University of Maryland, College Park

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Ana Maria Rey, Professor Adjoint at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a fellow at NIST and JILA. Rey describes the nature of this tri-appointment, and she discusses some of the difficulties in keeping up her research during the pandemic. She recounts her childhood in Colombia and her early education in an all-girls school and her undergraduate education at the University of Los Andes in physics and the opportunities leading to her acceptance to the University of Maryland for graduate school. Rey describes joining Charles Clark’s group that was focused on modeling ultra-cold atoms, and she explains her initial work at NIST.  She explains her decision to take an initial postdoctoral position at NIST before joining ITAMP at Harvard, where she focused on developing improved models to study the behavior of atoms trapped in crystals of light. Rey describes the opportunities that led to her appointments in Colorado, and her subsequent interests in metrology, the quantum advantage, and trapping molecules. She explains how it felt to be named a MacArthur Fellow and why it is important for her to interact with experimentalists in the quest to build better atomic clocks. Rey explains her efforts to create dark matter detectors and how she hopes that her work on quantum matter will help bring about quantum computers.  She provides her perspective on how to advance diversity and inclusivity in the field, and she delineates her research interests as they pertain to basic science and applications. At the end of the interview, Rey conveys optimism that her research will make advances to the broader understanding of the quantum world.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Michael Creutz, Senior Physicist Emeritus at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Creutz surveys where lattice gauge theory is “stuck” and where there are promises for breakthroughs in the field. He recounts his birthplace in Los Alamos, where his father was a physicist, and his upbringing in Pittsburgh and then San Diego. Creutz describes his undergraduate education at Caltech and his graduate research at Stanford, where Sid Drell supervised his work on deep inelastic scattering. He explains his decision to take a postdoctoral position at the University of Maryland, and he discusses becoming involved in lattice gauge theory following his exposure to Ken Wilson’s work on renormalization. Creutz describes Brookhaven’s focus on proton scattering when he joined the Lab, and he explains his work during the discovery of the J/psi. He explains his motivation for writing a textbook on lattices, and the value of ever-more powerful computers for lattice gauge research. Creutz explains his “controversial” approach to staggered fermions, and his work on topology in lattice theory. At the end of the interview, Creutz discusses his current interests in chiral symmetry, he reflects on the burst of intellectual activity at the dawn of lattice gauge theory, and he explains why parity violation in neutrinos continues to confound theorists.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Elaine Oran, Professor of Aerospace Engineering and O’Donnell Foundation Chair at Texas A&M. Oran describes her core interest in fluid dynamics and why aerospace engineering provides an ideal home department for her research. She recounts her childhood in Philadelphia, her early interests in science, and her undergraduate experience at Bryn Mawr. She explains her decision to attend Yale for her graduate work in physics, where she focused on phase transitions, and she explains the opportunities that led to her work at the Naval Research Laboratory. Oran describes her research in laser-matter interactions and the value of the Laboratory for Computational Physics. She discusses her early interests in reactive flows and how this field became broadly applicable across the sciences. Oran describes being in Washington on 9/11 and her involvement in studying the explosions. She discusses her decision to join the faculty at the University of Maryland and her research in fire whirls and she explains her subsequent move to A&M where she was attracted by the interdisciplinary research opportunities. Oran describes her work in numerical simulations and the interplay between theory and experiment in her research. At the end of the interview, Oran emphasizes the importance of spontaneity and an openness to pursue science in unexpected directions.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 30 and August 3, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Sylvester James Gates, Jr., Ford Foundation Professor of Physics and Director of the Theoretical Physics Center at Brown University. Gates discusses his preparations to lead the APS and the value of his service for PCAST for this new role. Gates recounts his family heritage and he discusses his father’s military service and the death of his mother. He explains how his family navigated racist challenges during his upbringing in El Paso and then in Orlando and how he navigated his own intellectual abilities in school. Gates explains his interest in physics in high school and the opportunities that led to his admission at MIT for his undergraduate work. He recounts the many mentors who made a positive impression on him and he explains his realization that his specialty would be at the boundary between math and physics. Gates describes his earliest interactions with string theory and he explains his decision to remain at MIT for his graduate work to work with Jim Young on supersymmetry. He paints a broader picture of supergravity research at this time and the rising importance of computers for this work. Gates describes his postdoctoral research at Harvard as a Junior Fellow, where he worked closely with Warren Siegel, and he describes his decision to join the faculty at MIT after a subsequent postdoctoral position at Caltech. He addresses Shelly Glashow’s criticism of string theory, and he explains his decision to leave MIT for a faculty position at the University of Maryland. Gates reflects on his teaching and mentoring career at Maryland, he describes his time at Howard University, and he discusses the broader issue of diversity in physics and AIP’s TEAM-UP Report. He describes his more recent interests in graph theory and the broader effort to unify gravity with the other forces. Gates reflects on how he became an advisor to President Obama for PCAST and how he worked with John Holdren to translate reports into policy changes. He explains his decision to go emeritus at Maryland and to take a new position at Brown, and why joining the Watson Institute was an attractive part of the offer. Gates reflects on assuming leadership at APS during the twin crises of Covid and racial strife, he surveys the state of string theory and high energy physics, and he explains why supersymmetry might offer a path to understanding dark matter. At the end of the interview, Jim conveys his hope that his work in math will yield deep insights into nature, and he considers the possibility of pursuing an autobiographical project.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Edward F. (Joe) Redish, professor emeritus of physics at the University of Maryland. Redish reflects on the symbiotic nature of his interest in nuclear theory and physics education, and he describes his long collaboration in the latter field of Lillian McDermott. He recounts his childhood on Long Island and his developing interests in math and science. Redish describes his undergraduate education at Princeton where he was mentored by John Wheeler in studying unified electromagnetic fields from a pedagogical perspective. He discusses getting to know Charles Misner at Princeton, and he explains his decision to go to MIT for graduate school, where he conducted his thesis research under the direction of Felix Villars on nuclear reactions using quantum field theory. Redish explains the opportunities leading to his postdoctoral appointment at the Center for Theoretical Physics at Maryland and ultimately his ability to join the faculty and achieve tenure in the physics department there, in recognition of his work in three-body clustering problems. He describes the lengthy intellectual process of switching over entirely to physics education research in the early 1980s and why teaching at a large public university proved to be the ideal pedagogical proving ground for his interests. Redish discusses his entrée to the world of AAPT and what he saw as some of the orthodoxies in the field that were ripe for change, including making the field more student-centric. He describes his current project, NEXUS/Physics, which is an introductory physics for life sciences class that he developed in partnership with biologists, and he explains how this fits with his personal research interests that have delved recently into the biological realm. Redish explains the difficulty in mentoring physics education graduate students because of the expectation of their mastery of both physics and pedagogy, and at the end of the interview, he describes the Resources Framework that he is building as akin to a grand unified theory of physics education.