Cornell University

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Michal Lipson, Eugene Professor in the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at Columbia University. She recounts her childhood as the daughter of a prominent physicist whose work took the family to Israel and then in Brazil, where she spent her formative years in São Paulo. Lipson explains her decision to pursue a degree in physics at Technion in Israel, where she remained to complete her graduate studies in semiconductor physics under the direction of Elisha Cohen. She describes her postdoctoral research at MIT in material science with Lionel Kimerling, and she explains the opportunities that led to her first faculty position at Cornell. Lipson describes her dual interest in pursuing basic science research and industry-relevant work. She discusses her work in photonics which led to her MacArthur fellowship and the significance of her study of slot waveguides and optical amplification in silicon. Lipson describes her subsequent work in nonlinear photonics and high-power lasers, and she explains the opportunity leading to her current position at Columbia, where she has focused on two-dimensional materials. At the end of the interview, Lipson emphasizes the fundamental importance of oscillators that have always informed her research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Thomas Appelquist, Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics at Yale University. Appelquist recounts his upbringing in rural Iowa and then Indiana, where he attended Catholic high school. He describes his undergraduate experience at Illinois Benedictine College and explains his attraction to attend a small school for college. Appelquist discusses his decision to attend Cornell for his PhD, and recalls that, relative to others in his cohort who went to larger schools, he had the most catching up to do in quantum mechanics. He explains the development of his thesis topic under the direction of Don Yennie, which focused on aspects of renormalization theory using the Feynman parametric approach. Appelquist contextualizes some of the broader questions in quantum field theory and quantum electrodynamics at this time, and he describes the opportunities that led him to SLAC for his postdoctoral research. He describes his interests there as focused on theories of the weak interactions, and he describes his initial faculty appointment at Harvard where he joined the particle theory group led by Shelly Glashow and Sidney Coleman. Appelquist discusses his close collaboration with Helen Quinn on how to renormalize Yang-Mills theories, and he explains his decision to take a tenured position at Yale in consideration of the culture at Harvard, where the prospects of tenure were minimal. He describes the revolutionary discoveries of asymptotic freedom, QCD, and the “November Revolution” at SLAC and Brookhaven at the time. Appelquist describes his research and administrative activities to advance the particle theory group at Yale, and his overall efforts to improve the department as chair and in particular building up the condensed matter theory group. He discusses his tenure as Dean of the Graduate School and his long-term involvement with the Aspen Center. At the end of the interview, Appelquist describes his current interests in lattice gauge theory and explains why he expects that physics will see double beta decay in the next generation of experiments.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Murdock Gilchriese, Senior Physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. He discusses his contribution to the major project, LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) and the broader search for dark matter, he recounts his parents’ missionary work, and his upbringing in Los Angeles and then in Tucson. Gilchriese describes his early interests in science and his undergraduate experience at the University of Arizona, where he developed is expertise in experimental high energy physics. He discusses his graduate work at SLAC where he worked with Group B headed by David Leith, and he describes his research in hadron spectroscopy. Gilchriese explains his postdoctoral appointment at the University of Pennsylvania sited at Fermilab to do neutrino physics before he accepted his first faculty position at Cornell to help create an e+/e- collider and the CLEO experiment. He discusses the inherent risk of leaving Cornell to work for the SSC project with the central design group, and then as head of the Research Division. Gilchriese describes his subsequent work on the solenoidal detector and his transfer to Berkeley Lab to succeed George Trilling and to join the ATLAS collaboration. He explains the migration of talent and ideas from the SSC to CERN and discusses the research overlap of ATLAS and CMS and how this accelerated the discovery of the Higgs. Gilchriese describes his next interest in getting into cosmology and searching for dark matter as a deep underground science endeavor, and he explains why advances in the field have been so difficult to achieve. At the end of the interview, Gilchriese describes his current work on CMB-S4, his advisory work helping LBNL navigate the pandemic, and he reflects on the key advances in hardware that have pushed experimental physics forward during his career.

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

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Maury Tigner, Hans A. Bethe Professor of Physics Emeritus at Cornell. He discusses the origins of the "Handbook of Accelerator Physics and Engineering," and he provides perspective on the prospects of China's contributions for the future of high energy physics. Tigner recounts his childhood as the son of parents in the clergy, and he discusses his undergraduate education in physics at RPI and his interest in working on the betatron. He explains the opportunities that led to his acceptance to the graduate program in physics at Cornell to work under the direction of Bob Wilson and Boyce McDaniel. Tigner explains his decision to remain at Cornell for his postdoctoral research to assume responsibility of the 2.2 GeV Synchrotron, and he describes his initial research at DESY in Germany. He describes his work developing superconducting radiofrequency technology, and the NSF role in supporting this effort. Tigner discusses his work on the design team for the SSC and the impact of the cancellation of ISABELLE, and he narrates Panofsky's decision to replace him with Roy Schwitters. He describes his return to Cornell, and he conveys that despite the structural challenges, there is much to remain optimistic about in high energy physics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Dale Van Harlingen, Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He recounts his childhood in Ohio and his undergraduate education at OSU in physics and his early work on SQUIDS. Van Harlingen discusses his mentor Jim Garland, and he explains his decision to stay at OSU for graduate school to develop SQUID devices to make phase-sensitive measurements. He explains the opportunities that gained him a postdoctoral appointment at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge where he developed his expertise in the Josephson Effect, and where he met John Clarke, who offered him a subsequent postdoctoral position at UC Berkeley. Van Harlingen describes his foray using SQUIDS to push the quantum limit, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at Illinois, where he was impressed both with the quality of the research and how nice everyone was. He describes joining the Materials Research Laboratory and the development of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory, and he conveys his admiration for Tony Leggett. Van Harlingen discusses his research in NMR microscopy, grain boundary junctions, scanning tunneling microscopy, vortex configurations, and he describes his current interest in unconventional superconductors. At the end of the interview, Van Harlingen conveys his excitement about the national quantum initiative as a major collaboration between universities and National Labs, and he explains his motivation to understand if Majorana fermions actually exist.

Interviewed by
Richard J. Peppin
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Chuck Ebbing discusses his career and involvement with the Acoustical Society of America (ASA). Ebbing discusses his time at Purdue University as an undergraduate student where he studied electrical engineering. He details his time working at Carrier and his work designing anechoic rooms. He speaks about his time in the U.S. Army and his experience attending guided missile school. Ebbing discusses getting his master’s degree at the Cornell Aeronautical Lab where he built and designed a magnetostrictive transducer. He describes his time as a member of ASA where he worked on a standard regarding air conditioning measurements. Lastly, Ebbing discusses his displeasure with ASA’s lack of encouragement for creativity. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Steven Squyres discusses: taking Chief Scientist position at Blue Origin; current interests in planetary science including the shift toward sample return missions; changes to human and robotic spaceflight; private enterprise’s emerging role; family background; decision to attend Cornell undergrad in geology; how a course on the results of the Viking mission influenced his decision to pursue robotic exploration of the solar system; involvement in underwater exploration; PhD at Cornell under Carl Sagan and Joe Veverka for the Voyager project; details of the Voyager mission; dissertation work on the geology and geophysics of Ganymede and Callisto with Gene Shoemaker; postdoc and later job with Pat Cassen and Ray Reynolds at NASA Ames; working on Mars with Michael Carr; reaction to the Challenger tragedy; decision to take position at Cornell and to study the Martian surface; 10 years of proposals to NASA, including one that led to Spirit and Opportunity; Martian habitablity; question of how life arises from non-living material; details of his approach to the Martian geological exploration project; discussion of Spirit and Opportunity’s “honorable” demises; experience as rover’s Primary Investigator (PI) and his internal management strategies; communicating information to the press; reflections on the nature of science; conclusions from Spirit and Opportunity missions; involvement with the Magellan mission; work on the Cassini imaging system; chairing NASA’s planetary decadal survey 2013-2023, recommending Europa Clipper and Perseverance; chairing the NASA Advisory Council; writing Roving Mars; stories of innovative problem-solving from the rover missions; meteorite science; reflections on his time as faculty at Cornell; transition to Blue Origin; and his long-term view of potential space occupation and habitation. Toward the end of the interview, Squyres reflects on the question of whether other lifeforms exist and on the importance of experimentation to answer that question.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Andreas Albrecht, Distinguished Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Quantum Mathematics and Physics (QMAP) at the University of California, Davis, discusses his life and career. Albrecht describes the growth of the department since his arrival, his affiliation with QMAP, and the broader effort to integrate more mathematicians into the field of cosmology. He recounts his childhood in Ithaca as the son of two PhD scientists and family sabbatical visits to Santa Cruz and to the Soviet Union. Albrecht describes his budding interests in physics in high school, his undergraduate experience at Cornell and his early exposure to the ideas of Robert Dicke and Alan Guth. He discusses his graduate work at Penn and the circumstances that led him to become Paul Steinhardt’s mentee in cosmology. Albrecht conveys all of the excitement surrounding inflationary cosmology in the early-mid 1980s and the opportunity that led to his postdoctoral appointment with Steve Weinberg’s group at the University of Texas where he became interested in cosmic strings. He describes his subsequent postdoctoral appointment at Los Alamos where he worked with Wojciech Zurek and where his carpools with Geoffrey West proved to be a formative intellectual experience. Albrecht explains his decision to accept a staff position at Fermilab and the contemporary advances in cosmic strings scaling and why primordial nucleosynthesis was uniquely data-oriented relative to other fields in cosmology. He describes his subsequent faculty position at Imperial College in London and he emphasizes the productive and tight-knit cosmology community across the UK. Albrecht conveys the importance of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) experiments and how his ideas of equilibrium cosmology had changed over time and where the term “Boltzman Brains” originated. He describes how UC Davis was rapidly growing and how the opportunity to build a cosmology group was appealing to him. Albrecht explains the origins of his “arrow of time” concept and why this resonates with the broader public’s interests in the universe. He conveys the existential difficulty, and possible impossibility, of developing a credible theory of the beginning of the universe. Albrecht reflects on the spiritual dimensions of cosmological unknowability and the significance of the anthropic principle, and he discusses his efforts as department chair to enhance diversity in the field. At the end of the interview, Albrecht discusses his current work on decoherence and einselection, and he explains why avoiding prejudices in one’s scientific sensibilities is both singularly difficult and key to unlocking future discovery.