United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Interviewed by
Finn Aaserud
Interview date
Location
Princeton, New Jersey
Abstract

Early interest in physics. Education and career prior to joining JASON: two years in the Royal Air Force; switch from mathematics to physics after the war; enrollment at Cornell University in 1947; difference between American and British physics. Exposure to science policy (Federation of Atomic Scientists, Philip Morrison); U.S. citizen 1957. Motivation for joining JASON; JASON work vs. work in Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; work on active optics in JASON; technical tasks vs. policy advice; Oregon Trail; availability of JASON bibliography; public profile of JASON members; divisions within JASON; other science policy activities; reasons for leaving JASON. Also prominently mentioned are: Abraham S. Besicovich; Columbia University, General Atomic Company, Nike-X (Missile), United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and University of Birmingham.

Interviewed by
Ryan Hearty
Interview date
Location
La Jolla, California, U.S.A.
Abstract

Dr. Charles Kennel, director emeritus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and (currently) Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge, is interviewed at his home in La Jolla, California, by Ryan Hearty, oral history fellow at the American Institute of Physics. Kennel describes several milestones in his diverse career spanning industry, academia and government service. Subjects include: Kennel’s childhood in Boston; undergraduate studies at Harvard University; doctoral research at Princeton University, including work experience at Avco-Everett Research Laboratory; postdoc work at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy; his academic career as professor and later chair of physics, as well as vice chancellor, at UCLA; his service as associate administrator at NASA; directing Scripps; and recent work in climate change policy.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Kenneth Nordtvedt, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Montana State University. Nordtvedt recounts his childhood in suburban Chicago and he describes how he discovered his early talents in math and science. He discusses his undergraduate experience at MIT and he explains the formative impact that Sputnik had on his scientific interests. Nordtvedt discusses his graduate work at Stanford, where he studied with Marshall Sparks, and he explains his decision to leave the program early to return to MIT where he worked in the Instrumentation Lab. Nordtvedt describes his dissertation work at Stanford on the coupling of fermions to bosons, and his interest in pursuing research that would be mutually beneficial to elementary particle physics and solid state physics. He describes his postgraduate work on bubble chambers at Los Alamos, and he explains the origins of his interest in general relativity and the influence of Leonard Schiff. Nordtvedt describes his teaching and research career at Montana State, and his long-standing collaborations with NASA. He discusses some of his politically-oriented motivations to retire early, and at the end of the interview, Nordtvedt describes some of the contract physics work he has done in recent years. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Paul Feldman, professor emeritus of physics at Johns Hopkins. Feldman recounts his childhood in New York, his education at Brooklyn Tech, and his undergraduate work at Columbia, where he studied with Polykarp Kusch and worked at Brookhaven Lab during the summers. Feldman describes his decision to stay on at Columbia for graduate school to work in high energy physics, his work at the Naval Research Laboratory, and he provides a broad overview of atomic physics going back to the 1940s. Feldman details his longtime collaboration on projects with NASA during his career at Johns Hopkins, and he describes the significance of the Hubble telescope. In the last portion of the interview, Feldman shares his views on what he considers to be the most important current and future topics of research in astrophysics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Core Faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire, and Research Affiliate in the Science and Technology Studies program at MIT. Prescod-Weinstein recounts her childhood in Los Angeles and her family heritage consisting of her mother from Barbados and her father who is Ashkenazi-Jewish. She discusses her family’s work in civil rights and activism and she explains how she became interested in science in high school. Prescod-Weinstein describes some of the cultural dislocations she felt as an undergraduate at Harvard, where she pursued undergraduate degrees in physics and astronomy and where Lene Hau played a formative role in her studies. She discusses her graduate career at UC Santa Cruz where she worked with Anthony Aguirre, and she explains how her interests in loop quantum gravity compelled to transfer to the University of Waterloo to work with Lee Smolin. Prescod-Weinstein explains how Niayesh Afshordi became her graduate advisor, which brought her interests more fully involved in cosmology and quantum gravity phenomenology. She discusses her postdoctoral work at NASA, where she learned a great deal about telescopes, and she describes her subsequent work as a MLK Fellow at MIT where she worked closely with Ed Bertschinger. Prescod-Weinstein describes her service work for the National Society of Black Physicists, and she discusses her increasing involvement in promoting diversity and inclusivity in STEM. She describes the opportunities leading to her appointment at UNH, and she explains some of the challenges and opportunities teaching in a largely white environment. Prescod-Weinstein describes her involvement in science communication beyond her academic specialty, and she surveys some of the major research endeavors in cosmology she is currently involved in, particularly in the search for dark matter. At the end of the interview, Prescod-Weinstein explains what the STEM community needs to do to further champion racial justice.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral historian for AIP, interviews Jerry C. Elliot-High Eagle, president and CEO of High Eagle Technologies. Elliot-High Eagle discusses his current work at High Eagle Technologies, where he is focused on developing blood oxygenation solutions relevant to therapies for a variety of health maladies. He recounts his childhood in Oklahoma, his Cherokee heritage, and the early visions he experienced for which he saw his involvement in the moon landing as destiny. He describes growing up poor, and the opportunities which made it possible for him to graduate from the University of Oklahoma as the first Native American to attain a degree in physics. Elliot-High Eagle describes his work in law enforcement and how he almost got drafted to go to Vietnam, and he explains the unlikely events that led to his work at NASA, where he worked over a long career in many positions, including as lead retrofire officer for the Apollo 13 mission, for which he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Elliot-High Eagle discusses the numerous difficulties he experienced at NASA as a minority. He describes the frontier mentality at NASA at the beginning of his career, when there was no precedent for anything that was being developed for the space missions. Elliot-High Eagle explains how his sense of patriotism to the United States only grew stronger in the face of the adversities he endured at NASA, and he describes some of the key differences in his work from Apollo 11 to Apollo 13. He discusses his involvement in efforts to improve telecommunications access for Native Americans, and why he was well-positioned to do this as a NASA employee. Elliot-High Eagle discusses his work on the Apollo-Soyuz mission, and he reflects on the role of space missions amid the broader Cold War competition. He describes his long-term mentoring interest in increasing educational and professional opportunities for young Native Americans, and at the end of the interview he explains how and why he has integrated his spiritual views and experiences within his professional life and pursuits in advancing science.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Samuel C.C. Ting, Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Physics at MIT and Guest Professor of the Director General of CERN. Ting describes his long-term, unpaid affiliations with CERN and DESY, he recounts his childhood in Michigan, and he describes the opportunities that led to his parents to pursue graduate degrees at the University of Michigan. He explains why he returned with his parents to China before the Second World War, and he describes his family’s experiences during the war. Ting describes his own decision to return to the United States for his undergraduate studies after his family fled from the mainland to Taiwan in 1948, where he lived for eight years, before enrolling in the engineering program at the University of Michigan. He conveys his love for Michigan football, his near brush with the draft, and he explains his decision to remain at Michigan for graduate school. Ting explains his decision to focus on experimentation after initially considering theory, and he discusses his work on the Bevatron at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley. He describes his dissertation research on pion proton elastic scattering, and his contribution to the finding that that diffraction peak of this scattering does not shrink with increased energy. Ting explains the opportunities that led to his work at CERN to work on proton-proton scattering with Giuseppe Cocconi, and his positive experiences as a junior faculty member at Columbia University. He explains his collaboration with Stanley Brodsky and this connection with his work at DESY, and he relates Feynman’s humorous congratulatory telegram shortly after he won the Nobel Prize on the J particle. Ting explains the significance of this work, and that of Burt Richter at SLAC whose work was entirely independent from Ting’s. He explains his decision to deliver his Nobel acceptance speech in Mandarin, he describes the challenges of distraction owing to the recognition, and he explains how he became interested in space-based experiments. He discusses his increasing involvement with NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) in pursuing his goal of large-scale experiments, where he has concentrated on measuring the spectrum of electrons. He explains the origins and outlook for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), and he projects that attaining higher energies will continue to advance fundamental discovery which will serve as complements to land-based accelerator experiments. Ting discusses the discovery of the gluon by the Positron-Electron Tandem Ring Accelerator (PETRA) collaboration, and the influence of his research on the standard electroweak model, and he reflects on what it will take to understand dark matter. At the end of the interview, Ting expresses gratitude for the support he has received from MIT over the course of his career, and he makes the case for why governments should continue to support basic science research, even in fields for which no immediate benefit to humanity is readily apparent. 

Interviewed by
Jon Phillips
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Jon Phillips, Assistant Oral Historian for AIP, interviews astronomer and historian of science Steven Dick. Dick recounts his early interest in astronomy and branching out into history as an undergraduate and then graduate student at Indiana University. He discusses his work as an astronomer at the United States Naval Observatory and pursuing the history of astronomy in his spare time, as well as his subsequent tenure as NASA’s Chief Historian and the workings of the NASA history office. In the remainder of the interview, Dick describes his work on the history and social impact of astrobiology, and the scientific, religious, and cultural implications of the search for extraterrestrial life.

Interviewed by
Joanna Behrman
Interview date
Location
Los Angeles, California
Abstract

In this interview, Joanna Behrman, Assistant Public Historian for AIP, interviews Margaret Kivelson, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Space Physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. Kivelson recounts her childhood in New York City and her decision to attend Radcliffe College. She describes her experiences attending graduate school at Harvard University and working with Julian Schwinger. Kivelson explains her decision to move out to California, to work at the RAND Corporation, and her efforts to secure a position at UCLA. Kivelson describes how UCLA became a hub for space physics research and her work on the magnetometers for various projects including OGO-5, Pioneer 11, and Galileo. Kivelson also discusses her work to improve the status of women in academia on the Harvard Board of Overseers and at UCLA.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews John Mather, senior astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope. Mather recounts his childhood in rural New Jersey and the benefits of pursuing a physics education at a small school like Swarthmore. He discusses his research at Berkeley and the value of pursuing dissertation research based on an unsuccessful research experiment. Mather describes his work at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the decisions that led to his participation at NASA in the COBE satellite team that measured the heat radiation of the Big Bang. Mather narrates what it was like to learn he won the Nobel Prize for this work, and describes his current work and excitement about the James Webb Telescope.