November 3 & 10, 2020, January 20 & February 9, 2021
Interview with Janice Button-Shafer, retired American physicist. Button-Shafer recounts her childhood in the Boston area, where her father worked as an engineer. She recalls the influence of her father on her interests in music, math and physics. Button-Shafer discusses her decision to study Engineering Physics at Cornell University, despite it being very uncommon for women to go into science. She discusses her summer jobs at MIT, Cornell Aeronautical Lab and Oak Ridge, as well as her experience writing for The Cornell Engineer magazine. Button-Shafer recounts her Fulbright Fellowship in Germany at the Max Planck Institute in Gottingen, focusing on neutron physics. She reflects on the political landscape during this time and how it affected science in Europe. Button-Shafer then recounts her decision to attend Berkeley for graduate school where she completed her thesis on parity violation while teaching courses such as quantum mechanics. She describes her research at the time at Lawrence Berkeley Lab and SLAC and discusses her work on thermonuclear energy and fusion reactors. She then turns to her move to University of Massachusetts Amherst and her eventual retirement and continuation of work at SLAC. Button-Shafer also talks about her marriage to mathematician John Shafer and the challenges of raising three children, one of whom battled cancer, during her demanding career as a scientist. Throughout the interview, Button-Shafer shares numerous anecdotes about the struggles of being a woman in a male-dominated field, including the discrimination and misogyny she endured throughout her career. She shares many stories of famous physicists she worked with over the years, including Owen Chamberlain, Emilio Segre, Luis Alvarez, Karl Heinz Beckhurts, and Edward Teller. Button-Shafer also shares her passion for the history of physics and relays many of her favorite historical tidbits involving scientists such as Lise Meitner, Marie Curie, Werner Heisenberg, and others. Her love of chamber music and classical music also comes up throughout the interview, as she reflects on her various musical accomplishments.
Interview with David Griffiths, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Reed College. Griffiths discusses his current projects on Sidney Coleman’s lecture series and a completing a fifth edition of his textbook on electrodynamics. He surveys the current interplay between experiment in theory in today’s world of particle physics, and he reflects on his career rooted in small teaching colleges, as opposed to pursuing an alternate path at large research universities. Griffiths recounts his childhood in Berkeley and then in Madison in support of his father’s academic career, and he describes finishing out high school in Vermont before attending Harvard. He laments the poor physics education Harvard offered when he was an undergraduate, and he explains his decision to remain at Harvard for graduate school, where Sidney Coleman and Carl Bender advised his thesis work on massless field theory. Griffiths discusses his postdoctoral appoints at the University of Utah and then the University of Massachusetts, and he explains how the November revolution at SLAC resonated with him. After brief teaching appointments at Mount Holyoke and Trinity Colleges, Griffiths explains his decision to join the faculty at Reed and how he learned to strike the right balance between teaching and research. He describes the origins and his motivations in writing textbooks for physics students and how he has integrated pedagogy into his mentorship of students. Griffiths discusses the influence of Kuhn in his more recent survey of physics in the twentieth century, and at the end of the interview, he explains why including students in his own research is both personally and academically meaningful.