University of Maryland, College Park

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Thomas Mason, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA. Mason recounts his childhood in Frederick, MD, and he describes the influence of his father, who was a zoologist. Mason discusses his undergraduate education at the University of Maryland where he pursued a dual degree in physics and electrical engineering, and he describes the opportunity that led to his graduate work at Princeton. He explains his work at Exxon Research and Engineering Lab, where he worked with Dave Weitz, and he describes the growth of soft matter condensed physics. Mason discusses his dissertation in micro-rheology and some of the broader questions in Brownian systems when colloids are micro-dispersed. He describes his postdoctoral work in France with Jerome Bibette, where he focused on the science of emulsification, and he discusses his senior postdoctoral position at Johns Hopkins, where he worked with Scot Kuo who was concentrating on the rheology of concentrated DNA. Mason explains his decision to join Exxon as a principal investigator, where he researched asphaltenes, and he discusses some of the broader advances in soft matter physics fostered at the Exxon lab. He describes his motivations for returning to academia, and in particular his desire to teach, he explains the opportunity leading to his tenure at UCLA, and he describes his contributions to the NanoSystems Institute. Mason discusses his involvement in many of the clinical and therapeutic aspects of soft matter physics, and at the end of the interview, he offers insight on where his broad interests in platform technologies might be relevant as his field continues to grow.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Roald Sagdeev, professor of physics emeritus at the University of Maryland. He recounts his family’s ethnic Tatar heritage, his childhood in Kazan, and his family’s experience during World War II. Sagdeev describes his physics education at Moscow State University, and how he felt regarding the larger issues of physics and Soviet national security – especially during his time in Sarov, which was the equivalent of Los Alamos National Lab for nuclear weapons research. He discusses his work on radiation transport in stellar atmospheres, his subsequent research at the Kurchatov Institute, and his graduate research in controlled nucleosynthesis under the direction of Lev Landau. Sagdeev describes this time as the origins of his expertise in plasma physics and he explains the work he was doing at a classified site in Siberia. He explains how major Cold War events including the Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear diplomacy affected his career and his moral satisfaction in not contributing to weapons science. Sagdeev discusses his work at the Institute of Physics of High Temperatures, and his developing interests in astrophysics, and he explains his subsequent tenure at the Space Research Institute of the Academy of Sciences, and why the American moon landing demonstrated that Russia had ceded its dominance in the Space Race. He explains why manned space missions were always more politicized than unmanned missions and describes the political value of the Soviet-US Soyuz-Apollo test project as an opportunity for “hand shaking in space.” Sagdeev discusses his experiences advising Gorbachev on disarmament negotiations, and he shares his perspective on SDI and why it was actually the Pershing missile system that contributed more to the Soviet collapse than U.S. defense spending under Reagan. He describes witnessing the end of the Cold War as watching a movie in slow motion, and he explains how he met Susan Eisenhower and the circumstances leading to his move to the United States, where he joined the faculty at the University of Maryland and served as an adviser to NASA. Sagdeev explains his current interests in intergalactic shock waves and he shares his ideas on the newly formed U.S. Space Force and the weaponizing of space. At the end of the interview, Sagdeev shares that if he could start his career all over again, he would focus on neuroscience.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Dean Zollman discusses: interests in current physics education research (PER); family background and childhood; PhD at Maryland under Carl Levinson and Manoj Banerjee; involvement in civil rights movement; postdoc at Kansas State; collaborations with Bob Fuller and Tom Campbell; involvement with American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT); Jack Renner’s research on the intellectual development of college students; overview of the big names and ideas in PER in the early-to-mid 70s; research on how to meet students’ current developmental levels and capabilities; hands-on and visual approaches to physics learning; NSF-funded work at University of Utah, developing instructional laser discs with Bob Fuller and Tom Campbell; forays into using video for physics instruction and early application of computers to physics education; Fulbright at University of Munich; Fascination of Physics collaboration with his partner J.D. Spears; teaching quantum mechanics visually; winning the Milikan Award; the Physics InfoMall CD-ROM project; relationship with NSF; Center for Research and Innovation in STEM Education project and COVID’s damage to its realization; Oersted Medal; crossovers with field of psychology in researching how learning happens; internet-based Pathways project for high school instructors; collaborations with the International Commission on Physics Education; the excitement of helping people learn; and the hope that innovative teaching strategies will draw in a more diverse student body to solve the big physics questions of our time. Toward the end of the interview, Zollman looks forward to continuing PER both on the fundamentals of how students learn as well as on applied methods for teaching. He notes that the quest to understand the mechanisms of learning invite a more interdisciplinary approach going forward. 

Interviewed by
Eline V. A. van den Heuvel
Interview date
Interview dates
January 14, February 8, and May 11, 2020
Location
Kensington Park Senior Living, Kensington, Maryland, USA
Abstract

Physics Graduate student Eline V. A. van den Heuvel (University of Amsterdam) interviews Professor Emeritus of Physics and Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland Charles W. Misner. After obtaining his BA at the University of Notre Dame in 1952, Prof. Misner continued his education at Princeton University, where he completed his PhD in Physics under supervision of Prof. John. A. Wheeler (1911-2008) in 1957. In the spring semester of 1956, Prof. Wheeler fulfilled the Lorentz professorship at Leiden University, the Netherlands, accompanied by his student Misner. Prof. Misner discusses this trip, focusing on his personal experience and his work on the Already Unified Field. He also discusses Wheeler’s relativity work and possible motivations for Wheeler to go to Leiden. The remainder of the interview deals with the many-worlds interpretation of Dr. Hugh Everett, a friend of Misner and former a PhD student of Wheeler, and Misner expresses his disappointment in how the physics community has treated Everett.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Raman Sundrum, distinguished university professor of physics at the University of Maryland. Sundrum recounts his childhood in India, Maryland, and Australia and he describes his life as the child of an international economist with the UN and the World Bank, and a pediatrician. He describes his undergraduate experience at Sydney University where he majored in physics and where he learned that his abilities were in theory. Sundrum discusses his time as a graduate student at Yale, where he was accepted to the math department, and he explains how he immediately shifted over to physics. He explains his initial difficulty settling on a research focus under the direction of Laurence Krauss before he developed a relationship with Mark Soldate and settled on thesis research on particle theory beyond the Standard Model. Sundrum discusses his postdoctoral work at Berkeley, where he spent time at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. He describes being recruited by Howard Georgi to do postdoctoral work at Harvard, and he explains how he collaborated with Lisa Randall and how the Randall-Sundrum papers originated. Sundrum describes the impact of this collaboration on research in supersymmetry, and he explains the events leading to his tenure at Johns Hopkins. He explains how his research focus shifted to cosmology and he discusses his decision to switch to a faculty position at Maryland, where he became director of the Center for Fundamental Physics. At the end of the interview Sundrum explains his longstanding fascination with metaphysical ideas, and he reflects on the importance of developing intellectual maturity over the course of one’s career.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Milton Dean Slaughter, Affiliate Professor of Physics at Florida International University. Slaughter recounts his childhood in New Orleans, his involvement in the civil rights movement, and he describes his undergraduate work in physics at Louisiana State University and his graduate work in theoretical physics at the University of New Orleans, where his dissertation focused on electron-laser pulse scattering. Slaughter discusses his long tenure in the department of physics at UNO, and prior to that his research in theoretical physics at Los Alamos. At the end of the interview, he discusses his long-term interest in gravity.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Robert M. Wald, Charles H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago, where he also has appointments with the Kadanoff Center and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. Wald recounts his childhood in New York, he describes the tragedy of losing his parents in an airplane crash when he very young, and he explains the ongoing legacy of his father Abraham Wald who was a prominent professor of statistics at Columbia. He describes his high school education at Stuyvesant and his decision to pursue a physics degree at Columbia, where he became close with Alan Sachs, who supervised him at Nevis Laboratory. Wald explains his decision to focus on general relativity for graduate school and his interest in working with John Wheeler at Princeton. He describes the excitement surrounding recent advances in approaching astrophysics through relativity, the significance of the discovery of pulsars and the field of black hole uniqueness, and he discusses his postdoctoral research with Charles Misner at the University of Maryland. Wald describes the impact of Saul Teukolsky’s discovery of a variable Weyl tensor component that satisfied a decoupled equation, and he explains the circumstances leading to his faculty position at Chicago, where he was motivated to work with Bob Geroch. He reflects on the experience writing Space, Time, and Gravity, the advances in black hole collapse research, and he explains why he felt the field needed another textbook which motivated him to write General Relativity. Wald discusses his work on the Hawking Effect and his long-term interest in quantum field theory, and he explains the influence of Chandrasekhar on his research. He describes his contributions to the LIGO collaboration, and he explains what is significant about the Event Horizon Telescope’s ability to capture an image of a black hole. Wald explains the state of gravitational radiation research and the accelerating universe, he prognosticates on what advances might allow for a unification of gravity and the Standard Model, and he explains why dark energy is apparently a cosmological constant. At the end of the interview, Wald discusses his recent work on the gravitational memory effect and, looking to the future, he explains his interest to continue working to understand the S-matrix in quantum electrodynamics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Mansour Shayegan, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton. Shayegan recounts his family roots in Isfahan, and the political and social dynamics of growing up in Iran. He explains his decision to pursue an undergraduate education in the United States and the opportunities leading to his enrollment at MIT as an undergraduate. He describes his decision to stay at MIT for graduate school and his experiences in the electrical engineering program, where he worked with his advisor Millie Dresselhaus, during the Iranian Revolution. Shayegan describes Dresselhaus’s reputation as the “Queen of Graphite” and he describes the impact of her research on his dissertation on graphite intercalation. He discusses some of the commercial potential of his graduate research and emphasizes his primary interest in basic research and describes his postdoctoral work at the University of Maryland. He explains the origins of his interest in semiconductor physics in collaboration with Bob Park and Dennis Drew, and he describes the events leading to his faculty appointment at Princeton. Shayegan describes the work involved getting his lab and the MBE system set up, and he discusses the excellent culture of collaboration in both the physics and EE programs at Princeton. He explains recent advances in superconductivity research, and he reflects on the success he has enjoyed as a mentor to graduate students over the years. Shayegan expresses his pleasure in teaching quantum mechanics to undergraduates, and he explains his long-term interest in research on gallium arsenide. At the end of the interview, Shayegan reflects on his contributions to the field, its intellectual origins in the prediction of Bloch ferromagnetism, and the importance of securing the ongoing support from the National Science Foundation.

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
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Christopher Monroe, Gilhuly Family Distinguished Presidential Professor of Physics and Electrical Computer Engineering at Duke University. Monroe discusses his ongoing affiliation with the University of Maryland, and his position as chief scientist and co-founder of IonQ. He discusses the competition to achieve true quantum computing, and what it will look like without yet knowing what the applications will be. Monroe discusses his childhood in suburban Detroit and his decision to go to MIT for college, where he focused on systems engineering and electronic circuits. He explains his decision to pursue atomic physics at the University of Colorado to work under the direction of Carl Wieman on collecting cold atoms from a vapor cell, which he describes as a “zig zag” path to Bose condensation. Monroe discusses his postdoctoral research at NIST where he learned ion trap techniques from Dave Wineland and where he worked with Eric Cornell. He explains how he became interested in quantum computing from this research and why quantum computing’s gestation period is stretching into its third decade. Monroe explains his decision to join the faculty at the University of Michigan, where he focused on pulsed lasers for quantum control of atoms. He describes his interest to transfer to UMD partly to be closer to federal entities that were supporting quantum research and to become involved in the Joint Quantum Institute. Monroe explains the value of quantum computing to encryption and intelligence work, he describes the “architecture” of quantum computing, and he narrates the origins of IonQ and the nature of venture capitalism. He discusses China’s role in advancing quantum computing, and he describes preparations for IonQ to go public in the summer of 2021. At the end of the interview, Monroe discusses the focus of the Duke Quantum Center, and he asserts that no matter how impressive quantum computing can become, computer simulation can never replace observation of the natural world.