American Physical Society

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Malcolm Roy Beasley, Sidney and Theodore Rosenberg Professor of Applied Physics, Emeritus, at Stanford. Beasley recounts his passion for basketball in high school and the opportunities that led to his undergraduate study at Cornell, where he describes his focus on engineering physics as just the right blend of fundamental and applied research. He describes his relationship with Watt Webb, who would become his graduate advisor, and the origins of BCS theory. Beasley discusses his work taking magnetization measurements on type-II superconductors and his thesis research on flux creep and resistance. He discusses his postdoctoral appointment working with Mike Tinkham at Harvard and the developments leading to reduced dimensional superconductivity. Beasley explains the technological implications in the fluctuations of the order parameter, and he describes the speed with which Harvard made him a faculty offer. He discusses the circumstances that led to him joining the faculty at Stanford, his immediate connection with Ted Geballe, and his work on A15 superconductors. Beasley explains the significance of the 1976 Applied Superconductivity Conference and the important work in the field coming out of the Soviet Union at the time. He conveys the excitement regarding amorphous silicon and how the KT transition in superconductors became feasible. Beasley describes his interest in thermal fluctuation limits and coupled oscillators, and he describes Aharon Kapitulnik’s arrival at Stanford and the origins of the “KGB” group. He describes the group’s work on alloyed-based model systems and his idea to study high-resistance SNS Josephson junctions. Beasley explains “Pasteur’s quadrant” and why the KGB group was so well-attuned to dealing with it, and he discusses the impact of computational theory on the field and specifically that of Josephson junctions on digital electronics. He surmises what quantum superconductivity might look like, and he describes his work as dean and as founding director of GLAM, and some of the inherent challenges in the “trifurcation” at Stanford between the Departments of Physics and Applied Physics and SLAC. Beasley discusses his leadership at APS and the issue of corporate reform, and he explains his role in the Schön commission and what it taught him about scientific integrity. At the end of the interview, Beasley reflects on some of the “forgotten heroes” in the long history of superconductivity, he attempts to articulate his love for physics, and he explains why the achievements of the KGB group represent more than the sum of its parts.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Nan Phinney, retired Distinguished Staff Scientist at SLAC. Phinney recounts her childhood in Chicago and her education in Catholic private schools. She describes her undergraduate education at Michigan State where she majored in physics – despite being discouraged by many men that this was not an appropriate field of study for women. Phinney describes the excitement and benefits of focusing on particle physics during such a fundamental era of discovery and she explains her decision to pursue a Ph.D. in physics with Jack Smith at Stony Brook. She discusses her involvement in efforts to discover the Z boson, and she describes her work at CERN. Phinney describes her interest in linear colliders and the circumstances leading to her employment at SLAC. She discusses her initial work on the control system for the SLC and explains how networking issues presented the biggest technical challenge for the project. Phinney describes the international culture of collaboration with projects at CERN and DESY, and she explains the impact of the B factory at SLAC. She discusses her role in the creation of the NLC and the mechanical breakdown leading to the end of the SLC. Phinney describes the origins of the ILC and some of the significant developments in superconductivity in the early 2000s. At the end of the interview, Phinney describes current research on electron-positron colliders, she discusses her work with the APS, and she explains how SLAC has changed both culturally and scientifically over the decades.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 30 and August 3, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Sylvester James Gates, Jr., Ford Foundation Professor of Physics and Director of the Theoretical Physics Center at Brown University. Gates discusses his preparations to lead the APS and the value of his service for PCAST for this new role. Gates recounts his family heritage and he discusses his father’s military service and the death of his mother. He explains how his family navigated racist challenges during his upbringing in El Paso and then in Orlando and how he navigated his own intellectual abilities in school. Gates explains his interest in physics in high school and the opportunities that led to his admission at MIT for his undergraduate work. He recounts the many mentors who made a positive impression on him and he explains his realization that his specialty would be at the boundary between math and physics. Gates describes his earliest interactions with string theory and he explains his decision to remain at MIT for his graduate work to work with Jim Young on supersymmetry. He paints a broader picture of supergravity research at this time and the rising importance of computers for this work. Gates describes his postdoctoral research at Harvard as a Junior Fellow, where he worked closely with Warren Siegel, and he describes his decision to join the faculty at MIT after a subsequent postdoctoral position at Caltech. He addresses Shelly Glashow’s criticism of string theory, and he explains his decision to leave MIT for a faculty position at the University of Maryland. Gates reflects on his teaching and mentoring career at Maryland, he describes his time at Howard University, and he discusses the broader issue of diversity in physics and AIP’s TEAM-UP Report. He describes his more recent interests in graph theory and the broader effort to unify gravity with the other forces. Gates reflects on how he became an advisor to President Obama for PCAST and how he worked with John Holdren to translate reports into policy changes. He explains his decision to go emeritus at Maryland and to take a new position at Brown, and why joining the Watson Institute was an attractive part of the offer. Gates reflects on assuming leadership at APS during the twin crises of Covid and racial strife, he surveys the state of string theory and high energy physics, and he explains why supersymmetry might offer a path to understanding dark matter. At the end of the interview, Jim conveys his hope that his work in math will yield deep insights into nature, and he considers the possibility of pursuing an autobiographical project.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Blair Ratcliff, emeritus physicist and Permanent Member of the Laboratory Staff at SLAC. Ratcliff describes his ongoing work at the Lab since he retired in 2017, and he recounts his childhood in Iowa after World War II. He describes his undergraduate education in physics at Grinnell College and he explains the opportunities that led to his graduate work at Stanford, where he immediately gravitated toward SLAC as it was being built. Ratcliff describes working under the direction of Burt Richter in Group C, and he discusses his postgraduate research at CERN where the ISR colliders were starting. He discusses returning to SLAC to join David Leith on Group B and his work as spokesman on the spectroscopy program. Ratcliff narrates the origins of BaBar and his decision to create the Physics Analysis Group and to build up the SuperB factory. He discusses his advisory work for the Dune and LZ experiments, and he reflects on winning the APS Instrumentation Award. At the end of the interview, Ratcliff considers BaBar’s contribution to understanding the cosmic imbalance of matter and antimatter, and he conveys a sense of serendipity that BaBar came together at the right time, at the right place, and with the right people.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
April 13, April 15 and April 22, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Pierre Ramond, Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Florida. Ramond recounts childhood in Paris, he describes his family’s experiences during World War II, and he explains that opportunities that led to his education in electrical engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He discusses his graduate degree in physics at Syracuse University to focus on general relativity and his first exposure to the earliest iterations of string theory. Ramond describes his work at Fermilab on Veneziano modelling, his postdoctoral research at Yale, and his subsequent work at Los Alamos. He describes Gell-Mann’s interest in grand unified theories and the influence of Ken Wilson. Ramond explains the excitement regarding the muon anomaly experiment at Fermilab, and he narrates his decision to join the faculty at the University of Florida. He explains how the department’s stature has risen over the past forty years, and he reflects on his involvement with the superstring revolution in 1984. Ramond describes the difference between effective and fundamental theories in particle physics and he conveys the productive intellectual ferment at the annual Aspen conferences. He describes his service work on the faculty senate and he describes his leadership position at the APS during the discovery of the Higgs. Ramond explains why he thinks supersymmetry would have been detected at a completed SSC and he reflects on receiving the Dirac medal in 2020. At the end of the interview, he discusses Einstein’s misgivings on quantum mechanics, he imagines how string theory might be testable, and he explains why he remains interested in CP violation.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Timothy James Symons, Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and recently retired as Associate Laboratory Director for Physical Sciences, for which he ran the Lab’s programs in high energy and nuclear physics. Symons explains how the Lab has responded to the pandemic and the wide range of physics research he is following at Berkeley and beyond. He recounts his childhood in England and his early interests in science and the opportunities that led to his undergraduate education at Oxford where a tutor focused his interests in nuclear physics. Symons explains his reasons for remaining at Oxford for graduate school and the relevance of the SU(3) shell model for his thesis. He describes his postdoctoral work at the UK Science Research Council, and the opportunities that initially led him to Berkeley to work with David Scott on low energy nuclear structure. Symons provides a history of the Bevatron and the many reasons that compelled him to take a staff position. He describes the challenges in replacing the Bevelac, and the import of the ISABELLE cancellation at Brookhaven on Berkeley’s decisions. He provides detail on the interplay between laboratory experiments and DOE policy decisions and he explains the significant administrative pull of his work for NSAC. Symons reviews broadly the state of U.S. nuclear physics in the 1990s and the value of the APS as a sounding board in shaping policies for the decade. He does the same for rare isotopes in the early 2000s and how the Lab became involved in DUSEL. Symons describes his world as Associate Lab Director and he discusses his interactions with the Lab Director which gave him a high-altitude appreciate for the broad range of research across the Lab. He explains the Lab’s contributions in energy research which stems from Steve Chu’s directorship. At the end of the interview, Symons reflects on the significant changes in the Lab’s scope and mission over his career, the overall trend that once-disparate research areas are now increasingly on a path of convergence, and he conveys optimism on the fundamental discoveries that are within reach for the near future of nuclear physics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Frances Hellman, professor of physics and of Materials Science and Engineering, Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at UC Berkeley, as well as senior faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab.  Hellman is also president-elect of the APS. Hellman explains why she considers physics her “home” department and why her research agenda spans so many disciplines. She describes the major issues in her incoming leadership of APS and how Berkeley has coped during the pandemic. Hellman recounts her childhood in Manhattan and then Brooklyn and she describes her Quaker education and her early interests in science. She describes her focus on ski racing and her undergraduate experience at Dartmouth, and the formative influence that Bruce Pipes had on her development as a physicist. Hellman discusses her motivations to pursue thesis research at Stanford, where Mac Beasley and Ted Geballe were her co-advisors and where A15 superconductor research was in full gear. She describes her postdoctoral appointment at Bell Labs to work on magnetic thin film materials and magnetic superconductors. Hellman conveys her interest in entrepreneurship and the opportunities that allowed her to join the faculty at UC San Diego, and she describes building up her lab and her interests in thermal links. She reflects broadly on the basic and applied aspects of her research, and she explains her reasons for transferring to Berkeley and her affiliation with the Exploratorium. Hellman describes her administrative responsibilities as department chair in physics and she conveys her recent interests in amorphous materials and specifically ideal glass. At the end of the interview, Hellman discusses her involvement in both the APS and Berkeley’s efforts to make STEM more inclusive and diverse, and she describes her optimism that her work on amorphous materials will lead to key discovery in the field.

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

Myriam Sarachik, Distinguished Professor Emerita Physics at City College of New York, is interviewed by David Zierler. Sarachik recounts her turbulent childhood first in Belgium, from which her orthodox Jewish family evacuated during World War II, then in Cuba, and then in New York. She describes some of the challenges of being a girl interested in science and she recounts her undergraduate at Barnard, where her talents in physics first became apparent. Sarachik discusses the formative influence of Polykarp Kusch and her experiences with Dick Garwin, who was her graduate advisor at Columbia. She explains her dissertation research measuring the attenuation of a magnetic field through a superconducting film right at the time that BCS (Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer) theory was developing. Sarachik describes her postgraduate work at Bell Labs, where she worked in Ted Geballe’s group, and where she conducted research in measuring the resistivity of alloys for which her findings came to be known as the Kondo effect. Sarachik discusses her decision to leave Bell to join the faculty at City College, where she immediately got to work building a lab and taking on students. She describes her coping mechanisms in her attempt to continue her career following the tragic loss of her child. Sarachik discusses her work on doped semiconductors and then in searching for the macroscopic quantum tunneling of magnetization. She reflects on her feelings of validation within the field as it related to her advisory work on numerous scientific boards and committees, and in particular her tenure as president of the APS. Sarachik describes her subsequent research on metal insulator transitions in two dimensions, and she conveys the impact of her major profile in the New York Times in 2020. At the end of the interview, Sarachik returns to her religious family roots and affirms both the cultural influence of this upbringing and her subsequent embrace of atheism. Sarachik concludes expressing wonderment at what the true meaning of quantum mechanical effects might tell us about nature. 

 

Interviewed by
Joanna Behrman
Interview date
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
Abstract

In this interview, Joanna Behrman, Assistant Public Historian for AIP, interviews Marta Dark McNeese, Associate Professor of Physics at Spelman College. McNeese recounts her childhood in Maryland and early interest in science. She describes her decision to attend the University of Virginia and to major in physics. McNeese discusses the climate she experienced during graduate school at MIT and her support network. She further elaborates on her graduate research with Michael Feld on the ablation of biological materials by lasers. She describes work as a postdoc at the Naval Research Lab and how she was drawn to join Spelman College. McNeese recounts how Etta Falconer was instrumental in growing the physics department at Spelman. McNeese discusses mentoring students at the undergraduate level and the importance of women’s colleges and HBCUs. At the end of the interview, she describes the development of her research in biophysics and her involvement with APS and NSBP.

Interviewed by
Donald Shaughnessy
Interview date
Location
American Institute of Physics, New York City
Abstract

Undergraduate at University of Pittsburgh, B.A., 1916; instructorship in physics at University of Kentucky; teaching mathematics at Mercer University, Georgia; graduate thesis at University of Chicago with Dempster. Discouraging experiences with American Physical Society (APS), beginning 1916; invited to 1929 Des Moines meeting by Paul Klopsteg to discuss role of teachers in APS; invited to head group; Glen Warner, Klopsteg, States and S. L. Redman meeting in Chicago, 1930; preparation for and confrontation at Cleveland meeting of APS. Homer L. Dodge and Harold W. Webb; formation of American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), Floyd Richtmyer and Karl Compton; beginning of joint meetings between APS and AAPT (1933). AAPT became founding member of AIP. The AAPT journal; development of bylaws and policies of AAPT; election of Frederic Palmer as president, 1933; David L. Webster's presidency. Effect of AAPT on teaching profession. The Orsted medal; the Taylor Memorial Fund.