of fact, he was the one who introduced me, at the time. Well, he introduced everybody, but he introduced me to come up and make my presentation. So I did. And, interestingly enough, that evening, I remember, we were at a dinner. I sat down at the table. Nobody knows me. I don't know anybody. So everybody's introducing themselves, right. And one of the persons at the table said, "Oh yeah, we remember you. We discussed you at our plenary meeting this evening." So I just said something like, "You know, I hope it was good." He said, "Well, you know, there wasn't very much discussion." [laughs] I don't know what that meant. I didn't know. I didn't ask.
You were in. It didn't matter.
[laughs] He didn't say no. It was the next morning that in between sessions Rai Weiss showed up out of nowhere, and he said, "Oh, by the way, you were successful in being elected to membership." So I thought to myself, Yahoo. OK, now we can move forward. And moving forward at that point for me meant now I have to take that proposal and put it in the form of a formal NSF proposal to get some funding to get this ball rolling. So I did that. And, eventually, I submitted the proposal entitled “Materials Science, Astronomy and Outreach: A Collaborative of Research and Science Education between Southern University and LIGO” to the National Science Foundation “in support of LIGO”. It took a year to put it together, so I submitted it that fall, in 2000. And in 2001I got the news that we had received funding for the project. But it took a year after having had the membership in the LSC approved, to obtain funding. This was due in part to the many, many approvals that you have to obtain and all the appropriate signatures at my school. It was an involved process. But we got through it, and we indeed were funded for the first time around, for the work that I had proposed to do with LIGO.
It sounds like a long, drawn out thing. But the idea is that, you know, I'm not working at a forefront physics university or a major research institution. So it takes time to put things together, to gather resources, for any reason. So it was a combination of things, to make a long story short, by which I, in fact, landed at Southern University. So didn't mean to drag it out, but there it is. I just basically took the initiative to see if something could be done. So we tried it, and, fortunately, it was successful. And from that point forward, it grew.
The collaboration which Southern grew. And now that it was successful, other people, wanted to come onboard.
Steve, can you describe, what did Southern bring to the table? I mean, you have MIT, you have Caltech. What does Southern bring that Caltech and MIT don't have on their own?
Item number one: I introduced an area of expertise that was not being pursued but nonetheless was relevant—it preexisted—to the table. So, to me, this is shared by people in LIGO, you maintain as much of the expertise as you need to solve your problem, even going forward, because you don't know where the next discovery is going to come. So I brought that to the tablea preexisting expertise, in materials science. And there were some things that I learned from talking with people in LIGO, such as using x-rays to determine not only the composition but also the microstructure of the coatings that are used in LIGO. And that work goes on to this day. I'm not actively involved in it as much now. But it was started by studying coatings at the LSU Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices (CAMD) by me and another of my colleagues at Southern, and I extended it to Stanford, which had enormously more capable facilities at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL). There's an entire LIGO group out there right now, and they work in this area routinely. The atomic structure of the films. The sapphire work was started at the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) in the substrate of the proposed material. So my proposal that I submitted to NSF said, we're going to take into account the role of impurities and atomic structure in both the substrate and the coating. So both of those items were considered from the very beginning of my scientific work with LIGO. Now, number two.
Item number two. From the standpoint of diversity, Southern University brought to the table, now, an element of the diversity effort that nobody else had. Caltech, MIT, Stanford, didn't have that. We are an HBCU (Historically Black College and/or University), it turns out, and, as such, we have a longstanding impact, and presence, in the community itself. We are a source of African American students. Now, there is one other thing I will mention to you within that context. If you go back to the original charter for LIGO, in it there was something that I had never seen before. That being the experiment was to put together a science education outreach museum co‑located on the site itself. Now, when I saw that, I thought to myself, "Oh, these folks are really thinking way ahead." Because, I mean, that's usually an afterthought. I've seen it many times. So that museum is supposed to now take that big science and extended it to not just a local community, but the national community, and possibly the international community, in ways that otherwise might take years, if it ever happens. That was an enormous outreach potential that I saw there, within which our students at Southern could play a meaningful role. Indeed, I felt that the project would benefit greatly from this part of the collaboration.
Well, LIGO agreed with this, and the NSF felt that, well, not just the physics department, but how about the whole Southern University campus. And so we became—and I'm jumping over some of the details, but the idea is that a proposal was developed and presented to the NSF where Southern University turned out to be a major player in it to build that Science Education Center with the museum, with the programs, indeed, to reach the communities that otherwise wouldn't even know about this project. So I suggest to you that there were those three things, two of which were on the science side, one of which was on the outreach /diversity side, both of which exist, to some extent, to this day. Southern is still a member of that science education partnership with LIGO centered at the Livingston Observatory. Enormously successful, David. Believe me. From my own personal experience, enormously successful. The success of what we did in Louisiana, within which Southern played a major role, is now being extended to the other observatory. I would say it's those two areas, both. Both the science and the science educational outreach or diversity. Hopefully, I am answering your question.
Absolutely. You know, I'm so glad to hear your perspective on this. I wonder, do you think that this story is understood? Is it appreciated? I mean, the 2017 Nobel Prize comes, and that sort of drowns out so much else. Do you feel like Southern's contributions have been recognized appropriately, more broadly?
I'm working on it, David. [laughs] Stay with me. I think we have work to do. I think more can be done to make that clear, in terms of just what role Southern University played in bringing all of this about to the present state. I think more can be said, more can be appreciated. Not that we haven't had any. Fact of the matter is, one of our graduates who came through a program that we developed for docent training in the museum was in the control room when the first signal hit, back in 2015. That's right. That was William Parker. He graduated from Southern. He was a student who transferred to Southern Baton Rouge from New Orleans as a result of Katrina, and he joined our program within the docent training component of it. He graduated, took a job at Livingston, and became a detector scientist there. And he was working the control room that night when that first signal was received. So it turns out that, from the standpoint of a recent Southern graduate being in at the beginning on this, that was sort of a big story locally, no question about it. But I think there's even more to it than that. I mean, he still works there. I think he's in graduate school right now. In terms of just what has happened to our students who have participated in the summer program at Livingston, the ones who have worked in my laboratory and worked on LIGO-related things, gee whiz. And the list goes on. No question about it.
I should mention to you what I did when we received the NSF grant money, in that I hired students to help me build a laboratory on campus, and to help me do experiments over at the Center for Advanced Microstructures and Devices (CAMD) at LSU because they had the facilities there to do them. Those students have gone on to do wonderful things. Oh, there’s a talk that I give wherein I cite some examples of the students who have worked on this project. I gave one a few years ago, back in 2017, when I knew there was a collection of such things. Would you mind if I would send you just a copy of that?
I'd love it. I'd love it.
You can look at it, and you can tell me, you know, what you see. I'd like to get your perspective on it.
Much of what I've been talking about today, in fact, is contained in it by way of pictorial and text slides. Because I had a student, for example, who worked in my laboratory—matter of fact, we were working in the laboratory when we got the news that we had received the first funding with LIGO. I was working with him on trying to understand what was the level of impurities in our sapphire samples under investigation for potential use in LIGO. We were at the synchrotron radiation source here locally (CAMD). He graduated from Southern, and he went on to graduate school at Hampton University, which at the time was connected to the Jefferson Laboratory which, as you know, was connected to the ATLAS experiment at CERN where the Higgs boson was discovered. My student worked on the ATLAS project. He worked on that with the Hampton group and the time-of-flight detector that was a part of the ATLAS collaboration. So in a sense, he worked on experiments that eventually had two Nobel prizes associated with them, one for the discovery of the Higgs boson and the other for the observation of gravitational waves. And I don't even know if he actually knows that. David, I'll send you a copy of the talk , OK?
Please look at it, and you tell me what you see. LIGO has been great for Southern, and I think Southern has been great for LIGO. What can I say? Look, that's what I saw from January 5th, 1998. That was a possibility. Indeed, I'm very gratified about the way things have turned out. Not that we cannot do more. So it just depends upon the level of—well, right now, everything is kind of in limbo. We're still working. I know I am. So we're planning for whenever we can remove this problem we’re facing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Steve, the time you spent at Caltech as a visitor. Was that specifically related to LIGO, or were you doing more general work?
Thank you for asking. This is the way that worked. I was a Caltech visitor, but Caltech manages the LIGO observatories. So even to this day, I'm a Caltech visitor on appointment at the LIGO Livingston Observatory. So I have a formal affiliation with the observatory. I was never stationed in Pasadena. I've always been at LIGO Livingston Observatory as a visitor. The appointment has been, and it continues to be, very, very helpful. Thank you for asking. David, there's resources, personnel, at LIGO Livingston that we just don't have at Southern.
Sure, of course.
That plays a major role in terms of my ability to continue what I do. Facilities, both technical and educational — so let's not even talk about that wonderful science museum that we have out there with its program. When people call me, they ask me, would you come talk to our students at this, for example, elementary school? We're having science day. We're having STEM day. Would you come and talk? What do I do? I get with the science education center staff at Livingston. For example we have a portable set of exhibits, set of materials and I use some of those at Southern. And I put them together, and just go to the site and give the presentation or demonstration. And, in the process you have yourself a ball seeing excitement on the kids' faces, the appreciation of students, the appreciation of the administration and the faculty for what you're doing.
I continue to run my laboratory up on campus. For example, from time to time, I have to call on people at LIGO to help me with some of the technical issues associated with the operation of my Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) for which I don't have a budget or, you know, half a dozen people or so to assist with the work. I don't even have the space to do all of it. So having a connection with a facility like the LIGO Livingston Observatory is absolutely essential. It's been critical. It's been wonderful. I mean, what can I say? So, yes, I'm a visitor, and I'm glad for it. No doubt about it. The people, the facilities, just the environment itself, it's a huge plus.
Steve, how have the objectives of LIGO changed over the twenty years of your involvement? Has it been consistent? Or, as the experiment developed, have the objectives, or even the promise of what it could achieve, has that been a moving target? Or it's been relatively stable over the past two decades?
It's been very stable. Consistent. Focused. Certainly refined, in terms of the details of how we approach it. But the detection of gravitational waves and their interpretation, insofar as the cosmology of the universe is concerned, that's been a consistent theme throughout. Maybe it expands a little bit. When you have a collision between two neutron stars, for example, rather than two black holes, there's a lot more to the physical interpretation of the collision. You bring in the historical astronomy community via observations of electromagnetic radiations as well as the relativistic nuclear and particle physics communities, in a big way . Further, independent estimates of the Hubble constant are now possible. And it all has as a foundation the ability to see these ripples on spacetime and to interpret correlate this new data with the information that's coming from other areas of astronomy. Something was going on with that comment that I read in the discussion in the book by Ginsburg. But I have the feeling like it's playing out before my eyes right now.
So the short answer is, very consistent. Focused. It's expanded a little bit. Our experimental capabilities have expanded. Of course, the collaborations with other groups are there. I saw that expansion occur as well. The capability of the LIGO instrument itself, the improvement of it is ongoing as I speak to you. That's a moving target. Science is a moving target. We know that. We have to develop a whole body of statistics to be able to reliably, more reliably, say things about our universe. So it's been a tremendous experience.
What do we understand about the universe now because of LIGO?
Oh, yes. Several items come to mind. First and foremost, we now know that gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of space-time, exist and that they travel at the speed of light as predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
Secondly, the waves are produced as a result of the collision of dense, compact objects, in this case, black holes, indicating that black holes actually exist as physically observable entities.
Thirdly, heavy elements such as platinum and gold are produced in collisions of neutron stars. Such collisions had been theorized to occur with the emission of gravitational, particle and electromagnetic radiation, all of which were observed as predicted in the first such event labeled GW170817.
Fourthly, LIGO has enabled independent determinations of the Hubble constant, results from which support the inflationary model of the universe.
Last, but certainly not least, let me emphasize that in observing gravitational radiation LIGO has opened up an entirely new area of astronomy! We can now see heretofore invisible phenomena. Who knows what secrets within our vast universe will be revealed now that we have this new tool at our disposal?!!
Let me also mention that results from LIGO have in part stimulated the first observations of a static black hole via the detection of electromagnetic radiations predicted to occur at its event horizon. Yes, I’m referring to the recent images from observations of the nearby galaxy M87 obtained using the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), not to mention LIGO’s collaboration with the European Observatory, Virgo, which together have produced a catalog of about 50 events to date.
Going back to the beginning, the challenge for me was always to see the LIGO experiment through placing a final test on the theory. The outcome held the promise of new vistas on the understanding of our universe. For me, there was nothing to lose and everything to gain.
And there were whole departments in physics that didn't even believe in black holes.
Oh, my goodness, David. [laughter] Yes. I encountered all of this skepticism, if not outright negativism, regarding the project when I first came back to Louisiana. In coming to Louisiana in 1999, I remember that there were three, maybe four, impediments that I encountered. First, as you pointed out, “we don't know if gravitational waves even exist. To date, they haven't been conclusively detected by anyone.” Secondly, that's a lot of money you're putting into this experiment. That money would be better spent on something like education where, undeniably, there is a great need. Thirdly, this is a long, continuous baseline, measurement. Why should the government pay for all of these individuals required to operate the observatories? Where is the commitment from the scientists and/or the institutions they represent? How are you going to get a community of young people to buy into a project … that is to say, work on it for a good part of their lives, with no guaranteed positive outcome upon which to build a foundation for their careers? Young people want to obtain PhDs, and get on with their careers.
Lastly, one item for which there was not much discussion at all during that time in 1999, was the fact that there was no mechanism in place to have the big science of LIGO transform K-12 education and beyond in a way that positively impacts science education in the local community, especially the underserved segments of the population.
Most people tend to be concerned about those things that have an immediate impact on their lives. No, I’m not a cosmologist. My focus as an experimentalist is on finding ways to reduce the noise in the LIGO test mass mirror substrates and coatings as part of an ongoing effort to improve the sensitivity of instrument. However, keep in mind that physics, being the broad field of study that it is, affords many opportunities to learn more about the universe in which we live. I saw LIGO as a great avenue for expanding my own understanding of our universe and passing that knowledge on to the next generation.
In the process we could seize the opportunity to bring the basic classical science as well as the new knowledge that LIGO had to offer to the broader spectrum of the society in ways that could generate an excitement to our educators and students about the wonders of our universe. This was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity that simply had to be pursued to its fruition. Yes, your comment reminded me of the above four areas of enormous opportunity, at least as I viewed the situation.
So we know about constituents of the universe. And we know about processes that go on. [unclear] black holes are there. Then you better interpret the events that occur at the event horizon, and that happens. So we [unclear] the whole astronomy community in there to see a static black hole. You know the picture of that. We knew that black holes existed, and so we now know how to better interpret that. Gravitational wave astronomy, astronomy in general, high energy particle astrophysics, we see how that ties in as a result of the measurements that we [unclear]. [unclear] in terms of the measurement of the Hubble constant. We can make estimates of that, which are so far consistent with [unclear]. So, what do we know about the universe? That's the part that I know we have expanded into, and it doesn't address the part that we've expanded into that I don't [unclear]. What I mean is that [unclear] need time to, in fact, come out. No question.
Other than that, perhaps there's additional estimates in terms of the size of galaxies, the way they move, and the population of black holes—well, that's still kind of an iffy, not iffy, but it's uncertain right now. We have to simply develop more statistics in order to get an idea of what the population is like. Kind of an obvious statement, but it's nonetheless something that we have to, that has to be done. I should just say it in that particular way. What else do we know about the universe that we didn't know before? In addition to all of those things—well, I guess we knew it was a wonderful place. We knew about—its feasibility now made us, in fact, look more seriously at something called a space-based interferometer. So this is on the way. That's going to expand our knowledge of the universe even further, as it turns out. And there's, I'm sure, a plethora of other things that are going on. But generally speaking, the scope and the breadth of the phenomena that go on in the universe… Literally, the sky's the limit right now. And we have a tool with which we can go after it. That is the beauty of it, as I see it. I hope I'm answering your questions in some [unclear]. [unclear] very gratifying being a part of that whole process.
Steve, I want to ask, do you see this beautiful collaboration between Southern and LIGO—was it sort of like a serendipitous accident, or do you see this as an opportunity, not as a one-off, but that it sets up Southern for future high-profile, highly prestigious collaborations in other research endeavors?
Going back to the AAPT talk, as I sat in that room and finished listening to that presentation, I immediately envisioned enormous possibilities for Southern and LIGO to benefit from cooperation in research and science education. I'm saying YES to all of the positive things that you just mentioned, and even more. I’m sure that what I envisioned was the outcome of my life’s experiences up to that point. So I really can't say it was serendipity. It wasn't serendipity that I was in that meeting, in that room. Why was I in the room? Well, I had submitted a paper which had been accepted for presentation. I read the abstracts, and I saw something. I went there to see, what was it that I saw. Mark Coles gave the talk. The story was enlarged, at that time, in terms of what I saw. As I commented earlier, sometimes life presents you with compelling arguments, circumstances upon which you must act. All of what you just said were possibilities. The question is, is the will and the resources there for development? So someone has to do it. Did anybody else know about it? ‘Not as far as you could tell. Did anybody else see it this way? Not as far as I could tell. I thought to myself, “OK, McGuire. You've got the job!”
In a nut shell, that's what it came down to, a coming together of the totality of my experiences. So, I never back down from a challenge. Well, what could be gotten from this one? What could be done? To me, it was just too great not to take action. I don't know what's going to happen in the future, but I know what I had to act to help in any way that I can.
And that's what I'm continuing to do in retirement. You know, I mean, we go through phases in life. You've heard about a few of my phases, as it turns out, already. Now, even in retirement, that's a phase where there's things I'm doing now that I could not do before. And, of course, there's a matter of health. If you ask yourself the question, why do you retire, somehow at the bottom [laughs] you want to keep going.
I don't think it was serendipity. I think the preparation was there. I didn't know what preparation was there exactly, I couldn't, you know, spell it out to you. Kind of like, you know, what do we know about the universe that we didn't know before. Well, we know some specific details, but we're going to learn a whole lot more going forward, I could guarantee you. The details I don't know. No one does! The details I didn't know in this particular case. Were there surprises along the way? Yes. Were there obstacles? Challenges, were there new challenges along the way? Sure. No question about it. But you meet those challenges to the extent to which you can. There are resources that you have available to you to, in fact, to meet those challenges. It's in the way of something good.
The idea is the following, and you've got to be careful about this business of difficulties that come up. That difficulty might prepare you for something later on. You have to get through it, and then you will see what you were being prepared for. It will be easier the next time around, or you might even see it in a broader fashion. I don't know. You have to look at that obstacle with the same face as you look at that opportunity. It’s been said that you have to look at failure and success with the same face. Be careful however. They can change on you in a minute, but just be open to that change. And then you keep your focus on what you're trying to do, what you were sent to do, in terms of a particular project.
And there's been no larger project, in terms of my profession, than this one. It's almost as if I was being prepared all my life for this particular task of building the collaboration between Southern and LIGO. Everything fed into what I'm doing right now. That's the way I see it.
So, going forward, I'm not going to change my approach. I'm too old to change that way. That is to say , going forward, there're still measurements that I want to complete and studies that I can do in my laboratory at Southern in conjunction with the support from the superior resources at the Livingston Observatory, no question about that.
Ongoing, are there contributions that you're making so far as having this project become more accessible to the community such that the community will, in fact, benefit from it? Specifically that part of the community which historically has not benefitted from it. Can you do that? Yes, I think I can do that. There's work to be done there, no question about it. And along the way, of course, you take care of your family. Particularly, as we said earlier, the next generation. For sure, they've been a great source of support for me along the way.
One of the things that, and this is digressing just a moment here, I wanted to make sure that my immediate family knew about LIGO. Wife, children, and grandchildren. So every time there was an occasion, I brought them out to LIGO Livingston Observatory, going back to 1999, well before the instrument was up and operating. And I'm talking about my grandkids and my kids. They sort of grew up with LIGO. For example, my granddaughter, she had an internship this summer with NASA, and she called me up and asked whether or not I knew about LISA. There was someone coming to talk to her group of students about LISA. So we had a nice conversation about LISA and its importance to the detection of gravitational waves , and I ended it by saying, "You know, Ruthie, you probably know more about LIGO and gravitational waves than anybody in that room." [laughter] Like, "Oh, yeah, grandpa. You took us to LIGO a bunch."
But I wanted to make sure that they didn't get caught by surprise. This happened, and it was right in their own family.
So, yes, that was one of the things that I did. And they appreciated it, especially now, given all of the initial fanfare and the hoopla that's gone on and the impact that’s being had on the world of science. But those of my family that go into science or engineering or something like that, they will have that perspective with him. And, for me, that's very important to know that. OK, so one part of my family lives in Houston. The other one lives in Berlin. And so whenever they come home, I make a point that we go out to LIGO to check it out. And I've been able to bring members of my family from New Orleans, on occasion, out there as well. It's kind of interesting, in the sense that, you know, I still can find people in New Orleans who don't know about LIGO. For example, say you go to a high school reunion of some sort. And someone asks you what you're doing and I say, "I work with LIGO." "LIGO, what's that?" They haven't heard of it yet. So it's all a teachable moment there. And then they listen, and then the next question is, "How can I go to LIGO? I want to see this place."
And that's been a response that I've gotten over the years. Even when I first came to Louisiana, and I would go to different parts of Louisiana and talk about what I was doing or trying to do at Southern. I would talk about it. People would listen intently. Then at the end were two questions. You mean, this place is in Louisiana? Yes, it's in Louisiana. That's the first question. Second question: how can we get there? We want to see it, too. So they were very much intrigued and interested as such that when we put the LIGO Science Education Center (LIGO SEC) together, got it funded and had a kickoff celebration, it was overbooked with activity. We had to double the staff. The interest in it is humongous. Everything has grown at LIGO. It's been a very, very positive experience. And I'm very thankful, very grateful, for being able to be a part of it. To be able to have, you know, lasted long enough to be a part of it, no question about it. Nobody knows what the future's going to hold. But I think the future is definitely still very, very bright. I thought it was bright in 1998, and I still see the same thing right now, if not more so. Certainly for the state of Louisiana and the world. And we have members of Southern University, students from Southern University, who work out at LIGO nowadays also. So it's been, and continues to be, a very successful experience.
Am I as closely intimate there, as you say, connected with all aspects of it, as I was, perhaps in the beginning? LIGO is very, very big. And so I can't say that I am. And I have sort of retreated to focus on the things that I couldn't work on, of course, when I was working full time, with administration, teaching and service activities, at Southern University.
Steve, I think for the last part of our conversation, on this idea of looking to a brighter future, I want to talk to you a little bit about, you know, we're only about a month or so out from, you know, that remarkable day that we had in physics, you know, Shut Down STEM. A day to recognize how much work remains to be done in the physics community about diversity and inclusion and things like that. And so, I want to ask you a few questions. You know, you've been involved in these issues with the American Physical Society, with the National Society for Black Physicists. I want to ask you first, before, in the beginning of our talk, I asked you about, you know, your parents and if they would be surprised at where things are now in terms of all of these very upsetting things that are happening in our society, ongoing. Are you surprised, personally? If you were to go back to, you know, the 1960s and the 1970s, as you were charting a career in physics for yourself. Obviously, one of the things with Shut Down STEM is that these issues are still present in the physics community. They're still around. Maybe physics has not even been a leader as an element of change, as an agent of change. Are you surprised with all of the progress?
Am I surprised about what I'm seeing?
Well, progress in general is slow. Now, there has been progress, but not as much as what I would have liked to have seen. Now, in terms of what's going on as we speak, well, would my parents have been surprised at that? They would have known about it. They would have been surprised, I think, given that the progress that was made between the time I was under their roof, so to speak, and now. They would be surprised, I think, about it. They would be dismayed, not surprised. They would be dismayed about it. Now, what that says is that the struggle is not over. It goes on. And we all have a responsibility to, in fact, be part of that struggle, wherever we are. So different people have different roles to play. I have tried to play the role that I saw for myself or what was given to me from day one. I accepted that back in the '60s when I was in high school and college, and I've carried that with me throughout my whole career. That won't stop. The question is, what's the best place for me to play that particular part of the role out? So we still have work to do. That work will rely upon the unity of individuals, organizations, et cetera, throughout the United States and the world as applies to the United States. There's just no question about that. No one small group is going to do this all by themselves.
And we've had that unity, in many ways, that is, up till recently, I would argue. But, you know, right now, I see the situation being driven by divisive politics more than anything else. And the politics is coming from the very top, the leadership of the United States, at this particular point in time. And if you want to change things, then you're going to have to change it from the top down. That is to say, with the election process. You're going to have to do that. And that would be just the beginning. To undo what I think has been very, very harmful attitudes and behaviors that we see ongoing right now in our environment.
In my particular case, yes, I can continue to emphasize what I do normally, that being always to seek common ground and cooperative efforts toward constructive, positive outcomes. Complementing that general approach is the drive to focus on achieving a success that can be shared equally by all participants. By the way, are you familiar with the Committee on Opportunities in Science?
Yes. Yes, I am.
OK, good. Well, that's one of those higher-level committees of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That's putting together really a massive program addressing these kinds of issues in science, no question about it. And so I'm a member of that committee. And what I see is that committee is a powerful conduit for change in fact, providing enormous leverage, definitely, toward being able to not just circumvent, but to mitigate, if not eliminate, some of these negative impacts that we have in our society being emphasized, I think, by the current political climate, no question about it. So the AAAS COOS is just one of the mechanisms that I support in my lifelong efforts to bring about equality in my field as well as others.
In my case, I work where I can. Locally, that's to say. But then also I still am connected in an international fashion to addressing this particular problem. And it is an international problem. Goodness gracious, it is. So we're due for some change. We're in for some change, for sure, but it has to be the change, ultimately, for good. And we all have to simply come together [unclear] in terms of moving any kind of initiative to mitigate the biases that we're seeing in our society right now.
Steve, you said something earlier in our discussion that was really striking. You emphasized how Southern was good for LIGO and LIGO was good for Southern. That it was a two-way street.
Always has to be the case. That's the best way to do it. Go ahead, shoot.
I want to ask you, you know, at AIP we have the TEAM-UP report. I'm very proud to be a member of AIP and this wonderful report that our Institute put out. And my reading, part of it, is one of the underlying, you know, bedrock assumptions of the TEAM-UP report is that just in the same way that, you know, on that micro scale, you can say that Southern is good for LIGO and LIGO is good for Southern, I think one of the things that this report demonstrates is that, you know, across the board, African Americans are good for physics and physics are good for African Americans. And so the challenge is, how do we increase that representation in physics? So I wonder if you can talk, forward-looking, about this issue of representation. What do you see as the most effective and productive means of ensuring that this two-way street is as positive and growth oriented as possible? You know, looking to that next generation of physicists.
Absolutely. Well, it is still the case that education—and education is not just in the classroom, but it's also by way of other experiences—is the key, in terms of preparing the next generation to meet those particular challenges. Education also involves awareness of where the opportunities are and to, in fact, encourage individuals to pursue those opportunities in a positive way. We have to change the attitudes that are being presented nowadays into those that are, in fact, positive attitudes about what can be done and why it is important. Why it's beneficial. How it works into developing community amongst us. We have to break down those barriers that exist nowadays.
Now, what's the most effective way to do that? Education, as I described it, still comes into play. Activism is also very important. And what's extremely important is to come together. It's just not, you know, my coming to LIGO and saying, "Hey, gee, this is what you can do for us, but this is what we can do for you, also." Finding those places where there is clear mutual benefit is very important when you go to the discussion. That's the thing that I try to emphasize in talking with my students. Students, or anybody where we're trying to build a collaborative project. It has to be a symbiotic relation in terms of there will be benefit to both all parties. And this is how we can, indeed, do it. It's not going to be a one-way thing. You don't want that. You want there to be growth on both sides, contributions from both sides. We both come out win-win. It's a win-win situation. It's a positive thing all around. Extremely important. Let me just give you one example of that that I've seen in my lifetime.
Please, please go ahead.
It relates to LIGO, David. I was brought into the concept of, we're going to build this program, some programs for this Science Education Center. OK. I don't know the details of achieving that, but I know we want to have involved certainly Southern, but it has to involve other groups as well. How do you get the people that we want to impact to buy into our program? Well, there was a process. I wasn't aware of it at the time. At least, before then. It had to do with what's called the nominal group technique, NGT. What's that? You sit everybody down in a room. You invite all the parties to the table. And then you ask them, well, you tell them what you want, what you're trying to do. You explain it to them. And then you ask them for input. What would you be looking for if you were involved in this project? What is important to you? And, basically, you write that down.
At the end of the discussion, you look for points of overlap between what I said I would like to have and what somebody else said that they would like to see, as well. And you make note of those. You go through that process maybe two or three times until you get to a point where you construct that program to have something in it that is of value to everyone. At the conclusion of the process everybody can leave the room knowing that, you know, this is going to be a positive thing for us. But it takes someone to be able to look at the whole picture, but you've got to know what the picture is first, in terms of what we're trying to do. What is of value to the physics community, going forward? Well, we know what that is. We have an idea what it is. And then you can ask the question of how would that, in fact, manifest itself to this group of individuals that we're trying to bring in. They are a source of talent. So how do we match that talent to what we know? And part of that match involves getting input from them in terms of what's important to the part of the community that they come from or that they serve.
So that's the thing that came to mind when you were saying that. You know, there's something in it—we bring something to the table, and somebody else on the other side brings something to the table. And how do we get to that particular point where we can show that there's a balance or a mutual benefit involved there? That was one activity that I saw in the development of the programs for the LIGO Science Education Center where the NGT was successfully manifested. By the time we were finished, there was something in it for all of the entities that could be positively manifested and could be positively impacted by the presence of this facility. Both the Science Education Center, as well as the experiment itself became intimately involved with Southern. In fact, the scientists were required to spend time giving tours, for example, to people who came to the facilities. So the scientists were involved. Both sides were involved. So there was something in it for everybody, in terms of professional development, I would argue.
That has to happen. The details of which we have to work out. That certainly has to happen, in terms of making this argument with regard to having both parties feel that they're being appreciated and that their work is being valued. I guess that's the better way to put it.
The question is about what people bring to the table, in terms of finding common areas of benefit and of interest. Question. How do you do that? Which part of the community they come from, which part of the professional, the social strata that they come from, I don't know. Take all those things into account, but make sure that, in terms of your overall objectives, everybody has a sense of this is important for me. For whatever their reasons are, and those will come out in the discussion. This is something that—don't tell them what's going to be important. You may be right, you may not. But you tell me what's important to you, and then you structure everything in such a way that you can keep to your basic objectives and principles, but, at the same time, everybody's on board. You know what you're trying to do. You know what your objective is. It's just like being in LIGO. LIGO knows what its objective is. It knows what it wants to do. How do you do it, and how do you involve the right set of people? You've got to make them feel that they are part of it and that they going to benefit. Long-term benefit. Once you do that, it's execute time. You're ready to go.
[laughs] I can tell you, in my experience with teachers, you'll get those teachers in there, and you show them something that otherwise might be kind of obscure. You show them how they can present that to their students in a way that brings out excitement and generates interest. In all that, they get respect for themselves. They build the relationship between them and their students. Man, you got them. They love it. That's what they do. That's what's important to them. And so once you can do that, then you've got it. As I listen to myself talk, what's very important is that there's two—you can't imagine there's two anymore, but there's two cultures evolved. And one culture has to understand the others or the other. One culture has to know something about the other, and so they're comfortable with it. They have to see the challenge and the benefit. They have to also see the complementarity between what one is doing and what the other one is doing. They have to see the value in the process, not just the outcome. You've got to find out what's the value for each party, and then you go from there. I've just learned that over the years.
Even when I did outreach work for NASA when we were in Huntsville, Alabama. In New York, same thing. I go to the people, I go to both sides, talk to the faculty, talk to the people. I talk to the faculty and the scientists. Then I talk to the people we're trying to bring into it, and I find out what they are interested in, what they actually can bring to the table. Make sure we put all that in there, in our relationship. Set up the process so that there is open and effective communication between all constituents. And you can speak on those grounds going forward. You can interact with them. You can show them how it plays out. It's more work than many people have been used to. It's a part of the process that nobody pays you for. But still, that's a very important aspect of what I think go into it. And so, yes, I was prepared in going down to Southern. I mean, after all, when I made the call to Caltech, nobody else had done that from Southern. That was the first time. When I went out to Livingston, at the invitation, nobody else had been out there. Guess what? Over time, people from LIGO came to Southern, big time. No question about it. I mean, they came to see what goes on at Southern, probably beginning with Rai Weiss.
Yeah. Rai Weiss came and gave a seminar. Mark Coles came and gave seminars. I put together adjunct faculty appointments for people at LIGO Livingston. You know, if you want to be an adjunct, I put those appointments together. So that can involve them, and they can see what goes on in this university, you know, what they're dealing with. Barry Barish came. I may have mentioned him. Jay Marx came. At one point or another, many people came from LIGO to Southern to see what was going on. NSF brought in other people from Southern. There were people at Southern that NSF had worked with for years. In different venues, but I didn't know about it. But NSF said, "Make sure this person, that person…"
I'll give you another example of how what I'm talking about plays out. Along the way I got a message at one point in the development of the program for the LIGO Science Education Center. I received a message that said, "We want the College of Education at Southern to become a partner in this collaboration." I said, "OK." Then it said, "We want the College of Sciences to be a partner, and you have to lead that effort." Meaning, I had to go to the College of Education and talk with people over there about what we were doing in LIGO. And oh, by the way, make sure that you include the vice chancellor for research at Southern because we know that person. Now, do I know any of these people? Not really. Do I know the culture of formalized education? No. I barely grew up hearing about that academic environment. Yet, to make this whole thing work, I had to find a common ground. Then there was a consulting group that was brought in. And so I had to pay attention to all the little details involved in the process. I had to listen carefully, too, and I had to sort of, I guess, coagulate and put together everything that was relevant to what we were trying to do with the LIGO Science Education Center via in a conversation that would be productive.
[[Audio session 2 begins]]
I could appreciate the experience in that I think I learned a lot about what happens in the culture of formal education. For example, Education has accreditation associations. There's an accrediting body which visits the program every nine years or so, to evaluate whether the program satisfies the requirements of the accrediting body, in this case, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Such accreditations are necessary for the program to remain viable. On this one occasion, in 2004, Southern was being reaccredited, and it was during the time we were building our collaboration with LIGO. I was asked to host a group from the accrediting agency at the LIGO Livingston Observatory and explain to them what LIGO does, what it is, and how it would benefit the education programs. You want to talk about a homework assignment! [Laughs]
In order to familiarize myself with the process it was necessary to speak with quite a few people. I had to read up on a lot, in terms of the background. I found out that there were really some misunderstandings in how different disciplines function. We live in silos. For example, there's education, there's physics, there's psychology. They are all quite different… Nobody really pays much attention to what the other one does. That happens in a university. So I had to learn basically the culture and the requirements of Education. That is, what was important to their survival and effectiveness as a discipline. And then I had to connect that to what I knew was going on at LIGO scientifically and what we were trying to achieve through the Science Education Center, from an Education standpoint. So that was a challenge. But I gave—you give it your best shot. And it turns out that we were able to convince the accrediting agency that we knew what we were doing in terms of being able to mesh all of this together in a way that reinforced what the accrediting agency was looking for in the Education Program at Southern. That took a lot of work for me. But in the end we were successful, nonetheless!
How do you teach the education curriculum, that part of it that's involving mathematics and science? Oh, and those students have to come over to the science college to take courses. But how do you integrate that all together in a way, conceptually and practically, into syllabi themselves? How do you put all of that together in a coherent way so that people in education say, "This is great," and the people at the accrediting agency say, "This is wonderful. It reinforces what we do in a very clear, present way. Ongoing, long term, going out into the future. It's not something that is optional.” How do you do that? How do you make that a part of what the student experiences when they come on that campus and say they want to major in education? That was our ongoing challenge.
So we did that, basically, taking on the challenge of How do you further broaden the exposure to LIGO across the campus? Well, we can go back to the curriculum, can't we? And we can go back to internships, can't we? And we can go back to mechanisms that we use on campus to involve students during the academic year. I mean, we have biology, we have chemistry, we have engineering on our campus. Wow. We have a lot of possibilities there, in terms of involving students across the campus. Oh, and by the way, the students hear about the wonderful experience that you get. You get [unclear] coming. What's important to them? Make sure that you integrate it into the programs, I will call them. I mean, they could be curricula. They could be other kinds of training programs. Integrate that into what you're doing. Show that there is value in what you are doing and in what they are doing. So then what happens after that? You run out of space in terms of the programs because students know. They're knocking the door down. You develop pride in being a part of LIGO. And that happened on my campus, no question about it. Even to this day. this type of thing takes time. I was an administrator, so I got involved in the process. Finding faculty and postdocs, money for them, you know, accommodations and whatnot, to work in my laboratory, that's a challenge in itself. So it's kind of hard to keep all of that going, to be quite honest with you. That was a huge challenge. It takes a lot in the way also of administrative support from the folks above you. There are some other aspects of doing research when you work at a small university with internal competition for very limited resources. I'm not here to threaten you by doing this. Don't feel like in some kind of way you're going to be pushed aside. Making sure that people still feel comfortable with what you're doing can be quite a challenge. That's an element of psychology that, basically, some people are better at it than others, put it that way. So we have to deal with folks’ personalities, in terms of what's going on in their particular part of the world as well.
I've been talking about basically what I think has to go on, from my own experience, in order to get people to come on board with the understanding that the things that they value, their importance, is going to be maintained in whatever the outcome is, going forward. So you get that confidence in them and then you've done your job, I think. A lot's going to follow from that. Am I making sense?
You are. You recognize all the work that needs to be done, but you're an optimist at the end of the day.
If you don't do the work, it won't get done. [laughs] David, you make a good point. You make a good point. I don't talk about difficulties.
I don't. Because you can get mired. You always have to look toward using what works and maintaining a positive attitude. Where did that come from? Oh, a number of places, I guess. But one place, one thing I found out is that you will not win that game unless you maintain your focus in what you know will get you through. Even when someone's playing against you. You've got to play; you play to win. Why do you walk out on the court? You play to win. I don't know if you've ever been a competitive athlete. But if you've ever been around them, they play to win. That was a gripe I had with students in my class who were athletes. I know what they put themselves through just to get out there on that field, on the court, to play that game. I know the training that they go through. I know the sacrifice. I used to play. Years ago, when I was in high school, I was a competitive athlete. I saw it. I saw the discipline there. So maybe that's something that's stuck with me. If you want to be successful, find a way to make it work. I guess the only way you're not successful is that you didn't give it everything. Because at the end of the day, you have to sit down and say, "Well, was there something else I could have done?" And the answer has to be No!. [laughs] Maybe there was. [laughs] Anyways, that's an aside.
That's sort of the general approach I use to bring people on the board in order to move a project forward. I used that when I was a department chair as well. Tried to show people that something's in it for everybody here. In the end, the department is bigger than your particular project, and we're going to make the department stronger. Nobody is going to lose out. Because the department is stronger, you're going to be able to do better what you do. So that's the challenge.
That's the challenge. But if you don't do the work, it won't get done.
[laughs] I'm sorry. I just went back to—who was it? Of course. Uncle Pete. There are people in my family… As I said, I don't come from a family with a lot of formal education, but they would hit you with these tidbits of wisdom. [laughs]
Words to live by.
Oh, boy, you got that right. Words to work by, words to live by, right.
Well, Steve, it's been such a pleasure talking with you. This interview is going to be such an important part of our collection. There are going to be so many people who are going to get so much out of it from all of the things that you've been involved with in your career. And I'm honored to have spent this time with you, and I really want to thank you.
David, it has been my pleasure, OK, because in preparing for this particular activity, you know, you have to stop and think about a lot of things.
Have we covered all of the things that have crossed my mind in the process? Not really. But that's a good thing. That's a good thing.
But you know what, if this is a seed project, maybe for you to write a memoir, that's a whole book.
This has helped me to do that.
There you go. There you go.
No question about it. I can't thank you enough. I indeed hope that I've been able to add to your collection in some positive way. That's very important. What I can guarantee you is that you have been extremely thorough in bringing out certain information from me, no question about that. You have motivated me to articulate things that Inever would have thought of on my own. That perspective was emphasized here and throughout the whole picture itself, no question about it. And there's a few other things I guess I could throw in. I'll say the following.
Please. I think you are seeing a set.
I sent you a CV, and I sent you a narrative, I think, of what's in the
Of what's in the CV. Now, there's only one—and I promised you a copy of that talk that I gave, correct?
There's only one other thing, and I don't know how important this would be to your records. There's only one other area that I would bring to your attention that is, I think, rather unique in my particular case. And I didn't learn this until I was well along. I was probably past Oak Ridge. But maybe not. Maybe I was there. If we think in terms of what I would call academic lineage, you know, who your PhD adviser was and who his PhD or her PhD advisor was, it turns out that mine goes all the way back to a fellow by the name of Enrico Fermi. Well, as you know, Fermi won the Nobel Prize in 1938. Now, when Fermi was ultimately moved to the University of Chicago, he had many students, one of which was Owen Chamberlain, who went to Berkeley. And Owen Chamberlain, he received a Nobel Prize, along with Emilio Segrè in 1959, I think it was, for the discovery of the antiproton. And it was Owen Chamberlain's student, Dave Clark, who was my PhD advisor at Cornell. So there's a strand there, in terms of my academic lineage, and I don't know where else it goes, that involves some Nobel laureates. Now, I'm not a laureate or anything like that, but I thought to myself, well, you know, maybe it's not so unusual that I wound up on these projects that indeed ultimately received the Nobel Prize. And, of course, in that family of people, there are persons I met over the years who have similar kinds of connections. For example, Nobel Prize winner, president of the APS, was a Jerome Friedman. You know Dr. Friedman?
Well, he was Fermi's student at Chicago, as it turns out. And there's a few other connections along the way. I met Jerome Friedman at MIT. I was there to give a talk one time, and he came to the talk. But then also he became president of the APS, and he basically put me back into action. I had been in service already, but he said, "Oh, no, we got some work for you to do." Can't say no. So I didn't. So there's these threads, strands, or connections along the way in my career that I only realized existed recently. If you think it would be helpful, or useful, I should say, to have that, I'd be glad to send something to you. No? Not really?
I want you to send that to me.
You don't have to say yes. It will be OK.
I want you to send it to me.
All right. I'll put something together.
It may be historical in nature, in some sense, but I don't know of anybody who has that kind of background who has my origins, so to speak. Who had that kind of background? What I've mentioned to you over the last few hours is basically how it occurred. I didn't know about this till later. Anyways, it's something that occurred to me. I said, well, you know, buried in here is that connection, or that aspect. That feature of my life. But those two things, I'll put something together, and I'll send it to you here shortly.
OK. Well, great. Well, Stephen, I'm going to cut the recording here.