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
David Zierler
Location
Video conference
Abstract

For information regarding this transcript, please contact [email protected].

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Location
Video conference
Abstract

For information regarding this transcript, please contact [email protected].

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Location
Video conference
Abstract

For information regarding this transcript, please contact [email protected].

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
June 15, July 8, July 29, August 19, September 8, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with David Gross, Chancellor’s Chair Professor of Physics at University of California in Santa Barbara and a permanent member of the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics (KITP). Gross begins by describing his childhood in Arlington, Virginia and his family’s later move to Israel. This led to his decision to enroll at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his undergraduate studies in physics and mathematics. Gross recalls his acceptance at Berkeley for his graduate studies, where Geoffrey Chew became his advisor. He explains his early interests in strong interactions, quantum field theory, and S-matrix theory. Gross then describes taking a fellowship at Harvard after completing his PhD, where he recalls his early involvement in string theory. He speaks about his subsequent move to join the faculty at Princeton, as well as his introduction to Frank Wilczek, one of his first graduate students with whom he later shared the Nobel Prize. Gross takes us through the discovery of asymptotic freedom, the development of quantum chromodynamics, and the impact these had on the Standard Model. He discusses his decision to leave Princeton for UCSB, where he focused on growing the KITP and securing funding. Gross describes how his research interests have shifted over the years across topics such as confinement, quantum gravity, and more recently back to string theory. Toward the end of the interview, Gross speaks about his work to develop institutes similar to KITP in other countries, as well as his term as President of the American Physical Society in 2019.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Daniel R. Marlow, Evans Crawford Class of 1911 Professor of Physics, at Princeton University. Marlow recounts his childhood in Ontario and his father’s military appointment which brought his family to the United States when he was fourteen. He describes his undergraduate experience at Carnegie Mellon and the considerations that compelled him to remain for his graduate work in physics. Marlow describes his thesis research under the direction of Peter Barnes and his research visits to Los Alamos, Brookhaven, and JLab, and he surveys the theoretical advances that were relevant to his experimental work. He explains his decision to stay at CMU as a postdoctoral researcher and as an assistant professor, and he describes his interests which straddled the boundary between particle physics and nuclear physics. Marlow describes the opportunities leading to his faculty appointment at Princeton by way of the research in k+ and pi+nu nu-bar experiments at CERN. He discusses his involvement in planning for the SSC, and how the Gem collaboration was designed to find the Higgs and supersymmetry before the LHC. Marlow discusses the e787 experiment and the lesson gained that rare kaon decay experiments are more difficult than they appear at first glance. Marlow describes the origins of the Belle project in Japan at KEK and its relationship to BaBar, and he explains how finding the Higgs was the capstone to the Standard Model. He surveys the current state of play in experimental particle physics and why he encourages students to follow their interests without overly analyzing future trends in the field. At the end of the interview, Marlow describes his current interest in studying displaced vertices and long-lived particle searches, and he muses that toward the end of his career, he wants to become more of a “graduate student” so that he can focus more exclusively on the physics that is most compelling to him.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Peter L. Bender, Senior Research Associate at the University of Colorado and the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) in Boulder. Bender recounts his childhood in New Jersey, he describes his undergraduate focus in math and physics at Rutgers, and he explains his decision to pursue a graduate degree in physics at Princeton to work with Bob Dicke. He discusses his dissertation research on optical pumping of sodium vapor, which was suggested by Dicke as a means of doing precision measurements of atoms. Bender discusses his postdoctoral research at the National Bureau of Standards, where he focused on magnetic fields and he narrates the administrative and national security decisions leading to the creation of JILA in Boulder, where the laboratory would be less vulnerable to nuclear attack. He describes his work on laser distance measurements to the moon and his collaborations with NASA, and he discusses his long-term advisory work for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council. Bender describes the origins of the NASA Astrotech 21 Program and the LISA proposal, he explains his more recent interests in massive black holes, geophysics and earth science, and he explains some of the challenges associated with putting optical clocks in space. At the end of the interview, Bender reflects on the central role of lasers in his research, and he explains the intellectual overlap of his work in astrophysics and earth physics, which literally binds research that is based both in this world and beyond it.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.