Stanford University

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Interview dates
September 9, September 25, October 9, October 19, November 3, November 9, November 23, November 30, December 7, and December 14, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Ernest Moniz, Emeritus Professor and Special Adviser to the President of MIT, discusses his time as U.S. Secretary of Energy under Barack Obama. Moniz discusses his time as an undergraduate at Boston College working under Joe Chen and their efforts building a resonant cavity. He speaks about his experience as a graduate student at Stanford University working Dirk Walecka on the study of theoretical condensed matter physics and how it led to his eventual publishing of a paper about using a modified fermi gas to understand deep inelastic scattering. Moniz describes his time working in Washington with the Office of Science and Technology Policy and how the OSTP became marginalized under the George W. Bush and Trump Administrations. He discusses the Wen Ho Lee scandal and subsequent development of the National Nuclear Security Administration and how it has evolved throughout the years. Moniz talks about his partnership with John Deutch at MIT on a policy-oriented study of the future of nuclear power which eventually became known as the series, The Future of... He details his time working in the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology during the Obama Administration and his eventual role as the Secretary of Energy. Moniz Discusses the development of the Iran Nuclear Deal and the cooperation of the countries involved, as well as how the U. S’s relationship with Iran has changed over the years. He reflects on how the Trump Administration undid several Obama era initiatives pertaining to energy and climate and the lasting impacts of those actions. He also discusses becoming an advisor to Saudi Arabia and the planned mega-city of the Tabuk region. Lastly, Moniz reflects upon the challenges the Biden Administration may face moving towards a more decarbonized energy future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Blas Cabrera, Stanley Wojcicki Chair Professor of Physics at Stanford. Cabrera recounts his family’s Spanish heritage, he discusses being a third-generation physicist, and he explains the circumstances of his family’s arrival to the United States when he was five. He describes his childhood in Charlottesville, where his father taught at the University of Virginia’s Department of Physics. Cabrera describes his own undergraduate experience at UVA and the opportunities that led to his graduate admission at Stanford to work with Bill Fairbank. He discusses his research on relativistic corrections to the Cooper mass pairs and on developing low magnetic fields. Cabrera conveys the influence of Shelly Glashow’s ideas about the possibility that dark matter is magnetically charged particles, and he describes his postdoctoral work on the GP-B project. Cabrera describes the Valentine’s Day event in 1982 where there was initial excitement that he had detected a magnetic monopole, and he explains his subsequent focus on WIMPs and the broader search for dark matter. He describes his work on the international CDMS collaboration, he explains the transition from CDMS I to CDMS II, and he reviews how the project understands its goals in light of the ongoing mystery of dark matter. Cabrera discusses his tenure as department chair at Stanford and as director of the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory. At the end of interview, Cabrera reflects on accepting that he did not detect a magnetic monopole, and he surveys the accomplishments and future prospects of CDMS.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Surjeet Rajendran, Associate Professor of Physics at Johns Hopkins University. He provides an overview of his current research activities with David Kaplan in black hole physics, new short distance forces, and modifications of quantum mechanics, and he shares his reaction on the recent g-2 muon anomaly at Fermilab. Rajendran explains why he identifies as a “speculator” in physics, he recounts his childhood in Chennai, India, and he discusses his grandparents’ communist activism, his Jesuit schooling, and how science offered a refuge for rebellion from these influences. He explains his decision to transfer from the Indian Institute of Technology to Caltech as an undergraduate, where he worked with Alan Weinstein on LIGO. Rajendran discusses his graduate research at Stanford, where KIPAC had just started, and where Savas Dimopoulos supervised his work on PPN parameters and solving the seismic noise problem on atom interferometers for LIGO. He describes his postdoctoral work, first at MIT and then at Johns Hopkins, when he began to collaborate with Kaplan on axion detection and the electroweak hierarchy problem. Rajendran explains the rise and fall of the BICEP project, and his Simons Foundation supported work on CASPEr. He discusses his interest in bouncing cosmology and firewalls in general relativity, and he conveys optimism that LIGO will advance our understanding of black hole information. At the end of the interview, Rajendran reviews his current interests in the Mössbauer effect, and explains how nice it was to win the New Horizons in Physics prize, and he prognosticates on how the interplay between observational and theoretical cosmology will continue to evolve and perhaps resolve fundamental and outstanding questions in the field.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Malcolm Roy Beasley, Sidney and Theodore Rosenberg Professor of Applied Physics, Emeritus, at Stanford. Beasley recounts his passion for basketball in high school and the opportunities that led to his undergraduate study at Cornell, where he describes his focus on engineering physics as just the right blend of fundamental and applied research. He describes his relationship with Watt Webb, who would become his graduate advisor, and the origins of BCS theory. Beasley discusses his work taking magnetization measurements on type-II superconductors and his thesis research on flux creep and resistance. He discusses his postdoctoral appointment working with Mike Tinkham at Harvard and the developments leading to reduced dimensional superconductivity. Beasley explains the technological implications in the fluctuations of the order parameter, and he describes the speed with which Harvard made him a faculty offer. He discusses the circumstances that led to him joining the faculty at Stanford, his immediate connection with Ted Geballe, and his work on A15 superconductors. Beasley explains the significance of the 1976 Applied Superconductivity Conference and the important work in the field coming out of the Soviet Union at the time. He conveys the excitement regarding amorphous silicon and how the KT transition in superconductors became feasible. Beasley describes his interest in thermal fluctuation limits and coupled oscillators, and he describes Aharon Kapitulnik’s arrival at Stanford and the origins of the “KGB” group. He describes the group’s work on alloyed-based model systems and his idea to study high-resistance SNS Josephson junctions. Beasley explains “Pasteur’s quadrant” and why the KGB group was so well-attuned to dealing with it, and he discusses the impact of computational theory on the field and specifically that of Josephson junctions on digital electronics. He surmises what quantum superconductivity might look like, and he describes his work as dean and as founding director of GLAM, and some of the inherent challenges in the “trifurcation” at Stanford between the Departments of Physics and Applied Physics and SLAC. Beasley discusses his leadership at APS and the issue of corporate reform, and he explains his role in the Schön commission and what it taught him about scientific integrity. At the end of the interview, Beasley reflects on some of the “forgotten heroes” in the long history of superconductivity, he attempts to articulate his love for physics, and he explains why the achievements of the KGB group represent more than the sum of its parts.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Coward reflects on his time at Stanford University and the formation of SLAC. Coward discusses his time as an undergraduate student at Cornell University. He describes how his desire to study under Pief Panofsky influenced his decision to attend Stanford University for graduate school and how Panofsky later encouraged him to work for SLAC. Additionally, he continually reflects upon the role of Panofsky throughout his life and his leadership in the formation of SLAC. Coward details how his engineering background helped him construct a spectrometer facility at SLAC. He details his various sabbaticals at CERN and reflects upon the different work cultures that existed at different labs. He discusses his contributions to a study on quarks that later earned a Nobel Prize in 1990. Coward Reflects on the development of the Spectrometer Facilities Group and his role in putting the team together. He discusses a paper the group published in 1975 on polarized electron-electron scattering at GeV energies that proved the quark model of the proton. Lastly, Coward discusses his experience living in Palo Alto and the progress made in the area during his time there, such as the installation of bike paths and the undergrounding of power lines.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Steven Kivelson, Prabhu Goel Family Professor of Physics at Stanford University. Kivelson recounts his childhood in Los Angeles as the son of academic scientists, and he describes his transition from career ambitions in the law toward physics. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Harvard, and he describes his lack of appreciation of the stature of many of the physics professors, such as his advisor Paul Martin, whom he knew first as a friend of his parents. Kivelson explains his decision to continue at Harvard for his graduate degree, and he discusses how he developed his interest in amorphous semiconductors under the guidance of Dan Gellat. He recounts his postdoctoral work at UC Santa Barbara, where he worked with Bob Schrieffer on the physics of conducting polymers. Kivelson discusses his first faculty position at Stony Brook, and he discusses the excellent group of graduate students he advised during his tenure there. He discusses some of the broader research questions in condensed matter of the time, including the significance of macroscopic quantum tunneling, invented by Tony Leggett. Kivelson explains his reasons for moving to UCLA, and he discusses Ray Orbach’s efforts to make recruitment a priority there. He discusses his long interest in fractionalization with regard to conducting polymers to be generalized to spin liquids, and his move to Stanford, which attracted him in part because of the condensed matter experimental group. At the end of the interview, Kivelson discusses his current research interests in exploring well-controlled solutions of paradigmatic models of strongly correlated electron systems, and he explains why the concept of a grand unified theory of physics is not a scientific but rather a religious proposition.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Paul Emma, retired and formerly Senior Staff Scientist at SLAC. Emma recounts his childhood in Illinois, and he describes his undergraduate work at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He explains why he left WWU early to accept an opportunity for graduate work at Caltech briefly before accepting a job at Fermilab where he worked in operations on the Main Ring and the Tevatron project. He describes the series of events leading to his work at SLAC, where he worked in operations and design on the LCLS, the SLC, and the NLC. Emma describes his work for the superconducting undulator for Argonne and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, and at the end of the interview he discusses his ongoing work on LCLS-II.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Steven Block, W. Ascherman Professor of Sciences, Stanford University. Block describes his German-Jewish heritage on his mother’s side, and his father’s Eastern European Jewish heritage. He describes growing up the son of a physicist and the importance of skiing and music in his family and spending his early childhood in Italy while his father was a visiting scholar. Block describes the rest of his childhood in North Carolina, and then Illinois, where his father worked for Duke and Northwestern, respectively. He explains his unique interests in Chinese and oceanography and why this led him to the University of Washington in Seattle, and he describes his subsequent pursuit of physics and ultimately biophysics at Oxford University. Block discusses the formative relationship he built with Max Delbruck at Cold Spring Harbor Labs where he worked on phycomyces, and he explains his decision to go to Caltech for graduate school to work with Howard Berg. He describes his postgraduate interests in sensory transduction in e. coli as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford, and he provides a history on the discovery of kinesin and why this was key for his research. Block explains his decision to join the Rowland Institute and he discusses its unique history and the freedom it allowed its researchers, and he describes the opportunity that allowed him to secure tenure at Princeton. He describes some of the difficulties in convincing his colleagues to consider biophysics as “real” physics and the considerations that led to him joining the faculty at Stanford. Block describes the difficulties he has experienced when his laboratory site was displaced, and how, in dark way, he was prepared for the pandemic lockdown before most of his colleagues. At the end of the interview, Block reflects on his contributions, he explains the central importance of statistical mechanics to biophysics, he explains how he has tried to emulate his mentors in the care and interest he has shown his own students, and he prognosticates on the future of single molecule biophysics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Peter Lepage, Tisch Family Distinguished University Professor of Physics at Cornell. He recounts his childhood in Montreal and his decision to pursue an undergraduate degree in physics at McGill. Lepage discusses his Master’s work at Cambridge University and his decision to do his thesis research in particle physics at Stanford. He describes the fundamental advances happening at SLAC during his graduate years and his work on bound states of electrons and muons under the direction of Stanley Brodsky. Lepage discusses his postdoctoral appointment at Cornell and his work in high-precision QED calculations in atoms, and he describes the foundational impact of Ken Wilson’s work on lattice QCD and the intellectual revolution of renormalization. He describes this period as his entrée into QCD research, and he emphasizes the beauty of Ithaca and the supportive culture of the Physics Department as his main reasons to accept a faculty position at Cornell. Lepage explains how and when computers became central to Lattice QCD research and why effective field theory was an area of specialization that was broadly useful in other subfields. He describes the ongoing stubbornness of the Standard Model, and he discusses his tenure as chair of the department, then as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and his work on PCAST in the Obama administration. Lepage explains his longstanding interest in physics pedagogy, and he discusses his current work on the numerical integration program called VEGAS. In the last part of the interview, Lepage emphasizes that the most fundamental advances in physics are in astrophysics and cosmology and that lattice QCD should be “kept alive” because it’s unclear where it is going until physics goes beyond the Standard Model.

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.