Institut für Astrophysik (Max-Planck-Institut für Physik und Astrophysik) [Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics]

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Daniel Zajfman, Institute Professor of Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science, chair of the academic board of the Israel Science Foundation, chair of the Davidson Institute of Science Education, and Chair of the Schwartz/Reisman Science Education Center. Zajfman reviews some of the scientific and administrative challenges he has experienced during the pandemic, and the leadership role the Weizmann Institute has taken to navigate out of the crisis. He recounts his childhood in Belgium and his early interests in science, and he explains how his early inclinations toward Zionism coalesced into his decision to become an Israeli citizen and attend undergraduate school at the Technion. Zajfman discusses his undergraduate and graduate research in atomic physics, under the direction of Dov Maor. He describes his long-term interest in single ion atom collisions and his postdoctoral research at Argonne Lab, where he developed a complete analysis program that allowed the reconstruction of molecular geometries. Zajfman explains the circumstances leading to his initial appointment in the department of nuclear physics at the Weizmann Institute. He discusses his collaboration at the Max Planck Institute on dissociative recombination for a simple, cold, molecular ion, and he explains his contributions on research on gravitational collapse of interstellar clouds. Zajfman conveys his feelings, being the son of Holocaust survivors, on the significance of his collaborations in Germany. He describes the trajectory he was on that led to his tenure as president of the Weizmann Institute, and he explains how he balanced his administrative responsibilities with his strong desire to work in the lab as much as he could. Zajfman reflects on his accomplishments as president and the many responsibilities he could not foresee taking on, and he discusses Weizmann’s work with the Israeli Ministry of Science and its successful record of recruitment on the basis of the Institute being a purely “Curiosity Driven” center of science. At the end of the interview, Zajfman reflects on his contributions as president, and he conveys his confidence that the Institute has a bright future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Lars Brink, Professor Emeritus in theoretical physics at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, with affiliations at CERN and the Max Planck Institute as well. Brink provides a broad historical perspective on the current state of play in string theory, and he conveys optimism that string theory remains the best path to developing a theory of quantum gravity. He recounts his childhood in Sweden and the interests that led to his undergraduate education in engineering physics at Chalmers. Brink explains his decision to remain at Chalmers for graduate work to study theoretical particle physics under the direction of Jan Nilsson, and he describes his interactions with Veneziano, Nambu, and Holger Bech Nielsen in Erice. He discusses the work of David Olive and John Schwarz during his time at CERN and his own focus on scattering amplitudes. Brink recounts the opportunities that led to his professorship at Chalmers, and he discusses the early days of supersymmetry at Nordita in Copenhagen. He describes his work on super conformal algebras, and his visiting professorship at Caltech where he worked with John Schwarz and Joël Scherk. Brink discusses the superstring revolution of 1984 and the optimism in finding a breakthrough to understanding gravity. He conveys his longtime interest in N=4 Yang-Mills theory, and he ponders whether supersymmetry would have been detected at the SSC. Brink discusses his work on the Nobel Prize committee, and he describes his feelings when the Higgs was discovered. He explains why supergravity remains a rich field and why he remains optimistic about new physics beyond the Standard Model. At the end of the interview, he predicts that one hundred years from now, fundamental physics will have advanced to a point of unifying simplicity.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with John Hawley, John D. Hamilton Professor of Astronomy, and Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. Hawley discusses his responsibilities as Associate Dean and he conveys his ongoing interest in black hole observational work and in the future findings of the James Webb Telescope. He reflects on his career’s overlap with the rise of computational astrophysics and he explains why he is agnostic on the hypothetical value of quantum computing to the field. He recounts his childhood in Maryland, then Kansas, and then northern California, in support of his father’s work as a minister, and he describes his undergraduate education at Haverford where he developed his interest in astronomy. Hawley explains his decision to work with Larry Smarr as his advisor at the University of Illinois, and he describes the origins of the Supercomputing Center. He describes the opportunities that led to him to Caltech to work with Roger Blandford, who was working on jets and active galaxies, and where he pursued synergies between analytic and computational analyses of black hole research. Hawley emphasizes the proximity to NRAO that influenced his decision to accept an offer from UVA, and he discusses his foundational collaboration with Steven Balbus on accretion disks. He explains his motivation to write the textbook Foundations of Modern Cosmology, what it was like to win the Shaw Prize, and how his administrative responsibilities gradually and mostly overtook his research agenda. At the end of the interview, Hawley reflects on the complementary nature of his technical collaboration with Balbus, and why he thinks terms of numerical and analytical approaches as separate endeavors.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with David Shoemaker, Senior Research Scientist at MIT, with an affiliation at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Shoemaker explains the relationship between LIGO, the MIT Department of Physics, and Kavli, and describes how these relations have changed over the years. He recounts his upbringing in Virginia, then Walla Walla, then Eugene Oregon, and then in New Jersey, where he spent his formative years, as his family moved to accommodate his father’s career. Shoemaker discusses his academic and social troubles in high school, and his undergraduate experience at Drew and then Tufts, where he majored in physics. He explains why he did not complete his undergraduate degree, and how he got to know Rai Weiss and the opportunity he offered to work as a technical instructor in the MIT Junior Lab. Shoemaker describes his decision to enroll in MIT’s graduate program, and he describes the Lab’s role in the COBE endeavor and the FIRAS interferometer project. He describes his work at the Max Planck Institute where he continued his focus on building interferometers, and he explains his decision to move to France to work with Alain Brillet. Shoemaker recounts his decision to return to MIT at the point that Weiss was becoming further involved in the LIGO effort and was forging partnerships with Caltech toward that end. He narrates the point at which MIT institutionally began to support the Lab’s work, and he emphasizes that the support predated any notion of LIGO’s success as a foregone conclusion. Shoemaker explains the early successes and promises of Advanced LIGO, and he provides a detailed account of the detection of gravitational waves, and the significance of this discovery. He describes the day of the Nobel announcement, and reflects on the impact of the attention LIGO received for the prize, for better and worse. Shoemaker discusses the post-Nobel life of LIGO and how, in many ways, the detection should be understood as a starting point for further additional discovery and not just the coda of a decades-long endeavor. At the end of the interview, Shoemaker muses on what lessons might be drawn from his experiences and the improbable nature of his successes in the field relative to the academic challenges he faced earlier in life. 

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Chryssa Kouveliotou, professor of physics at George Washington University. Kouveliotou recounts her childhood in Greece and her early interests in physics. She describes her studies and political interests as an undergraduate at the National University of Athens. Kouveliotou explains her work at the University of Sussex where she pursued research in optical astronomy. She recounts her work in extraterrestrial physics at the Max Planck Institute and she describes the origins of gamma ray astronomy. Kouveliotou discusses her cultural introduction to the United States and her work at the Goddard Space Flight Center where she studied gamma ray bursts for her graduate thesis. Kouveliotou explains her academic work in Greece after her graduate studies and her research at the Institute for Space Physics, Astronomy and Education where she worked with data from the BATSE project and continued research on gamma ray bursts. She explains her move to NASA headquarters and her current work as a faculty member at GW. In the last portion of the interview Kouveliotou explains her long-term work in the field of magnetars.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Marius Clore, NIH Distinguished Investigator, Chief of Section of Protein NMR, Lab of Chemical Physics at the NIH. Clore recounts his childhood in London and his early interests in science, and he explains in detail the British education system that leads to specialization early in one’s undergraduate career. Clore discusses his experience at University College London, where he obtained a medical degree by age 24, and his residency at St. Charles Hospital. He describes his early interests in low temperature kinetic methods and NMR spectroscopy at Mill Hill. He describes his decision to pursue NMR as a career path, which he recognized was in its early stages at that point and which he felt was ripe for development. Clore explains how he taught himself General Relativity from Dirac’s book, and his decision to study at the Planck Institute. He describes the arc of his career at the NIH and his contributions to advancing NMR research and the intellectual atmosphere that allowed him to pursue interesting projects, including HIV research and the XPLOR program. Near the end of the discussion, Clore explains the difference between biophysics and classical physics, and why the NIH has been the ideal place to pursue his research.

Interviewed by
Spencer Weart
Interview date
Location
New York City, New York
Abstract

Early life in California, undergraduate work at Caltech (1947-51), graduate work at Caltech in physics and astronomy, including work at Mt Wilson-Palomar (1951-54), Accounts of Palomar sky survey (1953-56) and work on galaxies Impressions of instructors, among them Rubble, Zwicky, Baade, Minkowski Abell joined UCLA astronomy department in 1956 and describes its history, faculty, and expansion Discussion of Abell’s professional interest in popularization of astronomy since 1960’s (textbook, BBC-Open University work, campaign against astrology, summer science program) and technical work on super-clusters and cosmology.