University of Chicago

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Marc Kastner, Donner Professor of Physics at MIT and senior science advisor to the Science Philanthropy Alliance. Kastner explains the nomenclature transition from solid state to condensed matter physics, and he surveys the interplay between theory and experiment in his field.  He recounts his childhood in Ottawa and the influence of his father, who was an experimental physicist, and he explains the opportunities that led to his admission to the University of Chicago. Kastner explains his decision to remain at Chicago for graduate school to work under the direction of Hellmut Fritzsche on optical properties of semiconductors under pressure. He discusses his postdoctoral appointment at Harvard to work with Bill Paul on amorphous silicon, and his connection to David Adler who facilitated his faculty appointment at MIT. Kastner describes his work on amorphous semiconductors and transient excitation and his collaboration with Bob Birgeneau on high Tc. He discusses Joe Imry’s work on heterostructures and subsequent research on the Kondo effect, and how he came to understand the significance of his discovery of the single-electron transistor. Kastner discusses his tenure as department chair, director of MRSEC, and dean of science, and he explains his decision to retire and to join the Science Philanthropy Alliance. He describes his current work with his former student David Goldhaber-Gordon and his excitement over the current research on twistronics. At the end of the interview, Kastner reflects on the role of luck in his career, the centrality of technological advance in his research and what we can learn about physics more broadly as a result of the single-electron transistor.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Edward “Rocky” Kolb is the Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago and the Arthur Holly Compton Distinguished Service Professor of Astronomy at the University of Chicago. In this interview, Kolb explains how he acquired his nickname and he recounts his upbringing in New Orleans and his habit of spending time in the local library, where he developed his interest in science. He describes the financial constraints that compelled him to attend the University of New Orleans for college, and he characterizes his education there as broad but not deep, which caused him to consider a wide range of specialties for his graduate research at the University of Texas. Kolb describes working with his graduate advisor Duane Dicus in applying particle physics to cosmological questions, and he summarizes his dissertation research on the effects of axions in stars. He discusses his postdoctoral research with Willy Fowler at Caltech, and he emphasizes the influence of Allan Sandage on his decision to focus on cosmology.  Kolb describes his second postdoctoral fellowship at Los Alamos where he joined the burgeoning astrophysics group in the Theoretical Division to work on Big Bang nucleosynthesis.  He explains his decision to join the astrophysics group at Fermilab, where he collaborated closely with Michael Turner and benefited from the support of Leon Lederman. He describes his developing interest in supersymmetry and neutrino oscillations, he describes the impact of Alan Guth’s lectures on inflation, and he explains his increasing involvement with the astronomy and astrophysics department at the University of Chicago culminating with an offer for him to become chair of the department.  He describes his objectives and achievements in that position, he explains how he maintained research interest in creating particles from the vacuum, and he describes how this research could be of value in the ongoing quest to understand dark matter. At the end of the interview, Kolb reflects on the different approaches that religion and science take to understanding reality, and he explains why he is most optimistic that understanding dark matter is the most likely major future breakthrough in his field.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Lee Pondrom, Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, recounts his childhood in Dallas, San Antonio and Houston and describes his early interest in science. He explains his motivations to attend Southern Methodist University, where he pursued a degree in physics. Pondrom discusses his graduate work at the University of Chicago where the long-range influence of the Manhattan Project remained strong, even in the early and mid-1950s. He describes his summer research work at Los Alamos, and his thesis research on cyclotrons and pi mesons under the direction of Albert Crewe and Uli Kruse. Pondrom conveys the feeling of excitement at the discovery of parity violation while he was a graduate student, his postdoctoral work on the Nevis cyclotron while at Columbia, and he describes his Air Force service after he defended his dissertation. He describes the opportunities leading to his tenure at the University of Wisconsin and a research agenda that included long-term projects at the Chicago cyclotron, and at Fermilab and at Argonne. Pondrom discusses his contributions to CP violation, hyperon decay and how computers have been useful over the course of the career. He describes the origins of Fermilab and his experiences at Madison during the student unrest during the late 1960s, where bombers targeted science buildings. Pondrom discusses the significance of the E8 experiment as an extension of the Garwin-Lederman experiment and the origins of the Tevatron project. He explains the ups and downs of U.S. high energy physics during the SSC years and he surmises what would be known now in particle physics had the SSC been completed. At the end of the interview, Pondrom describes his extensive collaborations in Russia and his study of Soviet-era physics, including his work on Stalin’s nuclear diplomacy.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with David Kaplan, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. He recounts his childhood in New York and then Seattle, and he explains his complex Jewish-Israeli family roots. Kaplan describes his early aptitude for math, and he discusses his education at Chapman College and his transfer to Berkeley, where he completed his undergraduate degree in physics. He explains his near-accidental entrée into the graduate program in physics at the University of Washington, and he describes the formative influence of Ann Nelson. He conveys the excitement surrounding supersymmetry during his time in graduate school and his research on quark masses, and he recounts his postdoctoral research, which was split between Argonne Lab and the University of Chicago. Kaplan discusses the crisis of confidence he felt in his early career and he describes his second postdoctoral appointment at SLAC where he worked with Savas Dimopoulos on supersymmetry and became involved in the B physics endeavor. He conveys his long-held contempt for string theory and attacks it on both sociological and scientific grounds, and he explains the circumstances leading to his hire and tenure at Johns Hopkins. Kaplan describes how he used startup funds to invite speakers to the department, and he explains how imposter syndrome affects faculty members as much as anyone else. He explains the various issues surrounding the cancellation of the SSC, the viability of the LHC, and the prospects of the ILC, and he offers his view on what these projects say about the state of particle physics globally. Kaplan discusses the significance of WIMP dark matter, and why more physicists should work on issues beyond string theory and collider physics. At the end of the interview, Kaplan describes how he tries to make his research an antidote to the problems he sees in the field, and he discusses his ongoing interest in general Higgs decays.  

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview Jerome I. Friedman, Institute Professor and Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Massacusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), discusses his life and career. Friedman recounts: his childhood as the son of European immigrants in Chicago, and how his interest in art would serve him well later in his career; attending the University of Chicago because of his admiration for Fermi; his decision to stay on at Chicago to pursue a graduate degree in experimental particle physics under Fermi's direction; origins of the Δ3,3 resonances that led to unitary symmetry; his postdoctoral research at Chicago's nuclear emulsion lab, directed by Valentine Telegdi; opportunities leading to his work on electron scattering at Stanford; his first faculty position at MIT, where he joined Dave Ritson's group and where he developed the Cambridge Electron Accelerator program; the excitement of synchrotron over linear accelerators at the time in order to understand why the neutron is heavier than the proton; his collaborations with Henry Kendall; origins of his research at SLAC where he concentrated on the construction of the hodoscope; his interest in inelastic scattering and why Panofsky's support was so important in advancing his research; why Feynman's model of the proton represented a significant advance in particle physics; his interest in the work on neutrino and muon scattering at Fermilab; his role as chair of the Scientific Policy Committee for the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC); his tenure at director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at MIT and the goals he set during his time as chair of the physics department; his understanding of the time lag between his research in the 1970s and the Nobel announcement in 1990, and some of the ways he has worked to advance science as a result of the platform that recognition from the Nobel Prize affords. At the end of the interview, Friedman confirms that he was fortunate to have participated in a golden age of particle physics, and he asserts that this golden age has and will continue into the future. As an example, he cites the possibilities that even quarks are comprised of smaller constituents, and confirming this possibility would require enormous energies that are currently not available.

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Sean M. Carroll, Research Professor of Physics at Caltech, External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and founder of preposterousuniverse.com and the Mindscape podcast. Carroll recounts his childhood in suburban Pennsylvania and how he became interested in theoretical physics as a ten-year-old. He explains the factors that led to his undergraduate education at Villanova, and his graduate work at Harvard, where he specialized in astronomy under the direction of George Field. Carroll explains how his wide-ranging interests informed his thesis research, and he describes his postgraduate work at MIT and UC Santa Barbara. He describes the fundamental importance of the discovery of the accelerating universe, and the circumstances of his hire at the University of Chicago. Carroll provides his perspective on why he did not achieve tenure there, and why his subsequent position at Caltech offered him the pleasure of collaborating with top-flight faculty members and graduate students, while allowing the flexibility to pursue his wide-ranging interests as a public intellectual involved in debates on philosophy, religion, and politics; as a writer of popular science books; and as an innovator in the realm of creating science content online. Carroll conveys the various push and pull factors that keep him busy in both the worlds of academic theoretical physics and public discourse. At the end of the interview, Carroll shares that he will move on from Caltech in two years and that he is open to working on new challenges both as a physicist and as a public intellectual.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Frank Wilczek, Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT. Wilczek recounts his family background and childhood in Queens, and he describes how his early curiosity would come to inform the many intellectual pursuits he would take on later in his career. He describes his undergraduate education at the University of Chicago, where he enrolled at the age of fifteen, and he discusses his early interest in applied and pure mathematics. Wilczek describes the key influence of Peter Freund at Chicago, and his decision to pursue graduate work at Princeton. He explains how David Gross became his advisor, and he describes his idea to apply the renormalization group to theories of the weak interaction. Wilczek describes his decision to join the Princeton physics faculty immediately after his graduate work, and his developing interest in cosmological issues, as well as his ongoing efforts to extend models of the weak interactions. Wilczek shares his ideas on a grand unified theory and what he sees as the ongoing value of particle physics to cosmological inquiry. He explains what is known and unknown in the early universe, and how his training in philosophy informs those questions. Wilczek conveys his excitement at the possibilities of computers to move science forward, and he narrates the growing interest in his research which led to the Nobel Prize in 2004. He discusses the ways he has used the platform conferred by this recognition as a vehicle for him to pursue other interests. Wilczek discusses his interest in time crystals, and he discusses the origins of the Wilczek Quantum Center in China, and he explains the collaborative work he is pursuing at Arizona State University in neurobiology and expanding human capacity for sensory perception. At the end of the discussion, Wilczek explains how the concept of beauty has always, and continues to inform his scientific pursuits.

Interviewed by
Dan Ford
Interview date
Location
Telephone interview
Abstract

In this interview Murray Gell-Mann discusses topics such as: Richard Garwin, University of Chicago, particle physics, strangeness, Leon Lederman, nuclear defense policy, JASON, electronic fence, President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC), Richard Nixon, supersonic transport (SST), Jay Keyworth, Star Wars. This interview is part of a collection of interviews on the life and work of Richard Garwin. To see all associated interviews, click here.

Interviewed by
Dan Ford
Interview date
Location
La Jolla, California
Abstract

In this interview Richard Garwin discusses topics such as: his parents, growing up in Cleveland, education, Case Institute of Technology (Case Western Reserve University), Leon Lederman, muons, cyclotron,  University of Chicago, Enrico Fermi, nuclear reactors, coincidence circuits.This interview is part of a collection of interviews on the life and work of Richard Garwin. To see all associated interviews, click here.

Interviewed by
Dan Ford
Interview date
Location
Solana Beach, California
Abstract

In this interview Harold Agnew discusses topics such as: Richard Garwin, University of Chicago, Enrico Fermi, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, nuclear weapons, IBM.This interview is part of a collection of interviews on the life and work of Richard Garwin. To see all associated interviews, click here.