Princeton University

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with Claire Max, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, and Director of University of California Observatories. Max recounts her childhood in Manhattan, and she describes the formative influence of her father’s work in science on her blossoming academic interests. She describes her undergraduate education at Radcliffe where she pursued a degree in astronomy, and the opportunities leading to her graduate degree at Princeton where she studied pulsars under the direction of Francis Perkins. Max discusses her postdoctoral research at Berkeley working with Allan Kaufman and her subsequent work at Livermore Lab on laser plasma interactions, and where she did formative work developing laser guide stars for adaptive optics in astronomy. She describes her entrée into the JASON advisory group, and what it was like as the first woman to become a JASON. Max explains her decision to join the faculty at Santa Cruz, the opportunities leading to her directorship of the Observatory, and her interest in leading research in extrasolar planets. She reflects on some of the budgetary and administrative challenges she has faced at the Observatory, and she discusses some of the characteristics that her most successful graduate students have shared over the years. At the end of the interview, Max discusses the controversy over the Thirty Meter Telescope site in Hawaii, she explains why promoting diversity in the field is personally important to her, and why future advances in galaxy merger research are so promising.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Thomas Witten, Homer J. Livingston Professor, Emeritus, in the Department of Physics, James Franck Institute. Witten recounts his childhood in Maryland, Utah, and then Colorado, as his father, a medical doctor moved jobs, and he describes his undergraduate experience at Reed College and where majored in physics and where he benefited from excellent attention from the professors. He discusses his graduate work at UC San Diego, where he was advised by Shang Ma working on two-dimensional charged Bose gas research, and he describes his postdoctoral research at Princeton to work with John Hopfield. Witten conveys the exotic nature of Ken Wilson’s ideas on renormalization during that time, and he explains the origins of soft matter physics as a distinct field and his work at Saclay before joining the faculty at the University of Michigan. He describes his subsequent research on pushing concepts of renormalization into polymers and related work on the Kondo effect. Witten explains his decision to join the research lab at Exxon, and he conveys Exxon’s emulation of Bell Labs as a place where he could pursue basic science within an industrial research lab, and where he could continue his work on polymers. He describes the downsizing of the lab and his decision to join the faculty at the University of Chicago, and his discusses his developing interests in buckyballs and capillary flow. Witten describes his affiliation with the James Franck Institute and its rich history, and he explains his current interests in granular materials, thin sheets, and colloidal rotation. At the end of the interview, Witten emphasizes the technological impact of fast video on soft matter physics and his interest in the physics of crumpling objects.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
Gareth McKinley
Interview date
Location
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
Abstract

In this interview conducted through the Society of Rheology, William Schowalter reflects on his career in chemical engineering and rheology. Schowalter begins by sharing stories from his childhood in Wisconsin and his early interest in chemistry. He describes his time as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he studied chemical engineering. Schowalter then discusses his time as a graduate student at the Institute of Paper Chemistry and his burgeoning interest in fluid mechanics. He discusses his PhD work at the University of Illinois under Fraser Johnstone, where he worked on kinetics and catalysis of hydrazine chemistry, as well as turbulence. Schowalter also recalls his military service at the Army Chemical Center in Maryland.  He then describes his decision to join the faculty at Princeton and his work on boundary layer theory. Schowalter reflects on his involvement in the Society of Rheology over the years, including his time in leadership positions and being awarded the Bingham Medal. He discusses his time as dean of engineering at the University of Illinois, as well as his various sabbaticals in places such as Cambridge and Caltech, and he talks about the books he wrote during those times. The interview concludes with Schowalter describing his work with universities in Singapore and Saudi Arabia, and he shares his thoughts on the globalization of science and research. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Arthur Jaffe, the Landon Clay Professor of Mathematics and Theoretical Science at Harvard University. Jaffe discusses his childhood in New York, where his father was a physician. He shares memories of life during World War II and his affinity for building model airplanes and radios. Jaffe recalls the factors that led him to pursue his undergraduate degree at Princeton, where he began as a chemistry major but switched to physics. He recounts how he learned about the work of Arthur Wightman, leading him to continue at Princeton for his graduate studies. Jaffe describes his work on bosonic field theories and his time at a summer program in Montenegro. He discusses his move to Stanford and his work in the theory group at SLAC under Sidney Drell. Jaffe recalls the beginnings of his collaboration with James Glimm, as well as his move to Harvard. He explains his role in forming the Clay Mathematics Institute at Harvard and discusses his involvement in the International Association of Mathematical Physics and the American Mathematical Society. Jaffe shares his take on topics such as superstring theory, supersymmetry, and the four-dimensional problem, and reflects more broadly on changes he has seen in the field of mathematics over the years. 

Interviewed by
Michael Riordan
Interview date
Location
Seattle, Washington
Abstract

This interview is part of a series conducted during research for the book Tunnel Visions, a history of the Superconducting Super Collider project. It primarily addresses Princeton University physicist William Happer’s time as the Director of the Office of Energy Research at the Department of Energy, a position he held from May 1991 to May 1993. This period covers the ramp up of construction on the project and the growth of congressional opposition to it, as well as the transition from the administration of President George H. W. Bush to that of President Bill Clinton. Happer addresses his own support for the project, other scientific efforts competing for priority, the political dynamics he perceived surrounding the SSC, and his views of the management structure for the SSC that DOE implemented prior to his arrival. He observes that the management and fate of the SSC were not especially unusual in the context of other expensive DOE projects and discusses at length the failure to secure international support for the SSC, particularly the difficulty in making the project a top-priority issue in diplomacy with Japan. Happer also offers his perception of the Clinton administration’s lukewarm support for the project, the possibility it could have been politically saved, and the dangers it would have faced if it continued beyond 1993. He also reflects on whether large-scale projects such as the SSC are urgent to pursue, defends Roy Schwitters’s performance as SSC Laboratory Director, and shares his views of the ferocity of the SSC’s main opponents in Congress and of the role of Congress’s General Accounting Office in building the case against it.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Marlan Scully, Distinguished University Professor and Burgess Chair at Texas A&M and Distinguished Research Academician at Baylor University. The interview begins with Scully recounting his early experience contracting COVID-19 and how that informed his research into the virus. Then he describes growing up in Wyoming and recalls not being very interested in school until he fell in love with calculus while attending community college. Scully talks about his studies in physics at the University of Wyoming before eventually transferring to Rensselaer Polytechnic. He then discusses his decision to move to Yale to work with Willis Lamb on laser physics. Scully recounts his assistant professorship at MIT and the opportunity at University of Arizona, where he was involved with starting their Optical Sciences Center. He talks about his subsequent joint position between University of New Mexico and Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics, as well as his work with Air Force weapons labs on laser applications. Scully details the events leading to his position at Texas A&M and the inception of the Institute for Quantum Studies, and his ongoing affiliations with Princeton. At the end of the interview, Scully reflects on the interplay between theory and experimentation throughout his career and in laser physics specifically, as well as the technological advances that have propelled laser research forward.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Location
Video conference
Abstract

The interviewee has not given permission for this interview to be shared at this time. Transcripts will be updated as they become available to the public. For any questions about this policy, please contact .

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Location
Video conference
Abstract

The interviewee has not given permission for this interview to be shared at this time. Transcripts will be updated as they become available to the public. For any questions about this policy, please contact .

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with A.J. Stewart Smith, the Class of 1909 Professor of Physics, emeritus, at Princeton University, who also served as the university vice president for the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Smith begins the interview with an overview of his affiliations with SNOLAB, CERN, and Italian Nuclear and Particle Physics. He recaps the effects of the pandemic on experimental particle physics. Smith then summarizes his family history and his childhood in Canada, where he became interested in the sciences in high school. Smith recalls his undergraduate studies in physics at University of British Columbia, where he also earned a master’s degree, as well as his decision to pursue a PhD at Princeton. He describes working on the Princeton-Penn Accelerator with his advisor Pierre Piroue, and the subsequent offer of a fellowship at DESY working with Sam Ting on QED. Smith recounts his move back to Princeton to join the faculty, and he describes the “bipartisanship” between experimentalists and theorists at the time. He discusses the origins of the Chicago-Princeton collaboration at Fermilab, his involvement with E-787 experiment at Brookhaven, and his time as technical coordinator and spokesperson for the BaBar experiment. The interview concludes with Smith’s recollections of his time as Princeton’s first dean of research, as well as his reflections on times when theory has led experimentation, and vice versa.