University of Washington

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Laurence Yaffe, chair of the department of physics at the University of Washington. Yaffe recounts his childhood in northern California and his early interests in science and the influence of his mother, who was a chemist. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Caltech, where he became absorbed in physics even as he continued in his major in chemistry. Yaffe explains his graduate offer from John Wheeler to pursue a Ph.D. in physics at Princeton. He describes the intellectual benefits of going back and forth between the Institute and the department, and he discusses his relationship with his graduate advisor, David Gross. Yaffe explains why he believes string theory should continue to be pursued, particularly in light of developments related to AdS/CFT duality. He describes his decision to return to Caltech for his postdoctoral research, and he recounts his considerations with competing faculty offers from Caltech and Princeton. Yaffe discusses his early faculty career at Princeton and his work on quark and lepton masses and the large-N limit of QCD or Yang-Mills theory. He describes the events leading to his decision to join the faculty at UW and his ongoing interests in QCD. Yaffe explains the evolution of quantum field theory over the course of his career, and he describes how advances in computers have revolutionized theory. He discusses some of the challenges inherent in the current state of the field, and he discusses his advisory work for the Department of Energy. At the end of the interview, Yaffe reflects on the overall and historic excellence of the department of physics at UW, and he explains why he will remain interested in quantum entanglement for the foreseeable future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Wick Haxton, professor of physics at UC Berkeley. Haxton recounts his childhood in Santa Cruz and his early interests in math and science. He describes his undergraduate education at the newly created UC Santa Cruz where his initial interest was in mathematics before he was given the advice that he did “mathematics like a physicist.” Haxton discusses his graduate work at Stanford where his original intent was to study general relativity before he connected with Dirk Walecka and Bill Donnelly to focus on nuclear theory and dense nuclear matter. He discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Mainz where he concentrated on photo-pion physics during the early days of chiral perturbation theory, and he explains the opportunities that led to his next appointment at the LAMPF facility at Los Alamos. Haxton emphasizes the excellence of both his colleagues and the computational capacity at the Lab, and he describes his faculty appointment at Purdue and the solar neutrino experiment he contributed to in Colorado. He explains the opportunities that led to him joining the faculty at the University of Washington where the DOE was about to fund the Institute for Nuclear Theory. Haxton explains the “breakup” between nuclear theory and particle theory and how the INT addressed that. Haxton discusses the opportunities afforded at the INT to engage in nuclear astrophysics and he explains the rise and fall of the Homestake DUSEL project. He explains his decision to go emeritus at UW and to join the faculty at UC Berkeley and to be dual hatted at the Berkeley Lab, and he describes his tenure as department chair. At the end of the interview, Haxton describes his current work organizing the new Physics Frontier Center and the challenges presented by the pandemic, and he credits his formative time as Los Alamos for the diverse research agenda he has pursued throughout his career.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Ruth Van de Water, Scientist I at Fermilab. She explains the hierarchical system at the lab to explain her title and she recounts her childhood in Northern Virginia. Van de Water describes her undergraduate experience at William & Mary where she developed an interest in physics and was mentored by David Armstrong, and she describes the considerations that led to her admission to the graduate program at the University of Washington. She discusses her early involvement in the Atlas program and her thesis research that focused on computational and numerical physics and lattice QCD. Van de Water discusses her postdoctoral work at Fermilab, and she describes the state of play regarding the Tevatron and the D0 and CDF collaborations. She describes her ongoing work in lattice QCD research and the opportunity that led to her second postdoctoral position at Brookhaven, where she pursued a new approach to discretizing quarks. Van de Water describes Fermilab “poaching” her back to work on quark flavor physics and become involved in the G-2 experiment. She discusses the negative impact on a decreased budget, and her current leave from Fermilab to be a visiting professor at North Central College, and she shares that she is conflicted about continuing on a strictly research path and focusing more directly on teaching. At the end of the interview, Van de Water discusses the impact of #ShutdownSTEM and the issue of inclusivity in physics and why solutions to under-representation are not easily achievable. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Joshua Frieman, head of the Particle Physics Division at Fermilab, and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago. He recounts his childhood in Princeton as the son of a physicist and his decision to attend Stanford as an undergraduate, where his interests in cosmology developed. Frieman explains that his options for graduate research in cosmology were narrow and his reasons for going to the University of Washington to work with Jim Bardeen before moving to Chicago to be Michael Turner’s first graduate student. He discusses his interest in approaching cosmology from the perspective of particle theory and his thesis focus on curved space time within a cosmological context. Frieman describes his postdoctoral work at SLAC and his first position at Fermilab in the theory group that Dave Schramm had started. He discusses his work on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and then the Dark Energy Survey. Frieman explains what might be needed to understand dark energy, he describes his appointment at Chicago, and he explains the origins of the Magellan Telescopes project. He discusses the value of the Aspen summer sessions and his involvement with P5, and explains the value of the 2010 Decadal Survey. At the end of the interview, Frieman surveys the current slate of project at Fermilab and emphasizes the value of incorporating cosmological perspectives to high-energy and particle physics. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Philip Phillips, Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Phillips recounts his early childhood in Tobago and the circumstances of his family’s move to Washington State. He conveys his bemusement at having no degree in physics, as his graduate work at the University of Washington was in chemistry, where he completed a PhD on fluorescence lifetimes in single molecules under the direction of Ernest Davidson, and where David Boulware provided the intellectual entrée to physics. Phillips explains the opportunities that allowed him to pursue postdoctoral work at Berkeley and learning RG from Orlando Alvarez. He describes his first faculty position in the chemistry department at MIT, some of the research challenges given that his primary interests were in physics, and his feeling that MIT was at the time not a very inclusive atmosphere. Phillips discusses his work on the random dimer model and the happenstance opportunity that led to his faculty appointment at Illinois. He explains getting involved with the National Society of Black Physicists and his efforts to make the department more diverse. Phillips describes the research that was recognized by the Edward Bouchet award and why Tony Leggett is among the few physicists who truly understands Mottness. He discusses advances in strongly coupled electron systems and he explains why he dislikes the term condensed matter and prefers solid-state. Phillips reflects on STEM’s response to the racial strife over the past year, and he discusses his current interests in pseudogaps. At the end of the interview, Phillips conveys his dream to solve the Hubbard model and to make advances in high-Tc research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Kevin Lesko, Senior Physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and former Spokesperson for LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ), an international collaboration searching for dark matter. Lesko explains why so many different kinds of physicists are involved in dark matter searches and how theorists have provided guidance for experimental and observational work to understand dark matter. He recounts his upbringing in northern California, the scientific influence of his parents and older siblings, and his decision to attend Stanford, where he worked on a tandem Van De Graaff in the nuclear physics lab. Lesko discusses his graduate work at the University of Washington, where he worked under the direction of Bob Vandenbosch on nuclear fission research, and he describes his postdoctoral appointment at Argonne, where he pursued experiments in nuclear fusion and neutrino physics. He explains his decision to join the staff at Berkeley Lab and how his interests centered increasingly on astrophysics with the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory. Lesko discusses his collaborations in Japan and KamLAND’s discovery of the absolute measurement of neutrino oscillations and the origins of the Homestake collaboration. He describes the transition of support for Homestake from the NSF to the DOE and he explains his entrée to the LUX collaboration and the reasons for the merger with ZEPLIN. Lesko explains how LZ needs to be ready to detect dark matter either as a singularity or is comprised of multiple components, and he considers what it might look like for dark matter to be detected. He recounts LZ’s success in ruling out dark matter candidates and he reflects on LBNL serving as a home base while his collaborative research has always been far-flung. At the end of the interview, Lesko considers what we have learned about the universe as a result of LZ, and why mystery and curiosity will continue to drive the field forward.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Robert Cahn, Senior Scientist Emeritus at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Cahn recounts his childhood in the San Francisco area, and he describes his early interests in math and science, and he describes his undergraduate experience at Harvard, where he was influenced by Dan Kleppner and Ed Purcell. Cahn describes his summer internship at SLAC, and his travel experiences in Europe after graduating. He describes his decision to pursue graduate work at Berkeley and he explains the political tumult that had convulsed the campus in the late 1960s. Cahn discusses his work with Dave Jackson on Regge theory and his postdoctoral work at SLAC, which was focused on quark research. Cahn describes his work at the University of Washington, where he collaborated with Lowell Brown, and he explains his decision to join the physics faculty at University of Michigan, where he collaborated on several projects with Gordy Kane and where he became interested in parity violation in atoms. Cahn explains his decision to move to UC Davis, and he describes the opportunity at LBL that presented itself shortly thereafter. Cahn describes the way LBL has been integrated with the physics department at Berkeley, and he discusses his tenure as Director of the Physics division. At the end of the interview, Cahn describes LBL’s increasing involvement in cosmology, the fundamental discoveries that have been made over the course of his career, and he considers some of the philosophical or metaphysical issues that arise in investigating how the universe works.

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
video conference
Abstract

Christopher Stubbs, professor of physics and Dean of Sciences within the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, is interviewed by David Zierler. Stubbs recounts his life moving around as the son of a U.S. Foreign Service officer and the decisions that led his mother, as a single parent, to move to Iran where he attended high school. He explains the circumstances that led to his enrollment at the University of Virginia for college and his clear decision to focus on experimentation and the considerations that led to his graduate work at the University of Washington. Stubbs describes the excitement surrounding Ephraim Fischbach’s work on the Fifth Force, and working under the direction of Eric Adelberger on signal noise calculation for a torsion pendulum experiment. He conveys what it felt like to be at the center of research so fundamental that it was fair to ask, “was Einstein right?” Stubbs explains how a talk by Michael Turner motivated him to pursue dark matter research as a postdoc at the Center for Particle Astrophysics at Berkeley, where he pursued research in optical wavelength observational astronomy. He describes his first faculty appointment at UC Santa Barbara where he worked on the MACHO project, and the financial constraints that led to his decision to accept a tenured offer back at the University of Washington. Stubbs discusses his research on supernova cosmology projects and his happiness at being in Seattle, and he explains the pull that led him to accept a faculty offer at Harvard. He describes his work as department chair, he deflates the myth of the bottomless money well that is Harvard’s endowment, and he describes his shortcomings as chair in promoting diversity in the department while emphasizing the importance of this work in his capacity as Dean. Stubbs describes the circumstances that led to him becoming Dean, and he surveys some of the key challenges he has encountered in this role. He explains how he has been able to maintain a research agenda, and he reflects on his accomplishments as an undergraduate teacher and graduate mentor. At the end of the interview, in surmising his post-Dean life as a full time physics professor, Stubbs points to the need for a more complete intellectual framework of physics that is based on astronomical data as a broad-scale method to pursue the kind of research he hopes to accomplish.

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews George Wallerstein, Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington. Wallerstein recounts his childhood in Manhattan and he describes how the atomic attacks on Japan fostered his interest in science as a teenager. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Brown University where he pursued his interests in astronomy and in some of the philosophical underpinnings of physics. Wallerstein describes his graduate work at Caltech, at a time when the Astronomy department was only five years old, and where he focused on the origins of elements in star formation and the spectra of type II Cepheids. Wallerstein discusses his postdoctoral research at Berkeley and subsequent promotion to the faculty there, and he explains the advances made possible with the advent of digital detectors in the mid-1980s which replaced photographic analysis of high-dispersion spectra. He describes the opportunity leading to his tenure at the University of Washington, and he explains the significance of his work on G dwarf stars and the utility of the Hubble Space Telescope to investigate interstellar lines in supernova remnants. At the end of the interview, Wallerstein surveys some of the key advances to which he has contributed over the course of his career, including infrared astronomy and star positioning.