In this interview, Elizabeth Simmons discusses: role as Executive Vice Chancellor (EVC) at UC San Diego; impact of COVID-19; current developments in the field that she finds exciting; family background and childhood; experiences as a woman in physics; M.Phil at Cambridge in Volker Heine’s group working on condensed matter theory; study of condensed matter theory at Harvard; Howard Georgi; work on models exploring electroweak symmetry breaking and quark masses; opinions on why SSC died and the impact on the field; collaboration with Cynthia Brossman on the Pathways K12 outreach project supporting girls’ involvement in STEM; research on the top quark; interest in supersymmetry and physics Beyond the Standard Model (BSM) using a Higgless model; papers with husband Sekhar Chivukula and others exploring the idea of a five-dimensional spacetime; leading Lyman Briggs College; MOOSE model; reaction to the discovery of the Higgs boson; post-Higgs work distinguishing which models can and can’t be consistent with the data; consulting work for the American Physical Society (APS) and the wider academic and scientific community on matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI); advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community; advisory work for the Center for High Energy Physics in China; collaborations at the Aspen Center for Physics to support EDI in the field; role creating career development workshops for women at the International Center for Theoretical Physics; work increasing EDI in curricula and faculty hiring; building cross-field collaboration at UCSD; collaboration with other EVCs in the UC system; current physics work on model building and how to get the most out of available data; and current work on graviton-graviton scattering. Toward the end of the interview, Simmons reflects on intersectionality and the value of diversity in science and discovery.
In this interview with Kate Kirby, recently retired and now CEO Emerita of the American Physical Society, Kirby surveys the many challenges in leading APS during the pandemic, and she recounts her early childhood in Washington DC and then Chicago. She describes her early interests in science and her decision to attend Harvard-Radcliffe for her undergraduate education. Kirby discusses her gravitation toward physics after her initial intent to be pre-med, and she explains her decision to pursue thesis research in chemical physics at Chicago under the direction of Juergen Hinze before returning to Harvard for her postdoctoral research at the Harvard College Observatory which soon merged with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. She explains her decision to take a full time federal position at the Observatory and she describes her merging interests of chemical and atmospheric physics. Kirby narrates the steady advances in leadership positions she took on at the Observatory, and she describes her increasing involvement in APS activities. She explains the circumstances of becoming Executive Officer of APS in 2009 and she describes the central issue of corporate reform. Kirby describes the process of taking a broad view of the entirety of physics research from this vantage point and the value she places in growing APS membership. She discusses her emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in physics, particularly after the events of 2020, and she narrates her considerations about when to step down from leadership. At the end of the interview, Kirby considers some of the key challenges and opportunities as APS charts its future, she specifies science and ethics and a key area for APS to focus on, and she reflects on the gains women in physics have made over the course of her career.
Interview with Milton Dean Slaughter, Affiliate Professor of Physics at Florida International University. Slaughter recounts his childhood in New Orleans, his involvement in the civil rights movement, and he describes his undergraduate work in physics at Louisiana State University and his graduate work in theoretical physics at the University of New Orleans, where his dissertation focused on electron-laser pulse scattering. Slaughter discusses his long tenure in the department of physics at UNO, and prior to that his research in theoretical physics at Los Alamos. At the end of the interview, he discusses his long-term interest in gravity.
This is an interview with Carol Davis on the occasion of her retirement from 50 years in administrative work at the Department of Physics at Harvard University. Davis reflects on her career, on the support she has provided to students and professors alike, and she explains the ways the department has changed over the years.
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 Feryal Ozel, professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Arizona. Ozel recounts her childhood and family background in Istanbul and how her interest in science was fostered both at home and at the all-girls international school she attended through 12th grade. She describes the opportunities that led to her enrollment at Columbia University for her undergraduate education, where she majored in physics and applied math and where Jacob Shaham influenced her interest in neutron stars. She describes a formative summer internship at CERN where she worked on supersymmetric decays of the Higgs boson, and a postgraduate year at the Niels Bohr Institute, before she began her graduate work at Harvard. Ozel discusses her thesis research on magnetars under the direction of Ramesh Narayan and she describes her postdoctoral position at the Institute for Advanced Study as a Hubble fellow. She describes the academic and family considerations that made Arizona an attractive option and she explains the mechanics behind funding from NASA and the NSF. Ozel describes her favorite physics classes to teach, how she sees her role as a mentor to women students and students of under-represented groups, and she surveys recent developments in neutron star astrophysics and the interaction of gas and black holes. She discusses her contributions to the Event Horizon collaboration, and she relates her ideas on the significance of seeing a photograph of a black hole without needing observational evidence to know that black holes exist. Ozel describes her motivations in serving in scientific advisory roles and the importance of science communication and how advances in computational power have revolutionized astrophysics. At the end of the interview, Ozel discusses the outstanding question mark about making gravity compatible with how we understand the subatomic world and how this serves as a starting point for future research oriented toward fundamental discovery, and why she is particularly interested in continuing to work on black hole imaging.
Interview with Margaret Murnane, professor of physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, fellow at JILA, and director of the NSF STROBE Science and Technology Center. Murnane recounts her childhood in Ireland and emphasizes that, culturally, she was encouraged to pursue her interests in science from a young age. She discusses her undergraduate education at University College Cork where she focused on physics and developed her specialties in experimentation with light. Murnane describes the opportunities leading to her graduate work at UC Berkeley, where, for her thesis research, she developed a high-power femtosecond laser to create X-ray emitting plasma. She describes her first faculty appointment at Washington State University in Pullman where she continued work in ultrafast laser science, and she explains the decision to transfer to the University of Michigan at the Center for Ultrafast Optics. Murnane discusses her subsequent decision to join the faculty at JILA, where the instrumentation and opportunities for collaboration in her field were peerless. She describes the centrality of achieving very fast X-ray pulses to her field, and she describes some recent advances in applications such as EUV lithography. Murnane discusses the work that remains to be done to ensure that STEM promotes diversity and inclusivity, and she reflects on the many excellent graduate students she has mentored. At the end of the interview, Murnane conveys her excitement at the possibilities offered in the future of ultrafast lasers, including the ability of real-time microscopes that can make three-dimensional nanoscale and A-scale movies.
Interview with Ruth Van de Water, Scientist I at Fermilab. She explains the hierarchical system at the lab to explain her title and she recounts her childhood in Northern Virginia. Van de Water describes her undergraduate experience at William & Mary where she developed an interest in physics and was mentored by David Armstrong, and she describes the considerations that led to her admission to the graduate program at the University of Washington. She discusses her early involvement in the Atlas program and her thesis research that focused on computational and numerical physics and lattice QCD. Van de Water discusses her postdoctoral work at Fermilab, and she describes the state of play regarding the Tevatron and the D0 and CDF collaborations. She describes her ongoing work in lattice QCD research and the opportunity that led to her second postdoctoral position at Brookhaven, where she pursued a new approach to discretizing quarks. Van de Water describes Fermilab “poaching” her back to work on quark flavor physics and become involved in the G-2 experiment. She discusses the negative impact on a decreased budget, and her current leave from Fermilab to be a visiting professor at North Central College, and she shares that she is conflicted about continuing on a strictly research path and focusing more directly on teaching. At the end of the interview, Van de Water discusses the impact of #ShutdownSTEM and the issue of inclusivity in physics and why solutions to under-representation are not easily achievable.
Interview with Marcelle Soares-Santos, assistant professor of physics at the University of Michigan. Soares-Santos recounts her childhood in Brazil, her early interests in science, and her graduate work in physics at the University of São Paulo. She describes her graduate visit to Fermilab to study galaxy clusters as a way to map the history of the expanding universe, which formed the basis of her thesis research. Soares-Santos discusses her return to Fermilab as a postdoctoral researcher, where she joined the Dark Energy Survey, and she explains how DES is getting us closer to understanding what dark energy is. She describes Fermilab’s broad-scale transition into astrophysics, and she explains the opportunities that led to her faculty appointment first at Brandeis before moving to Michigan. Soares-Santos discusses her current work in gravitational waves, and she prognosticates on what the discovery of dark energy (or energies) will look like. She shares her perspective on recent efforts to improve diversity and inclusivity in STEM. At the end of the interview, Soares-Santos explains why observation is leading theory in the current work of astrophysics and cosmology and why she is optimistic for fundamental advances in the field.
Interview with Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard. Hau recounts her childhood in Denmark and her early interests in science, and she describes her education at the University of Aarhus. She describes her studies in math and physics and her determination to build something meaningful for experimentation. Hau describes her interest in using lasers to cool down atoms during her postdoctoral work at Harvard and at the Rowland Institute, and she describes the opportunities that led to her full-time work at Rowland. She describes her collaboration with Jene Golovchenko and the impact of the discovery of Bose-Einstein condensation in 1995. Hau details the experiments that initially slowed down and then ultimately stop light in a Bose-Einstein condensate. She explains her decision to join the Harvard faculty and she surveys some of the practical applications of her research. Hau describes her research in nanoscale systems and her interest in applying her research to create more energy efficient systems with the explicit goal of addressing climate change. She describes some of the difficulties and systemic biases that women have to deal with in the sciences, particularly when they achieve prominence. At the end of the interview, Hau explains her interest to promote diversity in physics and particularly to encourage students who are the first in their generation to go to college.