In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Laurence Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Physics at UC San Diego and former director of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences. He describes his childhood in rural Wisconsin and his early interests in electricity. He describes his undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and how he got involved in cosmic ray balloon research. Peterson discusses his formative relationship with John Winckler, how he developed his graduate interests in auroral X-rays, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at UC San Diego. He explains his ongoing research in detecting cosmic X-rays, and the challenges he faced in creating the High-Energy astronomy group there. Peterson discusses his long-range collaboration and advisory work with NASA and what it was like to be involved in these efforts in the heyday of the Space Race. He discusses his work studying Gamma Ray lines and he surveys the achievements of the OSO-1, OSO-3, and OSO-7 endeavors. Peterson describes the work done by NASA’s High Energy Astronomical Observatories project, and at the end of the interview, he reflects on some of the most important things he has learned over the course of his career in X-ray astronomy, and how lucky he feels that his career began right at the dawn of the Space Age.
Interview with interviews Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs and the High Meadows Environmental Institute at Princeton University. Oppenheimer describes the three-way nature of his work at Princeton, between the School of Public and International Affairs and the Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy program. He describes the possibilities for climate change policy in the transition from Presidents Trump to Biden, and he discusses the moral dimension to climate change diplomacy and what the “Global North” owes the “Global South.” Oppenheimer recounts his childhood in Queens, the opportunities that allowed him to enroll at MIT at age 16, and his decision to focus on chemistry and to become involved in political activity in the 1960s. He explains his decision to go to the University of Chicago for graduate school, where he studied under the direction of Steve Berry on low-temperature spectroscopy of alkali halides. Oppenheimer describes his postdoctoral research at what would soon become the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard to work on astrophysics from an atomic and molecular perspective and on the chemistry of comets. He explains how the acidification issue in the Adirondack Lakes serves as an entrée to his interests in environmental policy and how this led to his work for the Environmental Defense Fund. Oppenheimer describes his work on the linearity question and why it is relevant for understanding carbon emissions and his advocacy work on the Clean Air Act. He explains the early science that concluded that even a few degrees of warming would be globally catastrophic, and the early signs that the Republican party would serve generally to block legislation to mitigate climate change. Oppenheimer discusses his involvement with international climate negotiations and policy with the IPCC and the issue of contrarianism in global warming debates. He contrasts the simplicity of the greenhouse effect with the complexity of understanding climate change, and he explains his decision to move to Princeton within the context of what he thought the Kyoto Protocol had achieved. Oppenheimer reflects on how climate change has increased in the public consciousness, and at the end of the interview, he considers early missed opportunities for more change in climate policy, and where he sees reason for both optimism and pessimism as the world faces future threats relating to climate change.
Interview with Sheperd Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, founding member of the Black Hole Initiative, and founding director of the Event Horizon Telescope. He surveys his global initiatives and his interest in fostering black hole research in Africa and he describes how the pandemic has slowed down his work. Doeleman affirms that he is of the generation for which black holes were always “real” and not theoretical abstractions, and he provides a history of the discovery that supermassive black holes were at the center of galaxies. He reflects on the applied science that was achieved in the course of creating EHT, and he describes the unique values that land and space-based telescopes offer. Doeleman recounts his childhood in Oregon and his admission to Reed College when he was fifteen. He explains his motivations in completing a solo research mission in Antarctica and he describes the opportunities that led to his graduate research at MIT, where he worked with Alan Rogers at the Haystack Observatory on the 3mm VLBI. Doeleman narrates the technical advances that allowed his team to achieve an eight-fold increase in bandwidth, and he describes the EHT’s administrative origins and the events leading to the measurement of the Sagittarius A* black hole. He describes what it meant to image the black hole, and he conveys the deep care and caution that went into the analysis before EHT was ready to publicize its findings. Doeleman discusses winning the Breakthrough Prize as the public face of a large collaboration, and at the end of the interview, he considers the ways that EHT’s achievement can serve as a launchpad to future discovery.
Gingerich's astronomy and history office, Harvard, Massachusetts
The interview is both a biographical and professional profile. He discusses his childhood and family life in Iowa and the emergence of his interest in astronomy and building telescopes and observing the sky; the family's move to Kansas and to Indiana; his college years at Bethel College; exposure to journalism and interest in chemistry; summer work at Harvard College Observatory and Sky & Telescope; interest in science journalism; his graduate years at Harvard; working as a summer assistant for Harlow Shapley and recollections of him and the department under Shapley; Harvard astronomers and the general atmosphere in the Harvard College Observatory; recollections of Harvard staff: Fred Whipple, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin; faculty divisions over government funding; Menzel's directorship; alternative service at the American University in Beirut to satisfy conscientious objector obligation; encountering Baade's lectures on the Evolution of Stars and Galaxies; teaching at Wellesley; learning to program an IBM 704 for stellar atmospheres work; work in support of Project Celescope; infrared research; reflections on the management of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in the late 1960s; factors leading to the creation of the Center for Astrophysics; the reorganization of CFA and Gingerich's migration to history.
In this interview George Field discusses topics such as: his time at the University of California, Berkeley; Charles Townes; Lick Observatory; working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); radio astronomy work with Ed Purcell; detecting neutral hydrogen gas at big red shifts; Fred Whipple; moving to the Harvard College Observatory; planning for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Charles Lundquist; Riccardo Giacconi; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; Northeast Radio Observatory Corporation (NEROC); orbiting solar observatories (OSOs); Dave Challinor; Bart Bok.
Interview covers Sandra Faber's childhood experiences; parental background; early reading; early preference for steady state model; relationship between questions and answers in science; confusion over being a woman and being a scientist; lack of female role models in science; education at Swarthmore and the influence of Sarah Lee Lippincott there; graduate work at Harvard; husband's job; graduate work at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism; influence of Vera Rubin; early results of dark matter by Morton Roberts in the late 1960s; thesis work on photometric studies of elliptical galaxies; community's attitude toward excess mass in rotation curves in the late 1960s; motivation for work on the Faber-Jackson relationship between luminosity and velocity dispersion; motivation for work with the Seven Samurai (Burstein, Davies, Dressler, Faber, Lynden-Bell, Terlevich, and Wegner) on peculiar velocities; attitude of the community toward the Seven Samurai work on peculiar velocities; attitude toward the big bang assumption of homogeneity; attitudes toward the horizon problem, the inflationary universe model, missing matter, the flatness problem; discussion of what types of problems can be addressed in cosmology; attitude toward Center for Astrophysics (CfA) red shift surveys by de Lapparent, Margaret Geller, and John Huchra; importance of understanding how large-scale structure is formed; issues of gender in science and the experience of being a woman in science; the ideal design of the universe; the question of whether the universe has a point.
In this interview, Andrea Dupree discusses topics such as: her family background and childhood; doing her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College; Janet Guernsey; C. P. Snow; becoming interested in astronomy; what is was like being a woman and fitting into the physics profession and dealing with gender inequality; Sarah Hill; Allan Sandage; Hans Bethe; Phil Morrison; Otto Struve; going to the Royal Greenwich Observatory for a summer; Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin; Dorrit Hoffleit; variable star fields; deciding to go to Berkeley for graduate school; Ivan King; Hyron Spinrad; Lick Observatory; coming back to Harvard University after a year; George Wallerstein; William Liller; Leo Goldberg; her affiliation with the American Astronomical Society (AAS); Don Osterbrock; Simon "Pete" Worden; Owen Chamberlain; Alex Dalgarno; Harvard College Observatory; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Ed Lilley; solar physics; ionization rates; Herb Friedman; Dick Tousey; Henry Smith; stellar atmospheres; Fred Whipple; Donald Menzel; Margaret Burbidge; orbiting solar observatories (OSO); Skylab program; Lyman Spitzer; Robert Noyes; Henry Norris Russell; International Astronomical Union (IAU); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); George Field; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO); Eric Chaisson; Jesse Greenstein; Celescope.
This interview discusses Robert Dicke's childhood experiments; early reading; education at University of Rochester; attitudes of older scientists about research in relativity; work on the Eotvos experiment; early reading in cosmology; early work in the 1950s setting a limit to the cosmic background radiation; motivation for predicting the cosmic background radiation; preference for an oscillating universe; Dicke's evening seminars at Princeton; the origin of the flatness problem, which Dicke first proposed in 1969; Dicke's lecture at Cornell on the flatness problem, attended by Alan Guth; the anthropic argument in connection with the flatness problem; attitude toward the inflationary universe model; attitude toward Center for Astrophysics (CfA) red shift surveys by de Lapparent, Margaret Geller, and John Huchra; Dicke's amazement at the existence of so much matter in the universe; discussion of the anthropic principle; images and metaphors in scientific work; the relationship between theory and observations in cosmology; attitude toward extrapolating the big bang model back to very early time; why Dicke prefers an oscillating universe; the origin of the universe; the question of whether the universe has a point; the question of why cosmology was not taken seriously as a science for a long time.
Interview discusses Gerard de Vaucouleur's childhood in Paris and family background; early reading; membership in the French Astronomical Society; early work on astronomical catalogues; work at the Paris planetarium in 1937; undergraduate work at the University of Paris; education at the Sorbonne; introduction to Julien Peridier; early work in astronomical photography; discussion of French astronomy in the 1930s; early attitude toward the big bang model; work at the Sorbonne; move to the new Institute of Astrophysics in 1945; work on the r1/4 law for the brightness distribution in galaxies; work on the supercluster of galaxies in the 1950s; influence of Vera Rubin's work; community's reception of de Vaucouleurs's work on the supercluster and his challenge of the assumption of large-scale homogeneity; interaction with Fritz Zwicky; attitude toward the Center for Astrophysics (CfA) redshift surveys by de Lapparent, Margaret Geller, and John Huchra; a hierarchical model for the universe; discussion of the meaning of homogeneity; attitudes toward the horizon problem, the inflationary universe model, dark matter, the flatness problem, work on the very early universe, and the big bang model; relationship of theory and observation; the ideal design of the universe; the question of whether the universe has a point.