Bell Telephone Laboratories

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
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Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Sean L. Jones, Assistant Director for the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the National Science Foundation. Jones recounts his father’s scientific career at IBM and his own childhood in South Carolina, and the opportunities he had to pursue his interests in math and science. He discusses his undergraduate work in ceramic engineering at Clemson and the opportunities for him to become a McKnight Fellow at the University of Florida for graduate school, where he worked on increasing the luminescence of thin film phosphorous. He describes his postgraduate work at Bell Labs and how the internet bubble affected him at the turn of the century. Jones discusses his subsequent work as a professor of optical engineering at Norfolk State University and the enjoyment he derived in teaching at an HBCU. He explains why meeting Bruce Kramer at NSF was so formative and why he chose to join NSF as a program director after working at Applied Plasmonics. Jones describes the flatness of the NSF’s organizational structure and how the Obama administration’s commitment to science and technology research resonated for his program. He discusses his work at the OSTP in the Executive Branch and his tenure as Executive Secretary of the National Science Board. Jones discusses his increasing responsibilities at NSF and the overall improvement of the budgetary environment since he started. He talks about the current opportunities to expand diversity in STEM and his current work in managing research support as costs continually rise. At the end of the interview, Jones explains why the appetite for taking risk must be central to the future of good scientific policy at the national level.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Robert Cava, Russell Wellman Moore Professor of Chemistry at Princeton. He describes his dual appointment in the Princeton Materials Institute and he reflects on the distinctions between being a solid state and not a condensed matter chemist. Cava recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and the opportunities that led to his undergraduate admission to MIT. He discusses his studies in materials science, and his decision to stay on for a PhD to study crystallography and the properties of sulfide materials under the direction of Bernie Wuensch. Cava describes some of the advances in ceramics that was important to him, and he discusses his work on sodium electrolytes at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. He explains his decision to join the Sold State Chemistry Research Department Bell Labs, and he describes some of the exciting developments in ceramic superconductors and why superconductivity is a window onto the complexity of solids. Cava discusses the significance of the YCBO collaboration, he describes the impact of the breakup of Bell Labs and his subsequent decision to transfer to Princeton. He explains some of the cultural shifts that allowed Princeton to become more involved in applied science, and he discusses what he learned about academic politics during his time as chair of the Department of Chemistry. Cava discusses his career-long search for new compounds and studying transition metal oxides, and he describes the many advances in thermoelectronics. At the end of the interview, Cava reflects on his scientific contributions, and he emphasizes the value in science of being a good listener.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Eli Yablonovitch, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at UC Berkeley. He talks about the overlap of these fields with applied physics, and he recounts his family’s Jewish heritage in Europe and his origin as a Displaced Person born to refugee parents after World War II. Yablonovitch describes his childhood in Montreal, his early interests in science, and his undergraduate experience at McGill where he first became interested in transistors. He explains his decision to attend Harvard in Applied Physics for graduate school to and the intellectual influence of Mike Tinkham. Yablonovitch discusses his thesis research on semiconductor optics and four-wave mixing, and he describes the opportunities that led to his postdoctoral work at Bell Labs to work on laser-based communications systems. He discusses his return to Harvard as a faculty member and his subsequent solar research work at Exxon. Yablonovitch discusses his formative collaboration with Sajeev John and his move to UCLA, and he explains how the rise of the internet fostered his entrepreneurial instincts. He describes his work to improve cellphone antennae and his decision to transfer to Berkeley and the origins of Alta Devices. Yablonovitch describe his current interests in circuits and chips and he shares his view on China’s work in basic science. At the end of the interview, Yablonovitch reflects on outliving many tech companies, some of the intractable challenges of solar energy, and why Feynman’s lectures remain a guiding light for his own interests.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Alice White, Professor and Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Boston University. She recounts her childhood as the daughter of a Bell Labs physicist and her early interests in learning how things work, and she explains her decision to attend Middlebury College. White describes her formative fellowship at Bell Labs and her graduate research in physics at Harvard, where Mike Tinkham supervised her research. She describes being hired by Bob Dynes at MTS in Bell Labs for her postdoctoral research in low temperature physics and she discusses her subsequent work with John Poate on ion implantation. White explains her increasing involvement in optics and the significance of this work during the "dot com" boom and she narrates the reorganization and breakup of Bell. She describes the opportunities that led to her faculty appointment at BU, and she describes working at the interface between mechanical engineering and physics. White describes creating the Multiscale Laser Lithography Lab and her overlapping research interests with biologists, and she reflects on some of the advantages at BU of operating in the shadows of MIT and Harvard. She discusses her tenure as department chair and her research on 3D printing for cardiac repairs. At the end of the interview, White reflects on working at Bell Labs at the height of American power and ingenuity, she emphasizes the importance of encouraging her students to take scientific risks, and she indicates that her future research will be devoted to climate change.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Subir Sachdev, Herchel Smith Professor of Physics at Harvard University. Sachdev surveys his current research projects which includes a focus on Planckian metals and the Sachdev-Ye-Kitaev model, and he describes the interplay between theory and experiment on the topics he is following most closely. He describes the major advances in spin liquids research, and he recounts his childhood and Jesuit education in Bangalore. Sachdev discusses his undergraduate education at the Indian Institute of Technology and he explains the circumstances that led to his family’s emigration to the United States and his transfer to MIT where Dan Kleppner was a formative influence. He explains his decision to move to Harvard for graduate school, where David Nelson supervised his thesis research related to Nelson’s interests in developing the theory of the structure of metallic glasses. Sachdev describes his postdoctoral work on quantum spins and antiferromagnets at Bell Labs, and research advice he received from Bert Halperin. He explains his decision to join the faculty at Yale, he describes his key collaborations with Nick Read on quantum antiferromagnets and he narrates his increasing interest in cuprates. Sachdev discusses his decision to write Quantum Phase Transitions and he describes the origins of the SYK model and its relevance for black hole research. He discusses his involvement in string theory and his longstanding interests in Bose-Einstein condensation. Sachdev narrates his decision to transfer to Harvard and he describes his work in quantum chaos. He describes his professorship at the Tata Institute and the meaningfulness of being able to travel to and maintain contacts in India. At the end of the interview, Sachdev explains open issues in the theory of pseudo-gap in the high-temperature superconductors, how the SYK model may contribute to the development of a theory of quantum gravity, and he provides a long-range view of developments in the field of strange metals.

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

Interview with Bertram Batlogg, Professor Emeritus at ETH Zurich. Batlogg surveys his current interests in topological superconductivity and superconductivity in twisted layer graphene, and he connects this current research with his own work at Bell Labs earlier in his career. He considers the current state of play in high-Tc research and he recounts his family's Austrian heritage and his upbringing early interests in physics. Batlogg describes his undergraduate experience at ETH Zurich and his reasons for remaining to complete his PhD thesis work. He describes Bell Labs as the Mecca for his research as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a staff scientist. Batlogg discusses his work on Hall effect measurements, superconductivity, and heavy Fermions, and he describes his tenure as head of the solid state physics and materials research division.  He describes the culture of basic science and how it changed from the 1980s to the 1990s, and he discusses his formative collaborations with Bob Cava and 1-2-3 YBCO. He narrates the story of meeting Jan Hendrik Schön and the issues that would lead to the investigation led by Mac Beasley. Batlogg conveys the scientific and emotional turmoil of this episode and the impact this episode had on his sense of trust in people. He describes participating in the investigation after he had already left Bell Labs to return to ETH Zurich to build up a research group with a focus that included topics such as charge dynamics and heavy Fermions in very high magnetic fields. At the end of the interview, Batlogg emphasizes advances in data acquisition and spectroscopy that propelled the field forward over his career, and he considers how some his research can contribute in the future to discoveries in both the applied and basic realms of science.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Robert C. Dynes, Research Professor, Emeritus President of the University of California, and Emeritus Chancellor of UC San Diego. Dynes recounts his childhood in Ontario, his early interests in science, and his decision to attend the University of Western Ontario for college. He explains his decision to pursue a PhD at McMaster University, and he describes some of the advances in superconductivity that were exciting at that time. Dynes discusses his postdoctoral research at Bell Labs and he emphasizes that the research culture was geared exclusively to basic science and had nothing to do with financial considerations toward Bell’s business. He describes his political engagement during the Vietnam Era and he describes the changing culture at Bell during the breakup in the 1980s when he was Director of Chemical Physics. Dynes discusses his research on thin films of metals at the atomic level, and he explains the circumstances leading to his tenure at UC San Diego. He explains how the university was building up across the sciences, and he conveys how important teaching was to him. Dynes describes the process leading to being named Chancellor, and he reviews his challenges and accomplishments in this role. He compares the Chancellor’s responsibilities to those of the UC President, to which he was named in 2003, and he describes his efforts to remain active in research even as he was running the entire UC system. Dynes describes the existential challenge of being president at a time that the state was defunding public education, and he describes some of his key successes in faculty recruitment. He conveys his delight when his term as president ended and he was able to return to the physics department in San Diego. At the end of the interview Dynes cites integrity and creativity as the characteristics that he sees as most fundamental to success in science.

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

This is an interview with Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy, Engineering and Applied Sciences Emeritus at Harvard. He recounts his childhood in India and he explains the origins of his nickname “Venky” by which everyone knows him, and he explains his transition from a career primarily rooted in lab work to his more current interests in science and national public policy. He describes the imperial British influence that pervaded his upbringing, and he discusses his education at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. He explains the opportunities that lead to his graduate work at Cornell to study solid state physics with a focus on defects in crystals under the direction of Robert Pohl. Narayanamurti describes his brief return to India before he was recruited to work at Bell Labs where he ultimately rose to serve as Director of Solid-state Electronics and as head of the Semiconductor Electronics Research Department. He contextualizes his decision to join the faculty at UC Santa Barbara after working at Sandia National Lab against the backdrop of the impending breakup of Bell. He discusses his work at Dean building up the computer science, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering programs before he decided to come to Harvard where he was the founding Dean of the Engineering and Applied Sciences. He explains his interest in joining the Kennedy School as he became more interested in public policy. At the end of the interview, Narayanamurti conveys optimism that higher education in the United States will be equipped to study and offer key solutions to some of the key scientific and technological challenges of the future. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Louis J. Lanzerotti, Distinguished Research Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Center for Solar Terrestrial Research in the Department of Physics. Lanzerotti describes the origins of the Center, and he recounts his Italian heritage and his upbringing in southern Illinois. Lanzerotti discusses his undergraduate experience at the University of Illinois and his initial interest in civil engineering. He explains why he transitioned to physics, the formative influence of Charlie Slichter and the opportunities that led to his graduate admission to Harvard, where he developed fiber optics research under the direction of Frank Pipkin. He explains his decision to accept a postdoctoral offer at Bell Labs, and he explains how Bell Labs became involved in space research. Lanzerotti discusses his initial work on the Applications Technology Satellite 1 and the earliest incarnations of space weather as a discrete field. He describes his work on communications and geophysical collaboration and his involvement it the beginning of the Voyager, Ulysses, and then the Cassini missions. Lanzerotti describes the breakup of Bell Labs and the considerations that led to him joining the faculty at NJIT. He explains his ongoing research focus analyzing data from the Ulysses mission at the Van Allen probes, and he describes his service on the National Science Board. Lanzerotti describes his long association with the AGU, and his work on Director of the Board for AIP. At the end of the interview, Lanzerotti reflects on the opportunities in his career that intersected with the zenith of American scientific power and influence, and he prognosticates on both future prospects for foundational discovery and the societal commitments required to achieve them.