Los Alamos National Laboratory

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
January 30, February 6, 13, 20 & 27, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview Dr. Kenneth Watson, Dr. Richard Garwin, Dr. Curtis Callan, and Dr. Roy Schwitters participate in a roundtable discussion on the origins and early history of the JASON scientific advisory group. Watson, an emeritus from University of California San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography, discusses the early efforts of Charles Townes and Marvin Stern in forming JASON. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratory of IBM, reflects upon IDA, the management organization that allowed for the formation of the JASON group. Callan, Professor of Physics at Princeton University, discusses the Charney Report and the sponsorship of Ari Patrinos of the Department of Energy, and his relationship with JASON. Schwitters, Regents Professor Emeritus from University of Texas Austin, and Garwin detail JASON’s 1980 report on tunnel detection. The group reflects upon the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and how it added urgency to the creation of JASON. Watson and Garwin discuss the early agenda of JASON and their focus on detection of missile launches, nuclear effects, and Nick Christofilos work with particle beam weapons. They discuss the involvement of JASON in the Vietnam War effort and how some members were targeted by protestors for their involvement. Watson and Schwitters reflect on the presence of Claire Max and the time it took to get more women involved in JASON in face of the traditional “boys club” atmosphere that was present in professional circles at the time. Garwin speaks about the development of the sonic boom report. Callen talks about his study on neutrino detection and the purpose of JASON in a post-Cold War era. He also discusses JASONs work on CHAMMP, Computer Hardware, Advanced Mathematics and Model Physics. The group describes the Human Genome project of the late 1990s. Schwitters and Garwin discuss how JASON can offer independent judgment in ways U.S. Intelligence agencies cannot, such as in 2009 when they were commissioned to study North Korean nuclear capability. Lastly, Watson speaks about how he believes GPS will become an important issue of study for JASON in the future, a point which is furthered by Garwin who also cites cybersecurity in general as a main focal point for JASON moving forward.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Milton Dean Slaughter, Affiliate Professor of Physics at Florida International University. Slaughter recounts his childhood in New Orleans, his involvement in the civil rights movement, and he describes his undergraduate work in physics at Louisiana State University and his graduate work in theoretical physics at the University of New Orleans, where his dissertation focused on electron-laser pulse scattering. Slaughter discusses his long tenure in the department of physics at UNO, and prior to that his research in theoretical physics at Los Alamos. At the end of the interview, he discusses his long-term interest in gravity.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 28, August 18, September 4 & 11, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
August 5-7, 10, 11 & 13, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Ronald E. Mickens, Distinguished Fuller E. Callaway Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics, at Clark Atlanta University. Mickens recounts his childhood in segregated Virginia and how his entrepreneurial instincts and exposure to farm life fed into his budding interest in science. He explains the opportunities that led to his undergraduate education at Fisk University, where he majored in physics on the basis of his ability to combine his talents in math and chemistry. Mickens describes his formative summer research at Vanderbilt University on thermodynamics, and he explains the influence that his graduate advisor Wendell Holladay played in his life and his decision to continue at Vanderbilt for his graduate work. He discusses his involvement with the Civil Rights movement during his time in Nashville and how he dealt with the possibility of getting drafted for military service in Vietnam. Mickens describes his postdoctoral research in the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT, and he explains how events that can appear to be supernatural must be explicable within the single physical world. He describes his research at MIT as a time to expand on his thesis work on Regge poles, and he explains how his work with James Young connected him with his research at Los Alamos. Mickens describes his teaching and research record while he was a professor at Fisk, and he discusses his summer research at SLAC and his focus on the Pomeron and elastic scattering. He describes his many research visits to Europe and his work at CERN where he probed the theoretical underpinnings of high energy scattering. Mickens explains his fascination with Newtonian formulation equations and the utility of his visits to the summer Aspen Institute program. He describes some of the frictions he experienced with the administration at Fisk, his work at JILA, and the professional and personal considerations that compelled him to accept a professorship at Clark Atlanta and its transformation from Atlanta University. Mickens conveys the fundamental importance that geometry and numerical modeling has played in his career, and he contextualizes his academic achievements by emphasizing that everyone in his family has achieved a terminal degree. At the end of the interview, Mickens offers a history of the origins of the National Society of Black Physicists, and explains the significance of, and the lessons that should be learned, from Edward Bouchet’s life.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Sunil Sinha, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. Sinha describes how he has been able to keep up his research during the COVID pandemic, and he recounts his childhood in Calcutta where he attended Catholic schools and developed his interests in math and science. He describes his undergraduate education at Cambridge where he became interested is quantum mechanics, and he explains his decision to remain there for graduate work to conduct research on neutron scattering under the direction of Gordon Squires. Sinha explains the centrality of neutron scattering to the development of condensed matter physics, and he describes the opportunities leading to his postdoctoral research at Iowa State. He discusses his work at Ames Lab and Argonne Lab, where he continued to pursue fundamental research on neutron scattering and rare earth materials. Sinha describes his research at Exxon Lab, and the start of the revolution in soft matter physics, and he explains his decision to return to Argonne at the beginning of the Advanced Photon Source project. He discusses his subsequent move to San Diego where he enjoyed a joint appointment with Los Alamos Lab and when he was able to concentrate more fully on teaching after a career spent mostly in laboratory environments. At the end of the interview, Sinha describes his current interest in spin glasses, exchange biases, and jamming theoretical computer simulations, and he explains the reason for the enduring mystery of the mechanism for high-temperature superconductivity. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Wick Haxton, professor of physics at UC Berkeley. Haxton recounts his childhood in Santa Cruz and his early interests in math and science. He describes his undergraduate education at the newly created UC Santa Cruz where his initial interest was in mathematics before he was given the advice that he did “mathematics like a physicist.” Haxton discusses his graduate work at Stanford where his original intent was to study general relativity before he connected with Dirk Walecka and Bill Donnelly to focus on nuclear theory and dense nuclear matter. He discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Mainz where he concentrated on photo-pion physics during the early days of chiral perturbation theory, and he explains the opportunities that led to his next appointment at the LAMPF facility at Los Alamos. Haxton emphasizes the excellence of both his colleagues and the computational capacity at the Lab, and he describes his faculty appointment at Purdue and the solar neutrino experiment he contributed to in Colorado. He explains the opportunities that led to him joining the faculty at the University of Washington where the DOE was about to fund the Institute for Nuclear Theory. Haxton explains the “breakup” between nuclear theory and particle theory and how the INT addressed that. Haxton discusses the opportunities afforded at the INT to engage in nuclear astrophysics and he explains the rise and fall of the Homestake DUSEL project. He explains his decision to go emeritus at UW and to join the faculty at UC Berkeley and to be dual hatted at the Berkeley Lab, and he describes his tenure as department chair. At the end of the interview, Haxton describes his current work organizing the new Physics Frontier Center and the challenges presented by the pandemic, and he credits his formative time as Los Alamos for the diverse research agenda he has pursued throughout his career.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with William Herrmannsfeldt, Staff Physicist at SLAC. Herrmannsfeldt recounts his German heritage, his upbringing in Ohio, and his early interests in physics which he pursued as an undergraduate at Miami University. He discusses his graduate work on beta decay and nuclear physics at the University of Illinois, under the direction of James Allen, and he describes his postdoctoral appointment at Los Alamos where he made detectors for bomb tests. Herrmannsfeldt explains the connection between his work at Los Alamos on electron optics and his initial research at SLAC, and he describes his work on linear accelerators. He describes his tenure as Secretary of the Advanced Development Group and his role at the AEC to concentrate on accelerator physics for Fermilab. Herrmannsfeldt explains the decision to move ahead with the PEP project and his LINAC work at Berkeley. Herrmannsfeldt explains the relevance of this research to nuclear fusion, and he describes some of the technical challenges in building the superconducting RF system. At the end of the interview, Herrmannsfeldt conveys the sense of fun he felt in learning new technological systems, the inherent challenges of beam dynamics, and he reflects on how SLAC has changed since its inception. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Peter Lyons, former Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy in the Department of Energy. Lyons describes his consulting work as an advisor to National Laboratories, for Jordan’s Atomic Energy Advisory Board, and as a Distinguished Energy Fellow at the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan. He recounts his childhood in Nevada, and he discusses his undergraduate education in physics at the University of Arizona. Lyons discusses the opportunities that led to his graduate research at Caltech where Charlie Barnes and Willy Fowler were formative influences for his work on stellar nucleosynthesis. He describes his postdoctoral appointment at Los Alamos to work on laser fusion and his work in the plasma group. Lyons explains the value of fiber optics for nuclear testing, and he describes his view of SDI when he was a program director at the Lab. He describes his work as Deputy Associate Director for Defense Research and Applications, and how the end of the Cold War was felt at the Lab and in particular for its work in securing the nuclear stockpile of the former Soviet Union. Lyons describes how the Lab adapted to post-Cold War research during his time as Deputy Associate Director for Energy and Environment, and how he became increasingly interested in civilian energy issues. He discusses how the Lab became more involved as a partner to major industrial projects, and he explains his decision to leave the Lab to work for Senator Pete Domenici as science advisor, where he was closely involved in legislation on a number of scientific projects. Lyons describes recent advances in civilian nuclear energy and why hydrogen will be a significant player in the energy future. He discusses his tenure at NRC Commissioner, and his appointment at the Department of Energy with the incoming Obama administration. Lyons explains the impact of the Fukushima disaster on broader discussions relating to civilian nuclear energy, and he explains his decision to retire and the satisfaction he has felt as many of the program he contributed to continue to grow. At the end of the interview, Lyons provides a broad view on where civilian nuclear energy is on the right track as part of a carbon neutral future, and where he sees opportunities for technical and administrative improvement. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Ambassador C. Paul Robinson, retired as President of Sandia Corporation. He discusses his advisory work since retirement, and the various ways he has remained connected to Sandia. He recounts his childhood in Memphis and his early interests in physics, and he describes the opportunities that led to his graduate research at Florida State University. Robinson describes his thesis work under the direction of Robert H. Davis, who headed the nuclear accelerator laboratory, where he worked on alpha particle scattering on Calcium 40. He describes his interest in pursuing postgraduate work at Los Alamos, and he explains how the academic and the national security sides of the Lab worked to mutual benefit. He describes the Lab’s early work in internal fusion and laser-induced chemistry, and his steadily rising responsibilities at the Lab, including that for the design and certification of nuclear weapons. Robinson discusses his work on nuclear strategy and policy, and he explains the difference between mutually assured destruction and maintaining a second-strike capability. He explains his decision to leave Los Alamos in 1985, and the circumstances leading to him becoming Head of the US Delegation and Ambassador and Chief Negotiator during nuclear testing talks with the Soviet Union. Robinson discusses how the end of the Cold War reformulated U.S. nuclear weapons policy, and the circumstances that led to him joining Sandia. He conveys his pride in Sandia’s leadership work on technology transfer and applying supercomputing toward energy security. At the end of the interview, Robinson reflects on what he has learned in his career in U.S. national security policy, and he speculates on the threats the U.S. faces in an uncertain future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Warren W. Buck, Chancellor Emeritus, Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of Washington at Bothell, and Adjunct Professor of Physics and Special Advisor to the President for Equity in the 21st Century at William and Mary. Buck recounts his upbringing in segregated Washington DC, his early interests in science, and the opportunities that led to his admission to Lincoln University for his undergraduate degree before transferring to Morgan State. He discusses the racial strife and the civil rights movements of the late 1960s, his interest in physics as an undergraduate, and his decision to pursue a graduate degree at William and Mary. He explains his decision to leave after getting a master’s degree to teach at Bowie State and to be more involved in Black student organizing, and he describes his thesis research on deuteron theory under the direction of Franz Gross. Buck describes sailing in the Bahamas after graduate school and his appointments at Stony Brook and Los Alamos, and he explains his interests in nucleon-nucleon interactions. He describes a formative research year in Paris and his subsequent faculty position at Hampton University, his collaboration with Jefferson Lab, and his work introducing theoretical mesonic form factors. Buck discusses meeting Lillian McDermott and his recruitment to help build a new UW satellite campus at Bothell as chancellor. He surveys his accomplishments in that role and explains his decision to retire, and at the end of the interview, Buck discusses his interest in Buddhism and how Buddhist philosophy can be understood in the context of nuclear theory.