United States. National Bureau of Standards

Interviewed by
Jon Phillips
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, AIP Oral Historian Jon Phillips interviews Dr. Sean Brennan, emeritus physicist at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory. Brennan describes his early life in an academic family, undergraduate education at Catholic University, and graduate education under Arthur Bienenstock at Stanford University, where he began work with synchrotron radiation. He discusses his early work at SLAC with Jo Stohr on X-Ray absorption experiments, and his post-doc at Exxon. Brennan goes on to discuss the development of the facilities and research at SLAC over the course of his tenure there, as well as his work on the NASA Stardust project analyzing asteroid and comet samples. The interview concludes with a discussion of Brennan’s activities after retirement, including programming apps and serving as a ski patrol rescue worker.

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 Stephen Seltzer, retired from the National Institute of Standards and Technology where he was Leader of the Dosimetry Group in the Radiation Physics Division. Seltzer discusses his current interests in photoelectric cross sections and he explains why NIST supports research in radiation physics. He recounts his childhood in the Washington DC area, he describes his education at Virginia Tech and his first job at the National Bureau of Standards. Seltzer describes the advances in ionizing radiation at NIST during his junior years and the formative mentorship provided by Martin Berger and his pioneering work in radiation science and Monte Carlo calculations. He explains why Monte Carlo codes provide a solution to the Boltzmann Transport Equation and why electron transport research provides value to space exploration and how NIST contributed to proton therapies for cancer. Seltzer discusses his administrative service as leader of the Radiation Interactions and Dosimetry Group, and he explains his motivations to serve as a mentor to younger colleagues at NIST. At the end of the interview he reflects on the budgetary environment at NIST over his tenure and why young physicists should consider NIST as an excellent place to pursue a career. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Steven Girvin, Eugene Higgins Professor of Physics and Professor of Applied Physics at Yale University. Girvin recounts his childhood in Florida and then in a tiny town in the Adirondack region of New York, and he discusses his decision to attend Bates College as an undergraduate. Girvin explains some of the advantages he found studying physics in such a small program and he describes his early research on helicon waves. He discusses his dual interests in theoretical and experimental physics which he brought with him to his graduate work at Princeton, where he worked with John Hopfield, who introduced him to a problem from Bell Labs on optical fluorescence data from a semiconductor. Girvin describes his postdoctoral research with Jerry Mahan in Indiana and Sweden and explains the value he learned in doing diagram calculations. He discusses his work at National Bureau of Standards (NBS) and his involvement in neutron scattering and the quantum Hall effect. Girvin explains his research and teaching accomplishments at Indiana University, he discusses his contributions to superconductor insulator transitions, and he recounts the circumstances leading to him joining the faculty at Yale. At the end of the interview, Girvin describes his work for the Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering Institute and explains what excites him most about future prospects in quantum information.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Arthur Bienenstock, professor emeritus of photon science and associate director of the Wallenberg Research Link at Stanford University. Bienenstock describes his childhood in New York City and his education at the Bronx High School of Science, his studies at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and his graduate work at Harvard. Bienenstock describes his postdoc work Harwell, the atomic energy research lab in England, his start as an assistant professor at Harvard, and his work in Washington at the Naval Research Lab and the National Bureau of Standards. Bienenstock discusses his move to Stanford, and the influence of the anti-war protests that were taking place in the late 1960s. He discusses the various strategies he has employed to balance his research and administrative duties over the years, and his involvement with the synchrotron radiation laboratory and with SLAC. Toward the end of the discussion, Bienenstock discusses his work in the realm of science policy at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House and as special assistant to the president for federal research policy at Stanford.

Interviewed by
Katherine Sopka
Interview date
Location
Wellesley, Massachusetts
Abstract

Family background, education, and emergence of scientific orientation. Undergraduate years at Wellesley College (1912-1916); description of physics department. Assistant examiner in U.S. Patent Office during World War I. At MIT under E.B. Wilson as graduate student and laboratory assistant, then lab instructor (1920-24). Returned to MIT for doctoral work in 1928. Mathematical physics thesis under Norbert Wiener, while teaching at Wellesley. Depression years brought teaching position at Wilson College (1930-43), used Wellesley as model. Work on Zeeman Pattern earns her Guggenheim Fellowship (1949-50) at MIT and European labs. World War II years as head of OSRD British Report Section. Returned to Wilson (1945-56), worked part-time at National Science Foundation (1953-56). Retirement years including affiliation with U.S. Army and spectroscopic work at Harvard College Observatory. Comments on women in physics in U.S., her own opportunities, and teaching in general.

Interviewed by
Roger H. Stuewer
Interview date
Location
University of Minnesota
Abstract

Family background, early schooling; undergraduate studies at Case Institute of Technology (B.S. 1917); assistant physicist at National Bureau of Standards (1917-19); research on piezoelectricity of sodium chlorate and bromate; World War I work in pyrometry and optical glass manufacture; graduate studies at University of Minnesota (MA. 1920, teaching assistant 1919-20, Ph.D. 1921, instructor of physics, 1920-21), member of physics faculty; research on ferroelectricity of Rochelle Salt Crystals and location of Curie Points; X-ray spectroscopy research at University of Upsala, Sweden 1928-29; comments on nuclear physics at University of Minnesota.

Interviewed by
W. James King
Location
Grover's home, Schenectady, New York
Abstract

Early education. Krause and Harry Goodwin as teachers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Observatory work before 1900; assistantship at Wesleyan University, association with Edward B. Rosa, Walter G. Cady, and John Van Vleck, work on vector treatment of alternating currents. Joined Lafayette College. Joined National Bureau of Standards (NBS) in 1902, historical data on and description of NBS, influence of Rosa and Julius Stratton, Irving Wolff's work on EMF and R standards, major work at NBS of standardizing electrical units for industry, beginning of his work on capacitance. Ph.D. at George Washington University, faculty members, research on frequency and temperature and variation of condensers; Munich research with Arnold Sommerfeld and supervisors, 1908. Return to NBS, work with J. Howard Dellinger and Harvey L. Curtis; 1910 Conference on electrical standards and silver voltmeters; time at Colby College, teaching, inductance and capacitance work, Wenner's standard unit. Joined Union College faculty in 1920; attended 1931 Faraday Centennial in London. Later life at Union and association with General Electric.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Moore Sitterly's home, Washington, D.C.
Abstract

Interview examines early life in Pennsylvannia; family background; schooling; college years at Swarthmore, 1916-1920; choice of major subjects; contact with J. A. Miller and choice of mathematics curriculum; move to Princeton and work with Henry Norris Russell; arrival at Princeton, 1920; recollections of Russell family; research on the position of the Moon and eclipsing binaries; work at Mount Wilson on the solar spectrum, 1925-1928; the origins of the Multiplet Table; return to Princeton; the organization of the Princeton Astronomy Department; Ph.D. thesis under A. O. Leuschner at University of California, Berkeley; early work on the solar spectrum, influence of A. Unsöld; line intensity work; collaboration with physicists; Russell's mode of research; work with William F. Meggers; molecular spectra; atomic spectra during World War II; move to National Bureau of Standards after World War II; Russell and R. Dugan; J. Q. Stewart; recollections of Russell and Princeton years; organization of work at NBS.

Interviewed by
Lillian Hoddeson
Interview date
Location
Murray Hill, New Jersey
Abstract

Born in London 1910; Childhood in Palo Alto, California; undergraduate at UCLA, Caltech, graduate school MIT (Slater, thesis advisor); 1936 to Bell Labs; war related work at Whippany (circa 1 year), patents on radar ideas (Columbia U. Project); fission work with Fisk (National Bureau of Standards); the transistor; Solid State Physics group organized 1945 at Bell Labs under Shockley and Stan Morgan.