United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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.

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.