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Born in Oregon 1912, entered Purdue University, 1932, studying solid state physics, teaching assistant work with Lothar Nordheim on crystal structure, 1937; Ph.D. thesis, 1937 (published 1940); physics department under Karl Lark-Horovitz grows in the 1930s, visiting lecturers (refugees from Germany and Europe: Lothar Nordheim, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner). First cyclotron (homemade), 1935. War work: basic research in germanium, rectification of crystals (Bethe), close connections with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania; Lark-Horovitz chose solid state physics as less sensitive field with respect to clearance; showed silicon-germanium intrinsic semiconductors, 1942; General Electric’s germanium interest; success interpreting resistivity and thermoelectric behavior in germanium, 1944. American Physical Society meeting intense interest in Purdue presentations, January 1946; the transistor, 1948 (William Shockley, Ralph Bray); how to grow germanium crystals, 1949; Esther Conwell’s thesis (Victor Weisskopf). Also prominently mentioned are: John Backus, Seymour Benzer, Hubert Maxwell James, A. A. Knowlton, K. W. Meissner, E. P. Miller, Ronald Smith, Herbert J. Yearian; and Purdue University Department of Physics.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Ephraim Fischbach, professor of physics at Purdue University. Fischbach recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and the role of Judaism in his upbringing. He discusses his undergraduate work at Columbia, and he describes a number of humorous adventures in the lab that convinced him to switch to physics from chemistry. Fischbach describes his graduate work under the direction of Henry Primakoff in theoretical particle physics at the University of Pennsylvania, and his first job after Penn at SUNY-Stony Brook. He discusses his work on the strength of gravitational interactions, weak interactions, algebraic computing, and he describes his time at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. Fischbach describes the circumstances leading to his hire at Purdue and he discusses his collaboration with Sam Aronson and the fundamental work on the “Fifth Force,” and the popular interest this work engendered. Fischbach explains the underlying mysteries of the “Fifth Force” and its ongoing influence in both cosmology and particle physics. He describes his ongoing interests in complex calculations, radioactive decay, and neutrinos, among many projects, and in the last part of the interview, Fischbach explains his goal to protect electrical grids from solar storms, which he sees as one of the greatest threats facing modern society.