University of Pennsylvania

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Murdock Gilchriese, Senior Physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. He discusses his contribution to the major project, LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) and the broader search for dark matter, he recounts his parents’ missionary work, and his upbringing in Los Angeles and then in Tucson. Gilchriese describes his early interests in science and his undergraduate experience at the University of Arizona, where he developed is expertise in experimental high energy physics. He discusses his graduate work at SLAC where he worked with Group B headed by David Leith, and he describes his research in hadron spectroscopy. Gilchriese explains his postdoctoral appointment at the University of Pennsylvania sited at Fermilab to do neutrino physics before he accepted his first faculty position at Cornell to help create an e+/e- collider and the CLEO experiment. He discusses the inherent risk of leaving Cornell to work for the SSC project with the central design group, and then as head of the Research Division. Gilchriese describes his subsequent work on the solenoidal detector and his transfer to Berkeley Lab to succeed George Trilling and to join the ATLAS collaboration. He explains the migration of talent and ideas from the SSC to CERN and discusses the research overlap of ATLAS and CMS and how this accelerated the discovery of the Higgs. Gilchriese describes his next interest in getting into cosmology and searching for dark matter as a deep underground science endeavor, and he explains why advances in the field have been so difficult to achieve. At the end of the interview, Gilchriese describes his current work on CMB-S4, his advisory work helping LBNL navigate the pandemic, and he reflects on the key advances in hardware that have pushed experimental physics forward during his career.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Mark Trodden, Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Professor of Physics, and Co-Director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. Trodden describes the overlap between astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology, and he recounts his working-class upbringing in England. He discusses his undergraduate education at Cambridge, where he focused on mathematics, and he explains his decision to switch to physics for graduate school at Brown, where he worked under the direction of Robert Brandenberger. Trodden describes the impact of the COBE program during this time, and he discusses his work on the microphysics of cosmic strings and topological defects and their effect on baryon asymmetry. He explains his decision to return to Cambridge for his postdoctoral research with Anne Davis and his subsequent postdoctoral appointment at MIT to work with Alan Guth. Trodden discusses his next postdoctoral position at Case Western, which he describes as a tremendously productive period, and he discusses the opportunities that led to his first faculty position at Syracuse. He notes the excellent graduate students he worked with at Syracuse, and he explains what is known and not known with regard to the discovery of the accelerating universe. Trodden describes why the theory of cosmic inflation remains outside the bounds of experimental verification, and he explains the decisions that led to his decision to join the faculty at Penn and his subsequent appointment as chair of the department. He discusses the work that Penn Physics, and STEM in general, needs to do to make diversity and inclusivity more of a top-line agenda, and he describes much of the exciting work his current and former graduate students are involved in. At the end of the interview, Trodden looks to the future and offers ideas on how physicists may ultimately come to understand dark energy and dark matter.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Charles Kane, Christopher H. Browne distinguished professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Pennsylvania. Kane surveys the interplay of theory and experiment in condensed matter over the course of his career, and he recounts his childhood in Iowa City, where his father was a professor of civil engineering. He discusses his undergraduate work at the University of Chicago, and the formative influence of Tom Rosenbaum on his interest in theory. Kane describes his graduate research at MIT under the direction of Patrick Lee to focus on mesoscopic physics, and he conveys the excitement surrounding High Tc. He discusses his postdoctoral work at IBM to focus on free-floating theory and he explains the exciting prospect of joining Penn which had a strong condensed matter group. Kane describes Steve Girvin’s role in introducing him to the quantum Hall effect and his key collaboration with Matthew Fischer on calculating electrical conduction when a one-dimensional conductor has a weak link in it. He discusses his subsequent interest in carbon nanotubes and graphene and his realization that graphene should have an energy gap. Kane describes the feeling in winning both the Dirac and Buckley prizes and he discusses advances in the phenomenology of topological insulators. He explains the controversy surrounding Majorana modes and he discusses the recognition by the Breakthrough Prize for his work in topology and symmetry. At the end of the interview, Kane reflects on the growth of his department at Penn and he explains why improved applications of quantum mechanics and improved understanding of quantum mechanics must progress in tandem.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
June 4, June 18, June 30, and July 8, 2020
Location
Video Conference
Abstract

In this interview, Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton, recounts his childhood in Miami and his undergraduate experience at Caltech, where he became interested in theoretical physics and where Feynman played a key influence on his development. He surveys where physics is stuck and compares similar challenges that both string theory and inflation are facing, and he explains his reasons for going to Harvard for his graduate work. Steinhardt describes being a student of Sidney Coleman’s and his focus on gauge theories. He discusses his postgraduate work at IBM Research and as a Junior Fellow at Harvard, and he explains the opportunity that led to his faculty appointment at the University of Pennsylvania. Steinhardt describes his increasing interest in cosmology and the influence of Alan Guth. He explains his dual interest in condensed matter physics and where he saw commonality with his cosmological research. Steinhardt conveys the importance of his collaboration with Dov Levine and he explains why he thinks the notion of a multiverse is nonscientific but not necessarily impossible. He explains his focus on quasicrystals for a time at the exclusion of cosmology, and the circumstances leading to his decision to join the faculty at Princeton which was a central point for research on the cosmic wave background. Steinhardt discusses his work on dark energy and the cosmological constant and his related interactions with Michael Turner. He describes his efforts to link the mystery of the Big Bang with the physics that can be understood after the beginning of the universe, and why the notion of the universe having a clear beginning is problematic. Steinhardt describes his frustration with string theorists who are working on abstract rather than existential research problems, and he surveys the technological advances that could make some of the intractable puzzles in cosmology testable, including the bouncing model of cosmology. He relates an epic story of mineral mining in pursuit of earthly quasicrystals, and at the end of the interview, Steinhardt describes his search for good puzzles as the common thread that connects all of his research. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Paul Chaikin, Silver Professor of Physics at NYU, recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and he describes his early interests in math and science and his education Stuyvesant High School. He discusses his undergraduate education at Caltech, he conveys how special it was to learn from Feynman and Pauling, and he explains the fields that would go on to form his area of specialty, soft matter physics. Chaikin explains his reasoning to pursue a graduate degree with Bob Schrieffer at Penn, where he did his thesis research on the Kondo effect in superconductors. He describes his first postgraduate work at UCLA where he developed an expertise in thermoelectric power, and he describes the intellectual and technological developments that paved the way for the creation of soft matter physics as a distinct field. Chaikin explains what it would take to solve the many-body problem of nonequilibrium phenomena, and he describes the delicate nature of collaborating with biologists while ensuring they don’t overtake the field. He discusses his joint appointment with Penn physics and the research laboratory at Exxon, and he explains his move to Princeton, which was just starting to develop a program in soft matter physics. Chaikin describes the famous experiment that discovered that M&M shapes (ellispoids) provided the most efficient and minimal negative space in packing applications, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at NYU. At the end of the interview, Chaikin reflects on some of the remaining mysteries in the field, and he describes his interest in pursing research on self-assembly among soft condensed matters.  

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with David Weitz, professor of physics and applied physics at Harvard. Weitz recounts his childhood in Ottowa, his decision to pursue an undergraduate education in Waterloo, and a formative summer experience at the Weizmann Institute which convinced him to become a scientist. He describes his graduate work at Harvard, where he worked in Mike Tinkham’s group and where he developed his thesis research on the Josephson effect. He discusses his postgraduate work at the laboratory at Exxon where he developed research on de Gennes soft matter physics. Weitz explains his decision to join the faculty at Penn at a time when the basic science culture at Exxon was coming to a close, and Harvard’s successful effort to recruit him shortly thereafter. He discusses his work as director of the Harvard Materials Research, Science and Engineering Center, how he became interested in biophysics and biomedical engineering and how he pursued entrepreneurial and culinary interests from a soft matter perspective. At the end of the interview, Weitz describes his current motivations in using soft matter physics to advance human health and improve fracking as a key part of the American energy system.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Philip Anfinrud, Senior Biomedical Research Scientist, National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, at the National Institutes of Health. Anfinrud likens his work environment to the “Bell Labs of Biophysics” and he expresses his pride in working with colleagues conducting research at the cutting-edge of their respective fields. He recounts his upbringing in small town North Dakota and how he developed his early interests in atmospheric chemistry. Anfinrud describes the circumstances leading to his graduate work at Berkeley, and how he approached his interests in physics from a physical chemistry perspective. He describes his work with Walter Struve on energy transport and picosecond lasers, and he describes his postdoctoral research with Robin Hochstrasser at the University of Pennsylvania where he worked on infrared spectroscopy on the femtosecond time scale. Anfinrud discusses his first faculty appointment at Harvard, and he describes the process building a laser lab in partnership with Mitsubishi. Anfinrud explains his research on myoglobin and photolysis laser pulses, and he describes his first forays in X-ray radiation and crystallography. He describes his move to the NIH, where he created Laboratory of Ultrafast Biophysical Chemistry. Anfinrud explains the value of NMR spectroscopy to understand protein folding, and he describes how his interests are situated more in the realm of basic science and not clinically-oriented research. He discusses the value of scaling laws in physics as a means for understanding biochemical phenomena, and he describes the numerous ways that the NIH provides an ideal environment for research. At the end of the interview, Anfinrud provides an overview of his current research in time-resolved crystallography and single molecule behavior, and he describes the public health impact of his work on speech droplets as a means of transmitting the coronavirus.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
June 12, 16, 2020
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews William Eaton, NIH Distinguished Investigator and Chief of the Laboratory of Chemical Physics. Eaton recounts his childhood in Philadelphia and he describes his undergraduate and graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned an M.D. a Ph.D. He describes his budding interests in chemical physics during his time in medical school and his formative research at Cambridge, where he worked on protein synthesis. He conveys the serendipity surrounding his decision to join the NIH as a result of his experience with the draft during the Vietnam War. He discusses his offer to head the biophysics program at Harvard, and he explains his decision to remain at NIH. Eaton provides a history of NMR and AIDS research at the NIH, and he describes his research agenda at the NIH, including his seminal work on sickle cell disease and protein folding. At the end of the interview, Eaton reflects on the value of his medical degree over the course of his career.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Douglas Scalapino, Research Professor at UC Santa Barbara. Scalapino recounts his childhood in San Francisco and then Scarsdale, New York, he discusses the circumstances leading to his admission to Yale, and he describes how he settled on physics as an undergraduate after getting to know Professor Larry Biedenharn. Scalapino discusses his graduate research at Stanford, where he worked under the direction of Mitch Weissbluth conducting radiation chemistry using a small linear accelerator to see free radicals created by the electron beam. He describes his burgeoning interests in electronic spin resonance and magnetic resonance. Scalapino explains the circumstances leading to his decision to finish his thesis work with Ed Jaynes at Washington University while working for Kane Engineering. He discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania with Bob Schrieffer and Henry Primakoff. He discusses his work at Bell Labs, where he worked with Phil Anderson, and he describes his first faculty position at Penn. Scalapino describes how UCSB recruited him, and he explains how his hire was part of a broader effort to raise the stature of the physics department. He recounts the virtues of working in a small department, where opportunities were available to collaborate with Bob Sugar and Ray Sawyer on high-energy physics, and Jim Hartle on astrophysics and general relativity. Scalapino describes the origins of the Institute of Theoretical Physics and how the National Science Foundation came to support UCSB’s proposal. He reflects on how the ITP has benefited the department of physics over the years, and he provides an overview of his research agenda at UCSB, which includes his contributions to the quantum Monte Carlo project and high-Tc and unconventional superconductors. At the end of the interview, Scalapino discusses his current interests in the numerical simulation of quantum many body systems.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Charles Zemach, retired from the staff of the Hydrodynamics Group (T3), Theoretical Physics Division at Los Alamos. Zemach recounts his childhood in Manhattan as the son of Jewish immigrants and his experience at Stuyvesant High School. He describes his undergraduate work at Harvard and the influence he felt from Julian Schwinger and George Mackey, and he explains his decision to remain at Harvard for his Ph.D., which he earned under the direction of Roy Glauber. He describes some of the major questions in theoretical particle physics in the early 1950s and the excitement surrounding quantum electrodynamics, and he explains his research on neutron scattering, which grew out of Fermi’s work on simple delta-function interactions twenty years earlier. Zemach discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania, and then at Berkeley, where he describes the relevance of his research on the bootstrap theory that Geoffrey Chew was developing. He describes the series of events leading to his work for the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) in Washington, which Sid Drell encouraged him to pursue because it would allow him to participate in some of the great challenges in nuclear arms control during the Nixon administration. He explains how the ACDA was set up to solidify Kissinger’s control of nuclear policy, and he describes his role in the SALT I and SALT II negotiations. Zemach discusses his subsequent work at Los Alamos, where Harold Agnew recruited him to become leader of the Theoretical Division and where he focused on fluid dynamics as it related to nuclear bomb design. At the end of the interview, Zemach discusses some of his activities in physics since his retirement in 1993, including his ongoing interest in fluid dynamics and his work on river rights in the Santa Fe area.