California Institute of Technology

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Robert Schoelkopf, Sterling Professor of Applied Physics and Physics at Yale, and director of the Yale Quantum Institute. Schoelkopf describes the origins of the Quantum Institute and the longer history of quantum research at Yale, and he recounts his childhood in Manhattan and then in Chappaqua as the son of art dealers. He describes his early interests in science and tinkering, and his undergraduate education at Princeton where he worked with Steve Boughn and Jeff Kuhn in the gravity group. Schoelkopf discusses his job at the Goddard Space Flight Center before beginning graduate work at Caltech. He describes his research under the direction of Tom Phillips in detector development for astrophysical applications and Josephson junctions, and he explains his ambition to focus on developing devices. Schoelkopf discusses his postdoctoral research at Yale to work with Dan Prober on mesascopic physics, and he explains his involvement in microwave research for quantum information and his explorations into the limits of electrometry. He discusses the opportunities that led to his faculty appointment at Yale, his involvement in building qubits and what this would portend for the future of quantum information. Schoelkopf describes the formative influence of Michel Devoret and Steve Girvin and he explains how these collaborations contributed to upending some aspects of theoretical quantum information. He describes how qubit research has matured over the past twenty years and how this research has contributed to industry and commercial ventures, but why he remains focused on basic science within a university setting. At the end of the interview, Schoelkopf predicts some of the practical contributions that true quantum computing can offer society and why he is excited about the next generation of quantum information scientists.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Surjeet Rajendran, Associate Professor of Physics at Johns Hopkins University. He provides an overview of his current research activities with David Kaplan in black hole physics, new short distance forces, and modifications of quantum mechanics, and he shares his reaction on the recent g-2 muon anomaly at Fermilab. Rajendran explains why he identifies as a “speculator” in physics, he recounts his childhood in Chennai, India, and he discusses his grandparents’ communist activism, his Jesuit schooling, and how science offered a refuge for rebellion from these influences. He explains his decision to transfer from the Indian Institute of Technology to Caltech as an undergraduate, where he worked with Alan Weinstein on LIGO. Rajendran discusses his graduate research at Stanford, where KIPAC had just started, and where Savas Dimopoulos supervised his work on PPN parameters and solving the seismic noise problem on atom interferometers for LIGO. He describes his postdoctoral work, first at MIT and then at Johns Hopkins, when he began to collaborate with Kaplan on axion detection and the electroweak hierarchy problem. Rajendran explains the rise and fall of the BICEP project, and his Simons Foundation supported work on CASPEr. He discusses his interest in bouncing cosmology and firewalls in general relativity, and he conveys optimism that LIGO will advance our understanding of black hole information. At the end of the interview, Rajendran reviews his current interests in the Mössbauer effect, and explains how nice it was to win the New Horizons in Physics prize, and he prognosticates on how the interplay between observational and theoretical cosmology will continue to evolve and perhaps resolve fundamental and outstanding questions in the field.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Sheldon Glashow, Professor of Physics Emeritus at Harvard University and Professor of Physics Emeritus at Boston University, reflects on his career and Nobel Prize winning work. He discusses his childhood friendship with Steve Weinberg and his passion for science from a young age. He reflects on his decision to attend Cornell University for undergrad and details the physics curriculum at the time. Glashow describes his time as a graduate student at Harvard University studying under Julian Schwinger. He discusses his time as a post-doc at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen working on the SU(2)XU(1) theory, which would later win him a Nobel prize in 1979. He speaks about working with Murray Gell-Mann while at Caltech and their collaboration on a paper together. Glashow details being hired as a full professor at Harvard University. He discusses his frequent collaboration with Alvaro De Rujula. He discusses the concept of string theory and how it has evolved over the years. He discusses the loss of the superconducting super collider and reflects on where particle and theoretical physics may be today had it been built. Lastly, Glashow reflects on his goals for "Inference: International Review of Science", of which he is the editor-at-large.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Glennys Farrar, professor at New York University, discusses her career and shifting interests within physics. She details her time as an undergraduate student at University of California, Berkeley. Farrar discusses how she chose to attend Princeton University for graduate school to further her interest in particle theory. She discusses her thesis research which calculated the rate of decay for The Lambda under the mentorship of her advisor Sam Treiman. She describes the social isolation she faced within the physics department as the only woman. Farrar discusses her time as a postdoc at Caltech and details her research on the pion decay constant, as well as pioneering the field of phenomenological supersymmetry. Additionally, she speaks on the sexism she experienced while at Caltech. She details her experience at Rutgers University where she worked on Hadron Physics. Farrar discusses her time at New York University as Chair of the Department of Physics and her efforts putting together a strong faculty. She also details her growing interest in cosmology at this time and describes founding the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics. She also speaks about her work on the stellar tidal disruption phenomenon. Lastly, Farrar notes her excitement for the increase in computation power in the future and reflects on the merging of different fields of physics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Elliott Bloom, Professor Emeritus of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at SLAC, recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles, and he describes his early interests in physics. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Pomona College where he became interested in particle physics and cyclotrons. Bloom describes his graduate work at Caltech, where he worked under the direction of R.L. Walker and did his thesis experiment on studying gamma ray production of charged pions from hydrogen or deuterium. He discusses his postdoctoral research at SLAC to work with Richard Taylor, who was building spectrometers in End Station A at the end of the linear electron accelerator. Bloom discusses his early interests in online computing and he describes the origins of the Parton model and his collaboration with Joe Ballam on BC-42. He explains his original involvement with axion research and the significance of the DORIS-II storage ring at DESY. Bloom discusses his subsequent work at the SLAC B-factory on PEP-II, he describes his interests in the COBE satellite, and he explains SLAC's entrée into astrophysics. He discusses the collaborative effort with NASA on the GLAST experiment and his focus with DOE support to understand dark matter. At the end of the interview, Bloom reflects on his career trajectory as part of a larger narrative of particle physicists who became engaged in astrophysics later in their careers, and why it is important for physicists to remain open to new avenues of inquiry.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Laurence Yaffe, chair of the department of physics at the University of Washington. Yaffe recounts his childhood in northern California and his early interests in science and the influence of his mother, who was a chemist. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Caltech, where he became absorbed in physics even as he continued in his major in chemistry. Yaffe explains his graduate offer from John Wheeler to pursue a Ph.D. in physics at Princeton. He describes the intellectual benefits of going back and forth between the Institute and the department, and he discusses his relationship with his graduate advisor, David Gross. Yaffe explains why he believes string theory should continue to be pursued, particularly in light of developments related to AdS/CFT duality. He describes his decision to return to Caltech for his postdoctoral research, and he recounts his considerations with competing faculty offers from Caltech and Princeton. Yaffe discusses his early faculty career at Princeton and his work on quark and lepton masses and the large-N limit of QCD or Yang-Mills theory. He describes the events leading to his decision to join the faculty at UW and his ongoing interests in QCD. Yaffe explains the evolution of quantum field theory over the course of his career, and he describes how advances in computers have revolutionized theory. He discusses some of the challenges inherent in the current state of the field, and he discusses his advisory work for the Department of Energy. At the end of the interview, Yaffe reflects on the overall and historic excellence of the department of physics at UW, and he explains why he will remain interested in quantum entanglement for the foreseeable future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Kyle Myers, Director of the Division of Imaging, Diagnostics, and Software Reliability in the FDA Center for Devices in Radiological Health. Myers recounts her childhood and the many moves her family made in support of her father's career in engineering management for General Electric, and she describes her father's formative influence and encouragement for her to pursue a career in science. She describes her college course work in physics at Occidental and Caltech, and she describes her decision to pursue a degree in optical sciences at the University of Arizona. She describes her work at the Jet Propulsion Lab and how this experience focused her interest on optics. Myers discusses working with her graduate advisor Harry Barrett on human perception and radiological imaging, and the importance of the research support she received from Kodak. She describes her postdoctoral work at Corning developing long-distance optical fibers, and she explains the circumstances leading to her career focus in medical imaging research at the FDA. Myers discusses the administrative evolution of the relevant offices and research centers at the FDA over the course of her career, and she discusses some of the major technological advances and her role in their development, including CT imaging, MRIs, and mammography screening. She describes some of the partnerships in the trade industry and across the federal interagency process that serve as important partners in her work, and she explains the adjudication process when a company is at odds with an FDA review of a given device. At the end of the interview Myers conveys her interest in the future prospects of digital pathology and the benefits it promises in disease detection and treatment.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
June 7, 14, 21 & 28, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Rainer Weiss, professor emeritus of physics at MIT. Weiss recounts his family history in pre-war Europe and the circumstances of his parents' marriage. He describes his childhood in New York City, and he explains his interests in experimenting and tinkering from an early age. Weiss explains the circumstances leading to his undergraduate study at MIT and his original plan to study electrical engineering before focusing on physics. He recounts his long and deep relationship with Jerrold Zacharias, who singularly championed Weiss's interests over the years. He discusses his graduate work on the hyperfine structure of hydrogen fluoride. Weiss describes his formative work with Bob Dicke at Princeton, and he explains how technological advances was beginning to offer new advances in general relativity. He explains how Dicke's influence served as an intellectual underpinning for the creation and success of LIGO. Weiss emphasizes the importance of Richard Isaacson as one of the founding heroes of LIGO, and he describes the fundamental importance of joining his research institutionally with Caltech. He describes his early research with John Mather, and the numerous administrative challenges in working with the NSF throughout the LIGO endeavor. Weiss describes the geographical decisions that went into building LIGO, the various episodes when LIGO's ongoing viability was in doubt, and how both Barry Barish and Kip Thorne contributed to ensuring its success. At the end of the interview, Weiss describes some of the sensitivities regarding who has been recognized in LIGO and who has not, in light of all the attention conferred by the Nobel prize, and he reflects on how LIGO will continue to push discoveries forward on the nature and origins of the universe.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 28, August 18, September 4 & 11, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with William H. Press, Leslie Suringer Professor in Computer Science and Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Press recounts his childhood in Pasadena and the influence of his father Frank Press, who was a prominent geophysicist, Caltech professor, and who would become science advisor to President Jimmy Carter. He describes the impact of Sputnik on his budding interests in science, and he discusses his undergraduate experience at Harvard, where Dan Kleppner, Norman Ramsey, Ed Purcell and Dick McCray were influential in his development, and where he realized he had an aptitude for applying abstract equations to understanding physical reality. Press describes trying his hand with experimentation in Gerald Holton’s high-pressure physics lab, he recounts his involvement in student activism in the late 1960s, and he discusses his involvement in computer hacking in its earliest form. He explains his decision to attend Caltech for graduate school and his interest in studying with Dick Feynman and Kip Thorne. Press describes the opportunity leading to his work at Lawrence Livermore, how he got involved with Thorne’s group of mathematical general relativists, the origins of Thorne’s work on gravitational waves, and his collaborations with Saul Teukolsky and Paul Schechter. He describes the formative influence of Chandrasekhar. Press discusses his first faculty position at Princeton where he joined John Wheeler’s relativity group, and he describes his research interests flowing more toward astrophysics. He explains the opportunities leading to his tenure at Harvard, where he was given separate appointments in physics and astronomy and where he founded theoretical astrophysics within the Center for Astrophysics. Press describes his entrée into science policy work in Washington with the NSF Physics Advisory Committee and then later on the National Academy of Science and the National Research Council, and he explains the origins of his long-term association with the JASON Study Group. He describes his interest in gravitational collapse, Ia supernovae and galaxy formation, and why the study of black holes reinvigorated the field of general relativity. Press describes the singular genius of Freeman Dyson, and he recounts his contributions to nuclear risk reduction in science policy and his service with the Defense Science Board and the Institute for Defense Analyses. He discusses his tenure as chair in Harvard’s Department of Astronomy, his experience with the Numerical Recipes books, and his collaboration with Adam Riess and Robert Kirshner. Press recounts his decision take a position at Los Alamos as Deputy Director to John Browne, he describes his education there in the concept of leadership which he never received in his academic career, and he provides his perspective on the Wen Ho Lee spy case and the existential crisis this caused at the Lab. He describes the Lab’s role in the early days of computational biology and how this field sparked his interest. Press contextualizes this interest within his conscious decision not to stay connected to astrophysics during his time at Los Alamos, and he explains the opportunity leading to him joining UT-Austin where he remains invested in computational biology. He describes his work for the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology during the Obama administration, he describes Obama’s unique interest in science and science policy, and he narrates the difficulties in the transition to the Trump administration. Press reflects on what it means to be a member of the rarified group of scientists who did not win a Nobel Prize but who were advised by and taught scientists who did. At the end of the interview, Press explains that he has always been a dilettante, which has and will continue to inform how he devotes his time to science, service, and policy matter, and he advises young scientists to aspire to mastery in a specific discipline early in their career before branching out to new pursuits.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Paul Emma, retired and formerly Senior Staff Scientist at SLAC. Emma recounts his childhood in Illinois, and he describes his undergraduate work at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He explains why he left WWU early to accept an opportunity for graduate work at Caltech briefly before accepting a job at Fermilab where he worked in operations on the Main Ring and the Tevatron project. He describes the series of events leading to his work at SLAC, where he worked in operations and design on the LCLS, the SLC, and the NLC. Emma describes his work for the superconducting undulator for Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, and at the end of the interview he discusses his ongoing work on LCLS-II.