In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Thomas Ramos, a physicist detailed to the Principal Associate Director for Weapons and Complex Integration at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Ramos discusses his current work writing an unclassified history of the weapons program at Livermore and the broad perspective this has given him on the Laboratory from the postwar era to the present. Ramos recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and his military enlistment after high school, which led to a tour in South Korea and then an order from West Point to pursue a master’s degree in nuclear physics. He discusses his graduate work at MIT and his research on bubble chamber experiments at Fermilab and Argonne before being ordered back to West Point to teach nuclear science. Ramos describes the opportunities leading to his appointment at Livermore four years later and his initial work on the X-ray laser program and the origins of the SDI program. He discusses the impact of the end of the Cold War on the Laboratory and the extent to which Reagan’s military spending accelerated the Soviet collapse. Ramos discusses his work at the Pentagon as a legislative affairs officer for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, and he explains Livermore’s increasing involvement in monitoring nuclear proliferation among terrorist groups and rogue states. He describes his transition to counterproliferation as a result of the end of nuclear testing at Livermore and the signification of the creation of the National Ignition Facility. Ramos describes the transition to his current work documenting Livermore’s history, and he reflect broadly at the end of the interview on how Livermore has adapted to evolving security threats over its long history.
Interview with Donna Strickland, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo. Strickland describes the challenges of operating an experimental laser lab during the pandemic, and she recounts her childhood in Nova Scotia, her early interests in science, and her decision to pursue an engineering physics degree at McMaster. She discusses the early influence of Brian Garside and her immediate interest in CO2 lasers. Strickland describes her graduate research at the University of Rochester where she worked with Gérard Morou, whose lab was pursuing shorter laser pulses. She narrates the origins of the CPA laser idea and explains some of the technical challenges in designing the CPA system. Strickland discusses the opportunity to work at the NRC with Paul Corkum and then her subsequent position at Livermore before she joined a research group at Princeton. She describes securing her first full time faculty position at Waterloo and her interest in coherent control of molecules and why she enjoys two color lasers. Strickland describes her service work for the OSA, and she narrates how she never noticed the “buzz” leading up to the announcement that she won the Nobel Prize. She emphasizes the importance of Steve Williamson’s contributions to the CPA research and her post-Nobel work with the OSA on environmental measurement and modeling. At the end of the interview, Strickland emphasizes the importance of luck in her career, she reviews the broader applications of CPA lasers, and she conveys her interest in quantum entanglement which she hopes to pursue when her schedule allows.
Interview with Cherry Murray, Professor of Physics and Deputy Director of Research at Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona. She describes some of the logistical challenges in managing Biosphere 2 during the pandemic, and she considers how current political and environmental crises perhaps make the research at Biosphere 2 all the more urgently needed. Murray reflects on how her work at the DOE has been an asset for Biosphere 2 and she recounts her early childhood, first in Japan and then Pakistan during her father’s postings for the Foreign Service. She describes her high school education in Virginia and then South Korea and the opportunities that led to her undergraduate admission at MIT, where she became close with Millie Dresselhaus. Murray explains her decision to remain at MIT for graduate work to conduct research in surface physics under the direction of Tom Greytak. She discusses her subsequent work at Bell Labs on negative positron work functions and where she rose to become Vice President, and she provides context for some of the exciting developments in superconductivity. Murray explains the circumstances and impact of the breakup of Bell Labs, and she reflects on her contributions on surface enhanced Raman scattering during her tenure. She discusses her work with Ernest Moniz, the circumstances of her being named Deputy Director for Science and Technology at Livermore Lab, she describes her tenure at Harvard and the development of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and her experiences as Commissioner of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. At the end of the interview, Murray discusses the development of Biosphere 2, some of its early stumbles, and the vast research value it promises for the long term.
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.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Michael Anastasio, Director Emeritus of the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Anastasio recounts his childhood in suburban Washington DC and he describes his early intellectual pursuits in math and science. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Johns Hopkins, where his original plan was to learn enough physics to teach it at the college level. He explains his decision to pursue a graduate degree at Stony Brook, where he worked under the direction of Tom Kuo in the nuclear theory group on the effective interaction in many body systems. Anastasio describes his postdoctoral research in Europe, where he worked on the meson exchange theory for the nuclear force. He discusses his year at Brooklyn College, and he describes that circumstances leading to his work at Livermore Lab. Anastasio recounts his work on nuclear weapons stockpile issues in the “B Division,” and how Cold War security policy affected the laboratory’s mission and focus. He explains his increasing responsibilities as a division leader and then associate director at Livermore, and he discusses his work as scientific advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Energy for Defense Programs. Anastasio explains the impact of September 11 at Livermore, and he describes his tenure as director, where he was focused on maintaining the long-term viability of the lab. He describes the circumstances surrounding his decision to become director of Los Alamos and he reflects on the differences and similarities of the challenges of this new position. At the end of the interview, Anastasio describes the ongoing relevance of the research at Los Alamos in both nuclear weapons and basic science.
In this interview Jeffrey Wadsworth, retired and former President and CEO of Battelle Memorial Institute, discusses his life and career. He recounts: early childhood around the globe due to his father’s service in the British military, later childhood in Manchester, England, and final school-age years in Bahrain; undergraduate at University of Sheffield where he focused on metallurgy; decision to stay at Sheffield for graduate work measuring lattice parameters and testing steel strength at high temperatures; opportunities that led to his postdoctoral research at Stanford and metallurgy research at Lockheed; Livermore recruiting him to work on technology transfer issues during the Clinton administration; work as Associate Director at Livermore for chemistry and materials science and the internal politics leading to Michael Anastasio being named Lab Director; Batelle’s attempts to recruit him to run the Pacific Northwest Lab, and their offer for him to run Batelle Labs as a contractor to the newly-created Department of Homeland Security (DHS); complex administrative framework that developed between DHS and the Department of Energy (DOE), and the dynamics that led to his directorship of Oak Ridge; his initiative to make Oak Ridge a center of supercomputing research; return to Battelle to run the entire organization; origins of the Spallation Neutron Source; complexities of having oversight of eight major laboratory sites; decision leading to him being named President and CEO of Battelle; move away from science to become more involved in philanthropy, and his achievements in this role during the financial crisis; importance of the transportability of his leadership skills over the course of his career.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, Interviews Robert Kuckuck, director emeritus of Los Alamos National Laboratory. He recounts his childhood in Wheeling, West Virginia, and he describes his working-class upbringing and how he would understand pursuing an advanced degree as very much an against-the-grain endeavor relative to his roots. He describes the circumstances leading to his undergraduate education at West Liberty State College and how he settled on physics as a major. Kuckuck discusses his work in the library for Battelle, and the arrangement he made to pursue a graduate degree in physics part time at Ohio State. He describes his work there under the direction of K. Narahari Rao and how he came to work at the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California. Kuckuck explains what he learned about nuclear weapons and research early in his career at Livermore, and how he integrated his lab work in the L-Division with his graduate studies. He describes some of the tensions surrounding working in a military research environment in the midst of the Vietnam War. Kuckuck describes in broad detail his four decades in research and administration at Livermore, including some of the key collaborations both within government and in the private technical sector. He describes his work at the Nevada Test Site and the challenges inherent in underground nuclear testing. Kuckuck reflects on the competitive relationship between Livermore and Los Alamos and the nature of his advisory work on verification issues and SDI research in Washington during the late stage of the Cold War. Kuckuck describes the impact of the end of the Cold War on nuclear testing and the creation of the NNSA. At the end of the interview, Kuckuck explains the complex factors leading to his brief directorship of Los Alamos, and he reflects on his efforts to maintain the viability and reputation for cutting edge research at the lab over the long term.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Douglas Brash, Professor in the Department of Therapeutic Radiology in the Yale School of Medicine. Brash recounts his childhood in a rural community outside of Cleveland, and then in Chicago, and he describes his early interests in science and his determination to become a physicist by the third grade. He discusses his education at Illinois where he majored in engineering physics, and he describes his formative summer job at Livermore Laboratory which helped to compel him to pursue biophysics for graduate school. Brash discusses his research at Ohio State under the supervision of Karl Kornacker, and the work of his graduate adviser, Ron Hart who was focused on DNA repair. Brash discusses his interests in aging and molecular biology which was the foundation for his dissertation, and he provides an overview of biophysics as a discrete field in the 1970s. He discusses the distinctions in his research regarding basic science and clinically relevant therapies as it relates to understanding cancer, and he describes the varying interests in environmental carcinogenesis and retroviruses as a basis for cancer research. Brash explains the origins of the discovery of oncogenes and the connection leading to his specialty in skin cancer research. He describes his postdoctoral research at Harvard and the Dana Farber Institute with Bill Haseltine working on DNA damage and mutagenesis. Brash discusses his subsequent work at the NIH where he continued his research in cell mutation and where he began to study the effect of UV rays on skin cancer. He explains the circumstances leading to his decision to join the faculty at Yale, where he realized he had greater opportunity to continue examining UV rays and skin cancer. Brash offers an overview of the major advances over the last two decades in skin cancer research, and he describes the central importance in DNA sequencing and Chemiecxitation. He discusses the many research advantages associated with having an appointment in a medical school, and at the of the interview, Brash describes the value of bringing a physics approach to cancer research, and some of the policy and communication implications that come with working at the cutting edge of the field.
Michael MacCracken discusses topics such as: his family background and childhood; climatology; undergraduate work at Princeton University in engineering; being interviewed by Edward Teller for a fellowship; University of California, Davis; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Michael May; Chuck Leith; geophysics; Project Plowshare; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center; Climate Impact Assessment Program (CIAP); United States Department of Energy; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); climate change; George Hidy; Peter Mueller; Fred Koomanoff; National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR); Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Bob Watson of NASA; Dan Albritton of NOAA; Chuck Hakkarinen; United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP); Jerry Melillo; Climate Institute.
In this interview Ray Kidder discusses topics such as: Atomic Energy Commission; Lawrence Livermore Laboratory; California Institute of Technology (Caltech); Manhattan Project; serving in the navy as a technician during World War II; finishing his undergraduate degree at Ohio State University; hydrogen bombs; nuclear weapons; laser fusion; underground nuclear testing facilities; Richard Rhodes; Theodore Maiman; Keith Brueckner; Edward Teller; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA); Hans Bethe; KMS Fusion.