University of California, Berkeley

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

The interviewee has not given permission for this interview to be shared at this time. Transcripts will be updated as they become available to the public. For any questions about this policy, please contact .

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Michel Devoret, the Frederick W. Beinecke Professor of Applied Physics and Director of the Applied Physics Nanofabrication Lab at Yale University. Devoret recounts his childhood in France where his father was a physician and his mother was a teacher. He describes his parents’ experiences during World War II and his early interests in many areas of science such as computers, artificial intelligence, and biology. Devoret explains some nuances of the French schooling system and how he followed an engineering track in his undergraduate studies before focusing on physics. He recalls pursuing his Master’s degree at Orsay University where he worked in a molecular physics lab, as well as the opportunity that led him to pursue a PhD while working in Anatole Abragam’s lab at the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) in Saclay. Devoret talks about his thesis work on nuclear magnetic resonance in solid hydrogen. He then discusses his postdoc at Berkeley working with John Clarke on quantum tunneling and his subsequent return to Saclay where he eventually helped found the Quantonics Lab and later was named Director of Research at CEA-Saclay. Devoret recalls the circumstances around his move to Yale and his work with Steve Girvin. He reflects on several of his interest areas during this time, such as microwave reflectometry, nanofabrication, remote entanglement, and quantum computing. At the end of the interview, Devoret offers advice for how to avoid doing bad science, and he shares his recent interest in the popularization of science, particularly making quantum physics more accessible.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
June 15, July 8, July 29, August 19, September 8, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with David Gross, Chancellor’s Chair Professor of Physics at University of California in Santa Barbara and a permanent member of the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics (KITP). Gross begins by describing his childhood in Arlington, Virginia and his family’s later move to Israel. This led to his decision to enroll at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for his undergraduate studies in physics and mathematics. Gross recalls his acceptance at Berkeley for his graduate studies, where Geoffrey Chew became his advisor. He explains his early interests in strong interactions, quantum field theory, and S-matrix theory. Gross then describes taking a fellowship at Harvard after completing his PhD, where he recalls his early involvement in string theory. He speaks about his subsequent move to join the faculty at Princeton, as well as his introduction to Frank Wilczek, one of his first graduate students with whom he later shared the Nobel Prize. Gross takes us through the discovery of asymptotic freedom, the development of quantum chromodynamics, and the impact these had on the Standard Model. He discusses his decision to leave Princeton for UCSB, where he focused on growing the KITP and securing funding. Gross describes how his research interests have shifted over the years across topics such as confinement, quantum gravity, and more recently back to string theory. Toward the end of the interview, Gross speaks about his work to develop institutes similar to KITP in other countries, as well as his term as President of the American Physical Society in 2019.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Dale Van Harlingen, Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He recounts his childhood in Ohio and his undergraduate education at OSU in physics and his early work on SQUIDS. Van Harlingen discusses his mentor Jim Garland, and he explains his decision to stay at OSU for graduate school to develop SQUID devices to make phase-sensitive measurements. He explains the opportunities that gained him a postdoctoral appointment at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge where he developed his expertise in the Josephson Effect, and where he met John Clarke, who offered him a subsequent postdoctoral position at UC Berkeley. Van Harlingen describes his foray using SQUIDS to push the quantum limit, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at Illinois, where he was impressed both with the quality of the research and how nice everyone was. He describes joining the Materials Research Laboratory and the development of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory, and he conveys his admiration for Tony Leggett. Van Harlingen discusses his research in NMR microscopy, grain boundary junctions, scanning tunneling microscopy, vortex configurations, and he describes his current interest in unconventional superconductors. At the end of the interview, Van Harlingen conveys his excitement about the national quantum initiative as a major collaboration between universities and National Labs, and he explains his motivation to understand if Majorana fermions actually exist.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Saul Perlmutter, Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley and Staff Scientist and senior faculty member at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, discusses his life and career. Perlmutter shares that his research has not been slowed down by the pandemic by happy coincidence that he is currently focused on remote data analysis, and he recounts his childhood in Philadelphia where he was educated in Quaker schools. He discusses his early fascination with quantum mechanics and his decision to go to Harvard for his undergraduate education, where he cemented his interests in experimental physics. Perlmutter explains his decision to go to Berkeley for graduate school, where he worked in Buford Price’s group before Richard Muller became his graduate advisor. He discusses his early awareness of the cosmic microwave background and how he became involved with robotic searches for supernovae. Perlmutter describes the importance of NASA’s BITNET program as a way to connect observatory data worldwide to the computer systems at Berkeley, and he explains the intellectual and observational connections between the inflation, expansion, and acceleration of the universe. He discusses his postdoctoral research at Berkeley, and the circumstances leading to him becoming leader of the supernova group and how the DOE became more involved in astrophysics funding. Perlmutter explains the group’s focus on deceleration and he conveys the difficulties in scheduling telescope time to demonstrate spectroscopy proof of type Ia supernovae. He describes the origins of the SNAP satellite project, some of the early theoretical discussions on the nature of dark energy, and when, finally, his group secured long-term support from the Lab. Perlmutter narrates his first interactions with Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess and he describes the batch technique that could predict the discovery of supernovae, which vastly improved the efficiency of scheduling time on large telescopes. He explains the role of dark matter in speeding up the universe’s expansion, and he narrates the celebration with his team when he won the Nobel Prize and how he has chosen the use the political platform that comes with this recognition. Perlmutter discusses his interest in studying climate change, and at the end of the interview, he conveys his excitement about future observational discovery in astrophysics and cosmology.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Peter W. Shor, Morss Professor of Applied Math at MIT. Shor recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and then Washington, DC, and he describes his discovery early in childhood that he had a special aptitude in math. He describes his undergraduate experience at Caltech, where he pursued an interest in combinatronics, and he explains his decision to attend MIT for graduate school, where he studied under Tom Leighton. Shor discusses his graduate work at Bell Labs and he explains how applied math research was relevant to Bell's business model. He describes his thesis research which used math to design good algorithms for computer problem solving, and he discusses his postdoctoral research at the Mathematical Science Research Institute at Berkeley where he focused on computational geometry problems. Shor explains his decision to return to Bell Labs and his focus on optical fibers, and he explains Google's influence in achieving breakthroughs in theoretical computer science. He describes the origins of Shor's Algorithm and Charles Bennett's involvement in this development. Shor explains when true quantum computing became theoretically feasible, and the various budgetary, theoretical, and political challenges that stand between the current state of play and quantum computer realization. He explains his interest in returning to academia at the time Bell Labs was coming apart, and he explains his contributions to advancing quantum information and the utility this has for AdS/CFT research. Shor describes his current interest in black holes and quantum money, and at the end of the interview, he explains why the question of whether NP = P remains fundamental.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Barry Barish, Linde Professor of Physics Emeritus at Caltech, where he retains a collaboration with LIGO, and Distinguished Professor of Physics at UC Riverside. Barish recounts his childhood in Los Angeles and emphasizes that sports were more important than academics to him growing up. He explains his decision to attend Berkeley as an undergraduate, where his initial major was engineering before he realized that he really loved physics, and where he was advised by Owen Chamberlain. Barish describes the fundamental work being done at the Radiation Lab and how he learned to work the cyclotron. He explains why Fermi became his life-long hero and why he decided to stay at Berkeley for graduate school, even though the school’s general policy required students to pursue their doctoral work elsewhere. Barish describes his graduate research under the direction of Carl Hemholz, and he explains how he developed a relationship with Richard Feynman which led to his postdoc and ultimately, his faculty appointment at Caltech. He discusses how his interest in neutrinos led to his work at Fermilab and why the big question at the time was how to discover the W boson. Barish describes his key interests in magnetic monopoles and neutrino oscillations, and he describes his involvement with the SSC project through a connection with Maury Tigner at Berkeley, which developed over the course of his collaborations with Sam Ting. He explains that his subsequent work with LIGO never would have happened had the SSC been viable, and he describes his early connection as a young student learning general relativity as a connecting point to LIGO. Barish describes his general awareness of what Rai Weiss had been doing prior to 1994 and he relates the state of affairs of LIGO at that point. He conveys the intensity of his involvement from 1994 to 2005 and he describes the skepticism surrounding the entire endeavor and what success would have looked like without any assurance that the experiment would actually detect gravitational waves. Barish describes the road to detection as one of incremental improvements to the instrumentation achieved over several years, including the fundamental advance of active seismic isolation. He narrates the day of the detection, and he surveys the effect that the Nobel Prize has had on the LIGO collaboration and its future prospects. Barish notes the promise that AI offers for the future of LIGO, and he prognosticates the future viability of the ILC. At the end of the interview Barish explains what LIGO has taught us about the universe, and what questions it will allow us to ask in the future as a result of its success. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Stanley Wojcicki, professor emeritus in the Department of Physics at Stanford. Wojcicki recounts his family’s experiences in war-time Poland and his father’s work for the Polish government-in-exile in London. He discusses his family’s postwar escape to Sweden from the Communists before their passage to the United States. Wojcicki discusses his undergraduate experience at Harvard and the opportunities that came available as a result of Sputnik in 1957. He explains his decision to pursue his graduate research at Berkeley under the direction of Art Rosenfeld, and his realization at the time that Berkeley was at the forefront in the revolution of experimental elementary particle physics headed by Luis Alvarez and the bubble chamber technique used by his group. Wojcicki explains how SU(3) transitioned from a mathematical concept to a central component of particle physics, and he describes his postdoctoral work at Berkeley Laboratory and his NSF fellowship at CERN to work on K-meson beam experiments. He discusses his faculty appointment at Stanford and his close collaboration with Mel Schwartz using spark chambers. Wojcicki describes his advisory work for Fermilab and for HEPAP, and the controversy surrounding the ISABELLE project and the initial site and design planning of the SSC. He explains some of the early warning signs of the project’s eventual cancellation, and his work looking at charm particles at Fermilab from produced muons. Wojcicki explains that the endowed chairs named in his honor at Stanford were a retirement gift from his daughter Anne and her husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Wojcicki reflects on his long career at Stanford, and he describes how the physics department has changed over the years and how government supported science has evolved. At the end of the interview, Wojcicki contrasts the sense of fundamental discoveries that permeated his early career, and he cites neutrino physics as a potentially promising area of significant discovery into the future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Nygren discusses: the problem of the university and specialization in addressing global challenges; reaction to the muon anomaly in the g-2 experiment at Fermilab; work on particle physics with at University of Washington; experimentation at Berkeley lab; post-doc at Columbia with Jack Steinberger working to measure the semileptonic charge asymmetry in neutral kaon decays to find evidence of CP symmetry violation; building an MWPC-based detector; experimental work with Owen Chamberlain and the Bevatron, developing the Bevalac; invention and design of the Time Projection Chamber (TPC) at Berkeley; early models of the TPC and concerns during development; Pief Panofsky; PEP-4 TPC success; involvement with doomed supercolliding super conductor (SSC) project; development of pixel-based vertex detector/smart pixel arrays; making deep-depletion charge coupled devices (CCDs) with Steve Holland; Carl Rubbia; x-ray mammography research with leading to the Philips MicroDose System; contributions to the NESTOR Project neutrino muon detector; involvement with IceCube and gathering digital data; discussion of the AMANDA array; using gas time projection chamber to look for neutrinoless double beta decacy (NLDBD); collaboration with Juan José Gómez Cardenas; using biochemistry to make connections for NLDBD discoveries; the question of whether the neutrino is its own antiparticle; development of Single Molecue Fluorescence Imaging (SMFI); Q-Pix idea; progress building Q-Pix detectors; work at UTA using the Earth-Human System as a way to reorient the university toward the big picture of climate change. Toward the end of the interview, Nygren reflects on his own “eureka moments,” the “failures” that led to deeper learning, his mixed feelings about the future of the planet, and the belief that physics can be a training ground for the new ideas humanity will need. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with William Gelbart, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA. The interview begins with Gelbart discussing his research pertaining to COVID-19 and creating a vaccine. Gelbart then recounts his childhood in New York and describes growing up with a mathematician father. He takes us through his undergraduate years at Harvard where he majored in chemistry and physics. Gelbart speaks about his grad school experience at the University of Chicago and the trends in chemical physics at the time. He describes working under the mentorship of Stuart Rice, Karl Freed, and Joshua Jortner. Gelbart then details the factors that led him to a postdoctoral fellowship in Paris, followed by a postdoctoral position at UC Berkeley, at which time he transitioned into physical chemistry. Gelbart also discusses his subsequent move to UCLA and his collaborations with Avi Ben-Shaul. He explains his shift into biology and virus research, and his recent work on RNA gene expression and cancer vaccine research.