University of Adelaide

University of Adelaide

Australia

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Phiala Shanahan, assistant professor of physics in the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT. Shanahan explains the administrative relationship between the department and the Center, and she recounts her childhood in Adelaide, Australia, her experiences at an all-girls school and the benefits this conferred in nurturing her interest in science. She discusses her concentration in computational physics and the mass of the H-dibaryon at the University of Adelaide and her decision to stay on with her undergraduate advisors, Anthony Thomas and Ross Young, for graduate school. Shanahan describes her interest in the proton radius puzzle as a research entry point for her thesis work and why she was interested in how particle physics can be connected more rigorously to quarks, gluons, and ultimately chemistry. She describes the opportunities leading to her postdoctoral research at MIT and some of the cultural adjustments she had to make coming from Australia. Shanahan discusses her collaboration with Will Detmold and she describes her contributions to the NPL-QCD research project and she discusses her first faculty appointment at William & Mary before returning to MIT where she remains in her current appointment and where she is pursuing work on proton structures and in creating ever-faster algorithms. She describes the potential benefits that would be conferred with the availability of true quantum computing for her field, and she describes some of the difficulties she has faced as a woman in getting recognized for her accomplishments in her field of research. At the end of the interview, she emphasizes why her long-term goal is to bridge nuclear physics and chemistry, and why she wants to keep an open mind about pursuing other areas that are both interesting and offer the opportunity to push forward discovery in foundational ways.