United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Elliott Bloom, Professor Emeritus of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at SLAC, recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles, and he describes his early interests in physics. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Pomona College where he became interested in particle physics and cyclotrons. Bloom describes his graduate work at Caltech, where he worked under the direction of R.L. Walker and did his thesis experiment on studying gamma ray production of charged pions from hydrogen or deuterium. He discusses his postdoctoral research at SLAC to work with Richard Taylor, who was building spectrometers in End Station A at the end of the linear electron accelerator. Bloom discusses his early interests in online computing and he describes the origins of the Parton model and his collaboration with Joe Ballam on BC-42. He explains his original involvement with axion research and the significance of the DORIS-II storage ring at DESY. Bloom discusses his subsequent work at the SLAC B-factory on PEP-II, he describes his interests in the COBE satellite, and he explains SLAC's entrée into astrophysics. He discusses the collaborative effort with NASA on the GLAST experiment and his focus with DOE support to understand dark matter. At the end of the interview, Bloom reflects on his career trajectory as part of a larger narrative of particle physicists who became engaged in astrophysics later in their careers, and why it is important for physicists to remain open to new avenues of inquiry.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Jonathan Dorfan, emeritus director of SLAC, and emeritus president of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Graduate University. Dorfan recounts his childhood in South Africa and his experiences with apartheid, and he explains how he developed his early interests in science. He discusses his time at the University of Cape Town and a formative visit he made to SLAC where his older brother was working. Dorfan describes his subsequent studies at UC-Irvine and he explains his interest in pursuing a graduate degree in particle physics and high-energy physics during the excitement surrounding the Standard Model. He discusses his move to SLAC to conduct research with rapid cycling bubble chambers which turned into his thesis. Dorfan describes his postdoctoral research at SLAC with Martin Perl and his involvement with the Mark I and Mark II experiments, and he describes the opportunities leading to his faculty position at SLAC. He discusses the centrality of the B-factory project, and he describes his considerations when he was offered the directorship at Fermilab. Dorfan describes the impact of the rise and fall of the SSC on SLAC, and he explains the leadership positions which at a certain point put him on track to assume the directorship of SLAC. He describes SLAC’s entrée to astrophysics and the strategic partnership it developed with NASA, and he reflects on whether this transition would have been conceivable to Panofsky’s founding vision for the lab. Dorfan describes the changing culture of SLAC and its increasingly bureaucratized nature toward the end of his directorship, his work in support of advancing cancer research at Stanford, and he discusses the circumstances leading to his directorship of the Okinawa Institute. At the end of the interview, Dorfan emphasizes continuity over change as the dominant theme of his career in science with an arc that has increasingly bent toward concerns of broad societal relevance.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 17 & 19, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Sean O’Keefe, Professor at the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. O’Keefe describes moving around as a child when his father worked for the Navy. He discusses his undergraduate work at Loyola in New Orleans, and he explains his interest in pursuing a career in public service in the post-Watergate, post-Vietnam era when there was much cynicism about working for the government. O’Keefe describes his participation in the Presidential Management Intern Program and his work for the Department of the Navy and after that, for the Appropriations Committee on Capitol Hill, where he worked on budgetary policy against the backdrop of the Cold War in the 1980s. He describes his work at Comptroller for the Department of Defense where he worked on identifying budgetary waste at the Pentagon. O’Keefe describes the scene at the Pentagon during the Gulf War, and he discusses the opportunity that led to him becoming Secretary of the Navy. He describes his career prospects outside of government after George H.W. Bush lost re-election and the opportunity leading to his professorship at Syracuse University, where he mentored students in public service leadership. O’Keefe describes being named NASA administrator in the administration of George W. Bush and some of the challenges he encountered coming from a defense background. He discusses the tragedy and his strategy in dealing with the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, both in terms of lessons learned from the engineering failures, and the grief that he shared with the families of the astronauts who died. O’Keefe describes some of the ways he attempted to turn the disaster into institutional opportunity at NASA and its impact on the Hubble space servicing mission. He describes his decision to become Chancellor at Louisiana State University, where he focused on building up the school’s endowment, dealing with Hurricane Katrina, and working to keep LSU graduates in the state. O’Keefe describes his tenure as CEO of Airbus North America before returning to Syracuse to teach in his current position. At the end of the interview, O’Keefe reflects on what he has learned about organizational leadership over the course of his career, and what he tries to convey to his students as they prepare to become the nation’s next generation of leaders.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Feryal Ozel, professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Arizona. Ozel recounts her childhood and family background in Istanbul and how her interest in science was fostered both at home and at the all-girls international school she attended through 12th grade. She describes the opportunities that led to her enrollment at Columbia University for her undergraduate education, where she majored in physics and applied math and where Jacob Shaham influenced her interest in neutron stars. She describes a formative summer internship at CERN where she worked on supersymmetric decays of the Higgs boson, and a postgraduate year at the Niels Bohr Institute, before she began her graduate work at Harvard. Ozel discusses her thesis research on magnetars under the direction of Ramesh Narayan and she describes her postdoctoral position at the Institute for Advanced Study as a Hubble fellow. She describes the academic and family considerations that made Arizona an attractive option and she explains the mechanics behind funding from NASA and the NSF. Ozel describes her favorite physics classes to teach, how she sees her role as a mentor to women students and students of under-represented groups, and she surveys recent developments in neutron star astrophysics and the interaction of gas and black holes. She discusses her contributions to the Event Horizon collaboration, and she relates her ideas on the significance of seeing a photograph of a black hole without needing observational evidence to know that black holes exist. Ozel describes her motivations in serving in scientific advisory roles and the importance of science communication and how advances in computational power have revolutionized astrophysics. At the end of the interview, Ozel discusses the outstanding question mark about making gravity compatible with how we understand the subatomic world and how this serves as a starting point for future research oriented toward fundamental discovery, and why she is particularly interested in continuing to work on black hole imaging.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 27 and August 18, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Anne Kinney, Deputy Center Director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Kinney recounts her childhood in Wisconsin and her early interests in science. She describes her undergraduate experience at the University of Wisconsin where she pursued degrees in physics and astronomy. Kinney discusses her time in Denmark at the Niels Bohr Institute before completing her graduate work at NYU relating to the International Ultraviolet Explorer. She explains the opportunities leading to her postdoctoral appointment at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore where she focused on obtaining optical data and near-infrared data to understand spectral energy distribution for quasars and blazars. Kinney discusses her work on the aberrated Hubble Telescope and her new job at NASA Headquarters where she became head of Origins before she was transferred to Goddard where she became division direct of the Planetary Division. She describes Goddard’s efforts to promote diversity and she describes her subsequent position as chief scientist at Keck Observatory before returning to Washington to join the National Science Foundation to be head of the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Kinney provides a broad view of the NSF budgetary environment, and she explains the circumstances that led her back to NASA to her current work. She describes where Goddard fits into NASA’s overall mission and she explains her interest in promoting NASA in an educational framework to children. At the end of the interview, Kinney conveys her excitement about the James Webb Telescope and why she is committed to ensuring that NASA is a driver behind the broader effort to make astronomy and physics more diverse.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Demetrius Venable, Professor Emeritus at Howard University. Venable discusses the administrative distinctions between physics and astronomy at Howard, and he surveys some of the most interest projects currently in train at NASA. He recounts his upbringing in segregated small-town Virginia, the educational limitations this imposed, and his service in ROTC at Virginia State University. He discusses a formative intensive summer program at Columbia, and he describes the opportunities that led to his graduate admission at American University to work with Richard Kay on the effectiveness of circular polarization versus linear polarization in excited states in solid material. Venable describes his postdoctoral research at IBM, then taking a faculty position at St. Paul’s College, before taking a longer-term position at Hampton Institute. He discusses his early involvement with NASA’s remote sensing program, he describes his tenure as director of the dual degree engineering program and the collaborative opportunities he was able to pursue with Jefferson Lab. Venable recounts his increasing administrative responsibilities leading to becoming Provost at Hampton, and he discusses the growth of the NASA-supported Center for Optical Physics. He explains his decision to move to Howard, where he could be more fully involved in research for CSTEA and the LiDAR system, and his partnership with NOAA on climate modeling. Venable conveys his enjoyment at receiving NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, and he provides historical perspective on current and past calls to make STEM more diverse and inclusive. At the end of the interview, Venable explains his deep interest in physics education, and he expresses optimism in the long-term strength of Howard’s physics program.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Zane Arp, director for Biomedical Physics at the FDA. Arp provides an organizational overview of where his office sits within the FDA and its key institutional partners throughout and beyond the federal government. He recounts his childhood in Texas and his undergraduate experience at Angelo State where he majored in chemistry. Arp explains his decision to pursue a PhD in physical chemistry at Texas A&M with a focus on quantum chemistry through spectroscopy, and he describes his postgraduate work at Los Alamos on laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. He discusses his subsequent work at Wye Laboratories and Johnson Space Controls in support of the International Space Station. Arp describes his next job at GlaxoSmithKline to work on pharmaceutical development and where he grew into management leadership roles. He describes the opportunities that led to him joining the FDA and he describes his game plan for improving the biomedical device research and regulatory process. Arp explains why this is a long-term proposition and he describes how COVID has, and has not changed FDA’s regulatory environment. At the end of the interview, he reflects on what shifts he been able to put in place so far at the FDA and why his office truly benefits from having a mission statement.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Bruno Coppi, Professor of Physics Emeritus at MIT. Coppi recounts his childhood in Lombardi, Italy. He discusses his early interests in nuclear engineering and his graduate work in Milan on neutron transport theory. He explains the opportunities that led to his postgraduate appointment at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and his subsequent work at Stanford for his postdoctoral research in collision-less plasma. Coppi discusses his work at the Institute for Advanced Study where he interacted closely with Freeman Dyson, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at MIT where he could work with Bruno Rossi. He describes his collaborations in the Soviet Union with nuclear physicists, and he explains the sequencing of the Alcator program to the Ignitor program. Coppi describes the changes inherent in the AEC’s transformation into the DOE, and he explains the import of the Voyager 2 space mission. He describes his current interest in spontaneously rotating plasma and he reflects on why science is a humbling profession, even for geniuses. At the end of the interview, Coppi explains why the role of angular momentum remains profoundly mysterious, and why he is optimistic that he will continue to make contributions to the understanding of burning plasmas.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Alan Dressler, Astronomer Emeritus at The Carnegie Institute for Science Observatories. He describes his current focus on the James Webb Telescope and he conveys concern for a "post-reality" political environment that has taken a grip on American politics. He recounts his upbringing in Cincinnati, and how his curiosity about how things worked naturally pulled him toward astronomical interests. Dressler discusses his undergraduate education at UC Berkeley and his decision to pursue a PhD in the newly created Department of Astronomy at UC Santa Cruz. He describes the importance of the Lick Observatory for his research under the direction of Joe Wampler, and how Jim Peebles gave this thesis project a "seal" of approval. Dressler describes the origins of the Dressler Relation in his study of the morphology of galaxies and the density of their environment, and he describes the opportunities leading to his postdoctoral appointment at Carnegie. He explains the history of the Caltech-Carnegie partnership in astronomy, and he describes working with Allan Sandage and Jim Gunn. Dressler emphasizes the revolutionary effect the Hubble Telescope imparted to the field, and he discusses his time as a Las Campanas fellow. He describes how his work on galaxy formation fed into larger questions about the origins of the universe and the broader philosophical implication of our understanding of Earth's place in the universe. Dressler explains the Great Attractor Model and the state of play in black hole research in the 1980s, and he describes why he did not need to "see" an image of black holes to be convinced of their existence. He narrates the origins of the Association of Universities for Research and Astronomy, and the drama surrounding the repair of the Hubble. Dressler describes presenting the HST & Beyond report to NASA administrator Dan Goldin, and he discusses the natural progression for his work on the NASA Origins program. He discusses his subsequent focus on the Magellan Telescope and the EOS Decadal Survey. At the end of the interview, Dressler reflects on the strides made in galaxy formation research over the course of his career, and he conveys pride in playing a role in science, for which he appreciated since youth as a field that offered limitless opportunities to improve the world. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Norman Wagner, Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware. Wagner recounts his childhood in Pennsylvania and his undergraduate experience at Carnegie Mellon and his decision to study chemical engineering at Princeton. He discusses his graduate research at Los Alamos and Sandia and his postdoctoral research in Germany.  The bulk of the interview covers Wagner’s wide-ranging research agenda at the University of Delaware.  He discusses his strategic partnership with the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and the range of commercial endeavors that he has been involved in as a result of his research in soft matter physics. Wagner explains his work in biomedical engineering, and his collaboration with NASA on Mars-related research.  At the end of the interview, Wagner provides a broad-based explanation of rheology and its development as a distinct scientific field.