Interview with Marc Kamionkowski, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. He discusses his family heritage of Ashkenazi Jews who left Eastern Europe for Argentina, and his father’s medical research which took the family to Cleveland. Kamionkowski recounts his childhood in Shaker Heights, and he describes his undergraduate work at Washington University, where he switched from pre-med to physics to work with Marty Israel and Joe Klarmann. Despite his lack of preparation, Kamionkowski explains his admission to the University of Chicago, and he describes “the bug” that made him focus on physics and drive to succeed in quantum mechanics and understand quantum field theory. He discusses his thesis research under the direction of Michael Turner on energetic neutrinos from WIMP annihilation in the sun. Kamionkowski discusses his post-doctoral research at the Institute for Advanced Study where he was in Frank Wilczek’s particle theory group. He describes his first faculty appointment at Columbia and how experimental advances had opened up opportunities in cosmology. He explains his decision to move to Caltech because of its strength in theoretical astrophysics and where he became director of the Moore Center. Kamionkowski discusses his subsequent move to Johns Hopkins, and he surveys his recent projects on the Hubble Tension and early dark energy. At the end of the interview, Kamionkowski explains why he has always valued research that bridges the divide between theory and experimentation and why he expects this will continue to inform his broad research agenda.
Interview with Rainer Weiss, professor emeritus of physics at MIT. Weiss recounts his family history in pre-war Europe and the circumstances of his parents' marriage. He describes his childhood in New York City, and he explains his interests in experimenting and tinkering from an early age. Weiss explains the circumstances leading to his undergraduate study at MIT and his original plan to study electrical engineering before focusing on physics. He recounts his long and deep relationship with Jerrold Zacharias, who singularly championed Weiss's interests over the years. He discusses his graduate work on the hyperfine structure of hydrogen fluoride. Weiss describes his formative work with Bob Dicke at Princeton, and he explains how technological advances was beginning to offer new advances in general relativity. He explains how Dicke's influence served as an intellectual underpinning for the creation and success of LIGO. Weiss emphasizes the importance of Richard Isaacson as one of the founding heroes of LIGO, and he describes the fundamental importance of joining his research institutionally with Caltech. He describes his early research with John Mather, and the numerous administrative challenges in working with the NSF throughout the LIGO endeavor. Weiss describes the geographical decisions that went into building LIGO, the various episodes when LIGO's ongoing viability was in doubt, and how both Barry Barish and Kip Thorne contributed to ensuring its success. At the end of the interview, Weiss describes some of the sensitivities regarding who has been recognized in LIGO and who has not, in light of all the attention conferred by the Nobel prize, and he reflects on how LIGO will continue to push discoveries forward on the nature and origins of the universe.
Interview with Mark Trodden, Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Professor of Physics, and Co-Director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. Trodden describes the overlap between astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, and he recounts his working-class upbringing in England. He discusses his undergraduate education at Cambridge, where he focused on mathematics, and he explains his decision to switch to physics for graduate school at Brown, where he worked under the direction of Robert Brandenberger. Trodden describes the impact of the COBE program during this time, and he discusses his work on the microphysics of cosmic strings and topological defects and their effect on baryon asymmetry. He explains his decision to return to Cambridge for his postdoctoral research with Anne Davis and his subsequent postdoctoral appointment at MIT to work with Alan Guth. Trodden discusses his next postdoctoral position at Case Western, which he describes as a tremendously productive period, and he discusses the opportunities that led to his first faculty position at Syracuse. He notes the excellent graduate students he worked with at Syracuse, and he explains what is known and not known with regard to the discovery of the accelerating universe. Trodden describes why the theory of cosmic inflation remains outside the bounds of experimental verification, and he explains the decisions that led to his decision to join the faculty at Penn and his subsequent appointment as chair of the department. He discusses the work that Penn Physics, and STEM in general, needs to do to make diversity and inclusivity more of a top-line agenda, and he describes much of the exciting work his current and former graduate students are involved in. At the end of the interview, Trodden looks to the future and offers ideas on how physicists may ultimately come to understand dark energy and dark matter.
Interview with Phillip James Edwin Peebles, Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus, at Princeton University. Peebles describes his enjoyment in pursuing the issues in cosmology that are most interesting to him in retirement and he explains his appreciation for the importance of taking a sociological perspective to science. He describes his first exposure to cosmology as a field to specialize in during graduate school and he surveys some of the experiments and observational advances that have propelled theoretical cosmology. Peebles recounts his childhood in Manitoba, and he discusses his undergraduate education at the University of Manitoba. He describes arriving at Princeton in 1958 and how he became a student of Bob Dicke's. Peebles discusses his thesis research on the possibility that the fine-structure constant might be evolving. He describes staying at (and never leaving) Princeton for his postdoctoral work, and some of the exciting promises of infrared astronomy and radio astronomy. Peebles conveys the simple process of joining the faculty, and he describes the developments leading to the prediction of the cosmic microwave background. He discusses the trend of particle theorists pursuing questions in cosmology, and he reflects on the impact of the Vietnam era on Princeton. Peebles conveys the significance of the introduction of cold dark matter and his perspective on the inflationary theory of the universe. He explains why LambdaCDM has become standard in the field and why COBE was so important. Peebles surveys the many observational projects that are currently being planned, and he reflects on the "buzz" that he felt in advance of winning the Nobel Prize. He describes how his life has been affected by this honor, and he reflects on how the Department of Physics has changed over the course of his long career. At the end of the interview, Peebles emphasizes his interest in remaining close both to theory and experimentation, and he shares his sense of curiosity at what clues might be found from the epoch of light element production in the very early universe.
This is an interview with David Shoemaker, Senior Research Scientist at MIT, with an affiliation at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Shoemaker explains the relationship between LIGO, the MIT Department of Physics, and Kavli, and describes how these relations have changed over the years. He recounts his upbringing in Virginia, then Walla Walla, then Eugene Oregon, and then in New Jersey, where he spent his formative years, as his family moved to accommodate his father’s career. Shoemaker discusses his academic and social troubles in high school, and his undergraduate experience at Drew and then Tufts, where he majored in physics. He explains why he did not complete his undergraduate degree, and how he got to know Rai Weiss and the opportunity he offered to work as a technical instructor in the MIT Junior Lab. Shoemaker describes his decision to enroll in MIT’s graduate program, and he describes the Lab’s role in the COBE endeavor and the FIRAS interferometer project. He describes his work at the Max Planck Institute where he continued his focus on building interferometers, and he explains his decision to move to France to work with Alain Brillet. Shoemaker recounts his decision to return to MIT at the point that Weiss was becoming further involved in the LIGO effort and was forging partnerships with Caltech toward that end. He narrates the point at which MIT institutionally began to support the Lab’s work, and he emphasizes that the support predated any notion of LIGO’s success as a foregone conclusion. Shoemaker explains the early successes and promises of Advanced LIGO, and he provides a detailed account of the detection of gravitational waves, and the significance of this discovery. He describes the day of the Nobel announcement, and reflects on the impact of the attention LIGO received for the prize, for better and worse. Shoemaker discusses the post-Nobel life of LIGO and how, in many ways, the detection should be understood as a starting point for further additional discovery and not just the coda of a decades-long endeavor. At the end of the interview, Shoemaker muses on what lessons might be drawn from his experiences and the improbable nature of his successes in the field relative to the academic challenges he faced earlier in life.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Charles Bennett, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and in the Applied Physics Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University. He recounts his childhood in suburban Washington, D.C., and he describes the influence of his father, who was a physicist with the National Bureau of Standards. He describes his early interests in radio waves and telescopes. He describes his decision to attend the University of Maryland on the basis of its excellent reputation in radio astronomy, and he discusses his interests in instrumentation and his work at the Clark Lake Radio Observatory. Bennett describes the circumstances regarding his decision to attend MIT for graduate school, where he worked with Bernie Burke on analyzing radio observatory data. He discusses his career at Goddard at NASA and his involvement in some of the major missions of the time, including COBE and WMAP. Bennett describes his decision to join the faculty at Hopkins, and the ways in which his research changed in an academic setting. He discusses his current interest in the Hubble constant measurement and the importance in conveying scientific concepts to the broader public. At the end of the interview, Bennett shares his thoughts on how the scientific community can continue to progress in areas relating to diversity and inclusivity in the field, and he relates that his sense of wonder at what can be learned by looking at the universe remains much the same as when he was a boy.