June 29, July 5, July 19, July 26, August 2, August 9, August 16, 2020
Series of seven interview sessions with Carver Mead, Gordon and Betty Moore Professor Emeritus at Caltech. Mead recounts his childhood in California, and he describes the impact of watching his father’s career in the electric power industry. He credits his schoolteachers for encouraging his early interests in math and science, and he explains why attending Caltech as an undergraduate was an easy choice for him because he felt immediately welcomed during his first visit. He describes what it was like to learn quantum mechanics from Linus Pauling, and he explains that his decision to major in electrical engineering stemmed from the fact that applied physics was shunned in the physics department because Murray Gell-Mann referred to it as “squalid state physics.” Mead describes his decision to stay at Caltech for graduate school, and he explains how he became interested in semiconductors and transistors and what would become the origins of “device physics” and how his dissertation research contributed to these developments. He describes his developing understanding that the future of electronics would be in low power, high-performance devices and why he would be best positioned to foster this future as a faculty member at Caltech. Mead describes his collaborations and interest in industry labs including IBM, RCA, and Bell, and he describes his initial and then longtime work with Gordon Moore. He discusses the value of RF transmitters in 1960s-era communications technology and the prospects of satellite telecommunications at the dawn of the space age. Mead describes the origins of VSLI technology, word processors, and microcomputers, and he describes his collaboration with Lynn Conway and the process that went into the classic textbook they coauthored. He describes his research using the human mind as a source of inspiration to push electronics and microprocessors to the next level, and he explains the value of bouncing ideas off of Feynman over lunch. Mead describes the singular potential of his student and collaborator Misha Mahowald, and the value of his work with Arnold Beckman. He discusses the several companies that were spun out of his research in electronics and biophysics, and he describes his work on cameras with Michihiro Yamaki and the learning curve associated with research culture in Japan. Mead offers his perspective on the need to update the debates between Einstein and Bohr in the wake of recent developments in physics, and he explains the intellectual origins of his text Collective Electrodynamics. He explains why scientific debates can take on philosophical or even religious dynamics, and he discusses the origins of G4V and how to think of gravitational attraction as an analogy to electromagnetic interaction. Relatedly, Mead describes his work with Kip Thorne and his involvement with the LIGO endeavor, and he explains why the line between science and engineering is fuzzier than is commonly understood. He explains the significance of the Shapiro Delay, he surmises that the mystery of Dark Energy is sourced in the fact that physics is approaching the problem in the wrong way, and he explains why physics has become hamstrung in its pursuit of mathematizing physical reality ahead of experimental guidance. Mead explains that his views are rooted in his ability to think in pictures, as opposed to abstract symbols, and that the field needs to be more welcoming and inclusive to those who may see math as a barrier to working in physics at a high level. At the end of the interview, Mead describes his interest in current challenges with electric grid infrastructure, he explains why he has championed the work of women in science throughout his career, and he strikes an optimistic note that science always has and will continue, to provide solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
In this interview, Paul Schechter, the William A. M. Burden Professor of Astrophysics, Emeritus, at MIT discusses his time as an undergraduate student at Cornell University under the mentorship of Al Silverman and his involvement working on the Cornell synchrotron, as well as Silverman’s influence on his decision to attend Caltech for graduate school. Schechter discusses his collaboration with Bill Press on the issue of dark matter and the eventual creation of their model, the Extended Press-Schechter. He also details how studying the infall of galaxies toward the Virgo Cluster, and the subsequent paper he contributed to on the topic, were the most exciting part of his time working at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Schechter describes his later interests in gravitational lensing and his efforts to create higher quality images for Magellan telescopes. Lastly, he discusses his desire to find the stellar mass fraction in galaxies.
Interview with Barry Barish, Linde Professor of Physics Emeritus at Caltech, where he retains a collaboration with LIGO, and Distinguished Professor of Physics at UC Riverside. Barish recounts his childhood in Los Angeles and emphasizes that sports were more important than academics to him growing up. He explains his decision to attend Berkeley as an undergraduate, where his initial major was engineering before he realized that he really loved physics, and where he was advised by Owen Chamberlain. Barish describes the fundamental work being done at the Radiation Lab and how he learned to work the cyclotron. He explains why Fermi became his life-long hero and why he decided to stay at Berkeley for graduate school, even though the school’s general policy required students to pursue their doctoral work elsewhere. Barish describes his graduate research under the direction of Carl Hemholz, and he explains how he developed a relationship with Richard Feynman which led to his postdoc and ultimately, his faculty appointment at Caltech. He discusses how his interest in neutrinos led to his work at Fermilab and why the big question at the time was how to discover the W boson. Barish describes his key interests in magnetic monopoles and neutrino oscillations, and he describes his involvement with the SSC project through a connection with Maury Tigner at Berkeley, which developed over the course of his collaborations with Sam Ting. He explains that his subsequent work with LIGO never would have happened had the SSC been viable, and he describes his early connection as a young student learning general relativity as a connecting point to LIGO. Barish describes his general awareness of what Rai Weiss had been doing prior to 1994 and he relates the state of affairs of LIGO at that point. He conveys the intensity of his involvement from 1994 to 2005 and he describes the skepticism surrounding the entire endeavor and what success would have looked like without any assurance that the experiment would actually detect gravitational waves. Barish describes the road to detection as one of incremental improvements to the instrumentation achieved over several years, including the fundamental advance of active seismic isolation. He narrates the day of the detection, and he surveys the effect that the Nobel Prize has had on the LIGO collaboration and its future prospects. Barish notes the promise that AI offers for the future of LIGO, and he prognosticates the future viability of the ILC. At the end of the interview Barish explains what LIGO has taught us about the universe, and what questions it will allow us to ask in the future as a result of its success.
In this interview, Robert P. Kirshner, Clowes Research Professor of Science at Harvard University, discusses his interests in supernovae and work as Chief Program Officer for Science at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. He reflects upon the shifting terminology pertaining to astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. He discusses his experience as an undergraduate at Harvard University. Kirshner details his experience at Caltech as a graduate student and his time studying supernovae under Bev Oke. He discusses his post-doc position at Kitt Peak National Observatory and the competition they had with Palomar. Kirshner speaks about his experience working with undergraduate students at the University of Michigan and eventually becoming the chair and observatory director. He details his role as head of Optical Infrared at the Harvard Smithsonian Center. Lastly, Kirshner discusses his Nobel Prize winning discovery of using observations of distant supernovae to discover the accelerating universe.
In this interview, Art McDonald discusses: careerlong work around tests of the Standard Model; Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) measurement of neutrino properties that fall outside the original Standard Model; childhood and family history in Canada; master’s work on positron annihilation; time at the Kellogg Laboratory at Caltech with William Fowler; early origins of and motivations behind the SNO project; postdoc at Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory using a particle accelerator to continue experimental work on fundamental symmetries; history of Chalk River; collaborations with George Ewan; collaborations with Hamish Robertson studying the measurement and production of lithium-6; work at Princeton with Will Happer using lasers to polarize nuclei; building a continuous laser beam at Chalk River; work on parity violation in nuclei; work on the Princeton cyclotron; overseeing Kevin Coulter’s thesis project, the first use of laser-induced-spin-polarization of helium; polarized Helium-3’s current uses; technical challenges of building SNO and the transition from construction to operations; SNO and the solar neutrino problem; Herb Chen’s involvement with the design of SNO; SNOLAB; decision take position at Queen’s University; early published findings from SNO; comparison of Super-Kamiokande and SNO experiments; impact of SNO results on the understanding of the Standard Model; winning the Nobel Prize for solving the solar neutrino problem, observing that solar electron neutrinos were oscillating into muon and tau neutrinos; current work with the DarkSide-20k collaboration and how that work led to an open-source ventilator project in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic; current SNOLAB DEAP experiment using liquid argon to attempt to detect dark matter particles. Toward the end of the interview, McDonald reflects on interrelatedness across disciplines within physics, and his ongoing curiosity in searches for dark matter and neutrino-less double beta decay.
Interview with Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College. Pasachoff discusses his childhood in New York City and his early interests in astronomy, telescopes and math. He recalls participating in a summer math program at Berkeley after his high school graduation, before he enrolled at Harvard as an undergrad. He recounts being invited to partake in observational research at Sacramento Peak Observatory, where he worked with Jacques Beckers and Bob Noyes. Pasachoff then explains his decision to continue at Harvard for his graduate studies, where Bob Noyes became his thesis advisor. He remembers finishing his PhD while also working at the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory, doing radio astronomy work. Pasachoff discusses the events that led to his postdoc at Caltech, and his subsequent move to Williams College. Throughout the interview, Pasachoff remembers many of the solar eclipses he has observed and his research surrounding them. He also discusses the many textbooks he has written over the years.
Interview with David G. Hitlin, Professor of Physics at California Institute of Technology. Hitlin discusses his thesis work on high-resolution muonic X-ray studies with his advisor and mentor Chien-Shiung Wu, and his subsequent transition to elementary particle physics at SLAC. He relates his experiences with kaon physics as a member of Mel Schwartz’s group at SLAC and Stanford. As a member of the Richter group at SLAC he worked on the Mark II experiment and then founded the Mark III experiment at SPEAR. After moving to Caltech in 1979, he worked on the SLD experiment at the SLC and then as founding Spokesman of the BABAR experiment at PEP-II. The interview ends with a discussion of his current involvements with the Fermilab experiment Mu2e and the nascent SLAC experiment LDMX.
Interview with Marc Kamionkowski, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. He discusses his family heritage of Ashkenazi Jews who left Eastern Europe for Argentina, and his father’s medical research which took the family to Cleveland. Kamionkowski recounts his childhood in Shaker Heights, and he describes his undergraduate work at Washington University, where he switched from pre-med to physics to work with Marty Israel and Joe Klarmann. Despite his lack of preparation, Kamionkowski explains his admission to the University of Chicago, and he describes “the bug” that made him focus on physics and drive to succeed in quantum mechanics and understand quantum field theory. He discusses his thesis research under the direction of Michael Turner on energetic neutrinos from WIMP annihilation in the sun. Kamionkowski discusses his post-doctoral research at the Institute for Advanced Study where he was in Frank Wilczek’s particle theory group. He describes his first faculty appointment at Columbia and how experimental advances had opened up opportunities in cosmology. He explains his decision to move to Caltech because of its strength in theoretical astrophysics and where he became director of the Moore Center. Kamionkowski discusses his subsequent move to Johns Hopkins, and he surveys his recent projects on the Hubble Tension and early dark energy. At the end of the interview, Kamionkowski explains why he has always valued research that bridges the divide between theory and experimentation and why he expects this will continue to inform his broad research agenda.
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.
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.