In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Laurence Peterson, Professor Emeritus of Physics at UC San Diego and former director of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences. He describes his childhood in rural Wisconsin and his early interests in electricity. He describes his undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and how he got involved in cosmic ray balloon research. Peterson discusses his formative relationship with John Winckler, how he developed his graduate interests in auroral X-rays, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at UC San Diego. He explains his ongoing research in detecting cosmic X-rays, and the challenges he faced in creating the High-Energy astronomy group there. Peterson discusses his long-range collaboration and advisory work with NASA and what it was like to be involved in these efforts in the heyday of the Space Race. He discusses his work studying Gamma Ray lines and he surveys the achievements of the OSO-1, OSO-3, and OSO-7 endeavors. Peterson describes the work done by NASA’s High Energy Astronomical Observatories project, and at the end of the interview, he reflects on some of the most important things he has learned over the course of his career in X-ray astronomy, and how lucky he feels that his career began right at the dawn of the Space Age.
Interview with Thomas Witten, Homer J. Livingston Professor, Emeritus, in the Department of Physics, James Franck Institute. Witten recounts his childhood in Maryland, Utah, and then Colorado, as his father, a medical doctor moved jobs, and he describes his undergraduate experience at Reed College and where majored in physics and where he benefited from excellent attention from the professors. He discusses his graduate work at UC San Diego, where he was advised by Shang Ma working on two-dimensional charged Bose gas research, and he describes his postdoctoral research at Princeton to work with John Hopfield. Witten conveys the exotic nature of Ken Wilson’s ideas on renormalization during that time, and he explains the origins of soft matter physics as a distinct field and his work at Saclay before joining the faculty at the University of Michigan. He describes his subsequent research on pushing concepts of renormalization into polymers and related work on the Kondo effect. Witten explains his decision to join the research lab at Exxon, and he conveys Exxon’s emulation of Bell Labs as a place where he could pursue basic science within an industrial research lab, and where he could continue his work on polymers. He describes the downsizing of the lab and his decision to join the faculty at the University of Chicago, and his discusses his developing interests in buckyballs and capillary flow. Witten describes his affiliation with the James Franck Institute and its rich history, and he explains his current interests in granular materials, thin sheets, and colloidal rotation. At the end of the interview, Witten emphasizes the technological impact of fast video on soft matter physics and his interest in the physics of crumpling objects.
In this interview, Fred Goldberg discusses: impact of COVID-19 pandemic on physics education and teaching tools; Jewish heritage, religious, and cultural practices; undergraduate and graduate experience with Bill Williams at University of Michigan; time at West Virginia University; work with Charles Wales; sabbatical with Lillian McDermott at the University of Washington and the beginnings of physics education research (PER); first PER gathering at an American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) meeting; first successful NSF PER proposal; move to San Diego State University to be at the Center for Research on Math and Science Education (CRMSE); Arnold Arons and Alfred Bork’s computer software programs; experiences on the cutting edge of using computers to enhance physics learning; shift from focusing on individual learning to how student groups learn; NSF’s ongoing support for his work; the Constructing Physics Understanding (CPU) project; Physics and Everyday Thinking curriculum development; Next Generation Science Standards curriculum alignment; development of a faculty online learning community (FOLC) and the shift toward studying faculty change and support; role of AAPT; decline of general population’s ability to engage in evidence-based reasoning; and how his work helps teachers develop an informed citizenry. Toward the end of the interview, Goldberg reflects on the difficulties of trying to change the way faculty thinks about teaching and how his own ideas and interests have evolved over the years. He emphasizes the importance of issues of equity and inclusion in science education going forward.
In this interview, Elizabeth Simmons discusses: role as Executive Vice Chancellor (EVC) at UC San Diego; impact of COVID-19; current developments in the field that she finds exciting; family background and childhood; experiences as a woman in physics; M.Phil at Cambridge in Volker Heine’s group working on condensed matter theory; study of condensed matter theory at Harvard; Howard Georgi; work on models exploring electroweak symmetry breaking and quark masses; opinions on why SSC died and the impact on the field; collaboration with Cynthia Brossman on the Pathways K12 outreach project supporting girls’ involvement in STEM; research on the top quark; interest in supersymmetry and physics Beyond the Standard Model (BSM) using a Higgless model; papers with husband Sekhar Chivukula and others exploring the idea of a five-dimensional spacetime; leading Lyman Briggs College; MOOSE model; reaction to the discovery of the Higgs boson; post-Higgs work distinguishing which models can and can’t be consistent with the data; consulting work for the American Physical Society (APS) and the wider academic and scientific community on matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI); advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community; advisory work for the Center for High Energy Physics in China; collaborations at the Aspen Center for Physics to support EDI in the field; role creating career development workshops for women at the International Center for Theoretical Physics; work increasing EDI in curricula and faculty hiring; building cross-field collaboration at UCSD; collaboration with other EVCs in the UC system; current physics work on model building and how to get the most out of available data; and current work on graviton-graviton scattering. Toward the end of the interview, Simmons reflects on intersectionality and the value of diversity in science and discovery.
In this interview Dr. Kenneth Watson, Dr. Richard Garwin, Dr. Curtis Callan, and Dr. Roy Schwitters participate in a roundtable discussion on the origins and early history of the JASON scientific advisory group. Watson, an emeritus from University of California San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography, discusses the early efforts of Charles Townes and Marvin Stern in forming JASON. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratory of IBM, reflects upon IDA, the management organization that allowed for the formation of the JASON group. Callan, Professor of Physics at Princeton University, discusses the Charney Report and the sponsorship of Ari Patrinos of the Department of Energy, and his relationship with JASON. Schwitters, Regents Professor Emeritus from University of Texas Austin, and Garwin detail JASON’s 1980 report on tunnel detection. The group reflects upon the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and how it added urgency to the creation of JASON. Watson and Garwin discuss the early agenda of JASON and their focus on detection of missile launches, nuclear effects, and Nick Christofilos work with particle beam weapons. They discuss the involvement of JASON in the Vietnam War effort and how some members were targeted by protestors for their involvement. Watson and Schwitters reflect on the presence of Claire Max and the time it took to get more women involved in JASON in face of the traditional “boys club” atmosphere that was present in professional circles at the time. Garwin speaks about the development of the sonic boom report. Callen talks about his study on neutrino detection and the purpose of JASON in a post-Cold War era. He also discusses JASONs work on CHAMMP, Computer Hardware, Advanced Mathematics and Model Physics. The group describes the Human Genome project of the late 1990s. Schwitters and Garwin discuss how JASON can offer independent judgment in ways U.S. Intelligence agencies cannot, such as in 2009 when they were commissioned to study North Korean nuclear capability. Lastly, Watson speaks about how he believes GPS will become an important issue of study for JASON in the future, a point which is furthered by Garwin who also cites cybersecurity in general as a main focal point for JASON moving forward.
Interview with Sunil Sinha, Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics at the University of California, San Diego. Sinha describes how he has been able to keep up his research during the COVID pandemic, and he recounts his childhood in Calcutta where he attended Catholic schools and developed his interests in math and science. He describes his undergraduate education at Cambridge where he became interested is quantum mechanics, and he explains his decision to remain there for graduate work to conduct research on neutron scattering under the direction of Gordon Squires. Sinha explains the centrality of neutron scattering to the development of condensed matter physics, and he describes the opportunities leading to his postdoctoral research at Iowa State. He discusses his work at Ames Lab and Argonne Lab, where he continued to pursue fundamental research on neutron scattering and rare earth materials. Sinha describes his research at Exxon Lab, and the start of the revolution in soft matter physics, and he explains his decision to return to Argonne at the beginning of the Advanced Photon Source project. He discusses his subsequent move to San Diego where he enjoyed a joint appointment with Los Alamos Lab and when he was able to concentrate more fully on teaching after a career spent mostly in laboratory environments. At the end of the interview, Sinha describes his current interest in spin glasses, exchange biases, and jamming theoretical computer simulations, and he explains the reason for the enduring mystery of the mechanism for high-temperature superconductivity.
Interview with Lu Sham, Distinguished Professor of Physics Emeritus, University of California at San Diego. Sham recounts his childhood in Hong Kong and he describes the legacy of Japanese rule from World War II. He describes his early interests in math and he explains his decision to pursue a higher education in England at Imperial College. Sham discusses his motivation to conduct graduate work at Cambridge University and to study under Nevill Mott on the first principle method calculating the electron contribution to lattice vibration. He describes the help provided by John Ziman to secure his postdoctoral position at UC San Diego to work with Walter Kohn, and he describes the foundational collaboration and research that went into the Kohn-Sham equation and how this work builds on the classic debate between Einstein and Bohr. He describes the opportunities leading to his faculty appointment and eventual tenure on the physics faculty, and he explains the benefits of spending summers doing research at Bell Labs. Sham discusses his contributions to research on semiconductors, quantum computing, and density-functional theory. He describes his more recent interest in optics and the formative work he has done with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers over the years. Sham discusses his administrative service as department chair and Dean of Science. At the end of the interview, Sham asserts that the future of condensed matter physics holds limitless possibilities, and that improvements in semiconductor materials will push quantum information abilities in exciting and unforeseen directions.
Interview with Frank Shu, University Professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, and Founder and CEO of Astron Solutions Corporation. Shu describes his current work on climate mitigation through his company, Astron Solutions Corporation, and he reflects on how his expertise in physics is useful for this endeavor. He recounts his family origins in Wenzhou, China, and their experiences during the Japanese occupation. Shu describes his family’s journey to the United States through Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the opportunities that led to his undergraduate study in physics at MIT. He describes his early interests in gravitational collapse, and he explains his decision to pursue graduate research at Harvard, where he worked on density wave theory of spiral structure under the direction of Max Krook. Shu explains his broader interest in star formation and his work at Stony Brook before taking a faculty position at Berkeley. He describes the “inside out” collapse model and the formative influence of Peter Goldreich. Shu explains how he came to lead Tsing Hua University and his achievements in raising its stature before joining the faculty at San Diego, and he discusses his original interests in climate change research. He describes the Heat Exchanger (HX) Project and how his research on nuclear energy has therapeutic benefits for cancer patients. Shu discusses his patent on sealed carbon fiber reinforced carbon nanotubes and the hurdles that are preventing the widespread adoption of molten salt technology. At the end of the interview, Shu describes the importance of taking multi-pronged approach to climate mitigation and that humanity’s best response at this point is to recognize climate change as an emergency.
Interview with Frances Hellman, professor of physics and of Materials Science and Engineering, Dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at UC Berkeley, as well as senior faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab. Hellman is also president-elect of the APS. Hellman explains why she considers physics her “home” department and why her research agenda spans so many disciplines. She describes the major issues in her incoming leadership of APS and how Berkeley has coped during the pandemic. Hellman recounts her childhood in Manhattan and then Brooklyn and she describes her Quaker education and her early interests in science. She describes her focus on ski racing and her undergraduate experience at Dartmouth, and the formative influence that Bruce Pipes had on her development as a physicist. Hellman discusses her motivations to pursue thesis research at Stanford, where Mac Beasley and Ted Geballe were her co-advisors and where A15 superconductor research was in full gear. She describes her postdoctoral appointment at Bell Labs to work on magnetic thin film materials and magnetic superconductors. Hellman conveys her interest in entrepreneurship and the opportunities that allowed her to join the faculty at UC San Diego, and she describes building up her lab and her interests in thermal links. She reflects broadly on the basic and applied aspects of her research, and she explains her reasons for transferring to Berkeley and her affiliation with the Exploratorium. Hellman describes her administrative responsibilities as department chair in physics and she conveys her recent interests in amorphous materials and specifically ideal glass. At the end of the interview, Hellman discusses her involvement in both the APS and Berkeley’s efforts to make STEM more inclusive and diverse, and she describes her optimism that her work on amorphous materials will lead to key discovery in the field.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Robert C. Dynes, Research Professor, Emeritus President of the University of California, and Emeritus Chancellor of UC San Diego. Dynes recounts his childhood in Ontario, his early interests in science, and his decision to attend the University of Western Ontario for college. He explains his decision to pursue a PhD at McMaster University, and he describes some of the advances in superconductivity that were exciting at that time. Dynes discusses his postdoctoral research at Bell Labs and he emphasizes that the research culture was geared exclusively to basic science and had nothing to do with financial considerations toward Bell’s business. He describes his political engagement during the Vietnam Era and he describes the changing culture at Bell during the breakup in the 1980s when he was Director of Chemical Physics. Dynes discusses his research on thin films of metals at the atomic level, and he explains the circumstances leading to his tenure at UC San Diego. He explains how the university was building up across the sciences, and he conveys how important teaching was to him. Dynes describes the process leading to being named Chancellor, and he reviews his challenges and accomplishments in this role. He compares the Chancellor’s responsibilities to those of the UC President, to which he was named in 2003, and he describes his efforts to remain active in research even as he was running the entire UC system. Dynes describes the existential challenge of being president at a time that the state was defunding public education, and he describes some of his key successes in faculty recruitment. He conveys his delight when his term as president ended and he was able to return to the physics department in San Diego. At the end of the interview Dynes cites integrity and creativity as the characteristics that he sees as most fundamental to success in science.