Wellesley College

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
February 18 and April 26, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Nergis Mavalvala, Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor of Physics and Dean of the School of Science at MIT. Mavalvala surveys her administrative focus as Dean in a time of the pandemic, and to foster inter-departmental research. Mavalvala recounts her childhood in Karachi, Pakistan, and her Zoroastrian heritage, and she explains the opportunities that led to her coming to the United States where she pursued her undergraduate education at Wellesley and she developed her skills in experimental physics and in the machine shop. She describes her decision to attend MIT for graduate school, and she narrates meeting Rai Weiss and her involvement in the LIGO project. Mavalvala describes coming to understand her queer identity in graduate school and her understanding of the complex arrangement between Caltech, NSF, MIT and the detector sites in Washington state and Louisiana. She discusses her postdoctoral position with the LIGO group at Caltech and her focus on mirror interferometry and Caltech’s support in securing her green card. She explains her decision to return to MIT to join the faculty and the transition to Advanced LIGO. Mavalvala narrates the excitement and moment of LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves, and she explains what it means to detect them and the broader technical, theoretical and astrophysical significance of this achievement. She describes the careful analysis to confirm that data and the excitement surrounding the announcement, and she discusses the generosity in the way that Kip Thorne, Barry Barish, and Rai Weiss accepted the Nobel Prize. Mavalvala emphasizes all of the applied scientific discovery achieved through the creation of the LIGO instrumentation, and she talks about her work as a professor and mentor to graduate students. She explains her decision in accepting the dean position and how she maintained an active research agenda. At the end of the interview, Mavalvala describes all of the fundamental discovery that can be made as the LIGO collaboration charts its future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Persis Drell, James and Anna Marie Spilker Professor in the School of Engineering, Provost of Stanford, and former Director of SLAC. Drell recounts her childhood as the daughter of the eminent physicist Sid Drell and what it was like to grow up in this milieu, and she emphasizes her lack of interest in physics as a child. She explains her decision to attend Wellesley for her undergraduate education, and she describes the benefits she felt she gained in attending a woman's college where Professor Phyllis Fleming turned her on to physics. Drell discusses her graduate work at Berkeley, where her key mentors were Gene Commins, Dave Jackson, and George Trilling and where she developed her thesis research on systematic errors that could cause false asymmetries. She describes her postgraduate work at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory where she switched to high-energy experimental physics and began her work at SLAC. Drell describes the changing culture at SLAC in the 1980s and 1990s, and the structural changes that compelled the Lab to branch out to new scientific pursuits. She discusses her decision to join the faculty at Cornell where she focused on data analysis for the CLEO particle detector and Cornell Electron-positron Storage Ring (CESR) projects, and conveys the supportive culture of Cornell.  Drell describes the circumstances that compelled her to return to SLAC as director of research. She discusses the increasing importance of astrophysics and the B factory to SLAC's research agenda and the strategic challenges facing the Gamma-ray Space Telescope project. Drell explains the considerations leading to her being named lab director and some of the structural challenges in managing the relationship between SLAC and the Department of Energy (DOE). She describes the technical triumph of the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) and the opportunities for better integration of SLAC with Stanford proper during her tenure, and she explains her decision to become dean of engineering at Stanford and then provost. Drell describes her most important responsibilities as provost, and at the end of the interview, she reviews some of the fundamental challenges that Stanford is facing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and explains why, despite these challenges, students should feel optimistic about the future. 

Interviewed by
Katherine Sopka
Interview date
Location
Wellesley, Massachusetts
Abstract

Family background, education, and emergence of scientific orientation. Undergraduate years at Wellesley College (1912-1916); description of physics department. Assistant examiner in U.S. Patent Office during World War I. At MIT under E.B. Wilson as graduate student and laboratory assistant, then lab instructor (1920-24). Returned to MIT for doctoral work in 1928. Mathematical physics thesis under Norbert Wiener, while teaching at Wellesley. Depression years brought teaching position at Wilson College (1930-43), used Wellesley as model. Work on Zeeman Pattern earns her Guggenheim Fellowship (1949-50) at MIT and European labs. World War II years as head of OSRD British Report Section. Returned to Wilson (1945-56), worked part-time at National Science Foundation (1953-56). Retirement years including affiliation with U.S. Army and spectroscopic work at Harvard College Observatory. Comments on women in physics in U.S., her own opportunities, and teaching in general.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Smithsonian, Washington, D. C.
Abstract

In this interview, Andrea Dupree discusses topics such as: her family background and childhood; doing her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College; Janet Guernsey; C. P. Snow; becoming interested in astronomy; what is was like being a woman and fitting into the physics profession and dealing with gender inequality; Sarah Hill; Allan Sandage; Hans Bethe; Phil Morrison; Otto Struve; going to the Royal Greenwich Observatory for a summer; Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin; Dorrit Hoffleit; variable star fields; deciding to go to Berkeley for graduate school; Ivan King; Hyron Spinrad; Lick Observatory; coming back to Harvard University after a year; George Wallerstein; William Liller; Leo Goldberg; her affiliation with the American Astronomical Society (AAS); Don Osterbrock; Simon "Pete" Worden; Owen Chamberlain; Alex Dalgarno; Harvard College Observatory; Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Ed Lilley; solar physics; ionization rates; Herb Friedman; Dick Tousey; Henry Smith; stellar atmospheres; Fred Whipple; Donald Menzel; Margaret Burbidge; orbiting solar observatories (OSO); Skylab program; Lyman Spitzer; Robert Noyes; Henry Norris Russell; International Astronomical Union (IAU); National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); George Field; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO); Eric Chaisson; Jesse Greenstein; Celescope.

Interviewed by
Katherine Sopka
Interview date
Location
Wellesley, Massachusetts
Abstract

In this interview, Alice Armstrong discusses: her family and childhood; her time at Wellesley College; her work at the Bureau of Standards radiation lab, inlcuding the radiation standard and her first radiation accident; her time at Radcliffe College; x-ray induced illness; and her interactions with Marie Curie, P. W. Bridgman, O. D. Kellogg, William Duane, Emory Leon Chaffee, Theodore Lyman, and Robert Havighurst.

Interviewed by
Orville Butler
Interview date
Location
Austin, Texas
Abstract

In this interview, Betsy Ancker-Johnson:, a solid state physicist, discusses such topics as: her family background and early education; her undergraduate work at Wellesley College; Hedwig Kohn; Lise Meitner; her graduate work in Germany at Tubingen University; Donald Menzel; Walther Kossel; measuring lattice constants of zinc and zinc crystals; Charles Kittel; the Minerals Research Laboratory (MRL) at University of California, Berkeley; George Gamow; working in microwave electronics at Stanford University in the Sylvania Microwave Physics Laboratory; her work at the Radio Corporation of America (RCA); L. S. Nergaard; zeolites; working with hot electrons with Maurice Glicksman; Boeing Scientific Reseach Laboratories (BSRL) and plasma physics; Jim Drummond; speaking at the Lebedev Institute; Ivar Gunn; Glen Keister; President Nixon asking her to be the Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology in the U. S. Department of Commerce; women in physics; National Bureau of Standards; trying to switch to the metric system; Dixie Lee Ray; Fred Dent; working at Argonne National Laboratories; becoming a vice president at General Motors; and Elmer W. Johnson.

Interviewed by
Katherine Sopka
Interview date
Abstract

Mildred Allen was born in Massachusetts in 1894, the elder of two daughters of an MIT professor of civil engineering who had met her mother while working in New Mexico. She graduated from Vassar College in 1916 with training in mathematics and physics. Her Ph.D. in physics (1922) was granted by Clark University where she studied with A. G. Webster, but her thesis research was one at MIT. She taught at Mt. Holyoke, Wellesley and Oberlin Colleges during the 1920s and early 30s, as well as studying further at the University of Chicago and Yale. She did research at the Bartol Foundation, 1927-30, and at Harvard University, 1931-33. She then taught at Mt. Holyoke from 1933 until her retirement in 1959. Since then she has done additional research, most recently (paper published 1971) on the behavior of torsion pendulums especially during solar eclipses.