Astronomy

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Feryal Ozel, professor of astronomy and physics at the University of Arizona. Ozel recounts her childhood and family background in Istanbul and how her interest in science was fostered both at home and at the all-girls international school she attended through 12th grade. She describes the opportunities that led to her enrollment at Columbia University for her undergraduate education, where she majored in physics and applied math and where Jacob Shaham influenced her interest in neutron stars. She describes a formative summer internship at CERN where she worked on supersymmetric decays of the Higgs boson, and a postgraduate year at the Niels Bohr Institute, before she began her graduate work at Harvard. Ozel discusses her thesis research on magnetars under the direction of Ramesh Narayan and she describes her postdoctoral position at the Institute for Advanced Study as a Hubble fellow. She describes the academic and family considerations that made Arizona an attractive option and she explains the mechanics behind funding from NASA and the NSF. Ozel describes her favorite physics classes to teach, how she sees her role as a mentor to women students and students of under-represented groups, and she surveys recent developments in neutron star astrophysics and the interaction of gas and black holes. She discusses her contributions to the Event Horizon collaboration, and she relates her ideas on the significance of seeing a photograph of a black hole without needing observational evidence to know that black holes exist. Ozel describes her motivations in serving in scientific advisory roles and the importance of science communication and how advances in computational power have revolutionized astrophysics. At the end of the interview, Ozel discusses the outstanding question mark about making gravity compatible with how we understand the subatomic world and how this serves as a starting point for future research oriented toward fundamental discovery, and why she is particularly interested in continuing to work on black hole imaging.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Scott Tremaine, emeritus professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Tremaine discusses his current affiliation with the University of Toronto, and he provides a historical overview of the boundaries between astronomy and astrophysics. He recounts his childhood in a town north of Toronto, and he explains his early interests in science. Tremaine describes his undergraduate experience at McMaster, the opportunities that led to his graduate admission to Princeton, and the exciting developments that compelled him to focus his thesis research on astrophysics. He describes his dissertation on the dynamics of galaxies done under the direction of Jerry Ostriker, who at the time was focused on the earliest research on dark matter. Tremaine discusses his postdoctoral term at Caltech where he worked with Jim Gunn and Peter Goldreich, and he explains his decision to take a second postdoctoral position at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge. He describes his appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study, his decision to join the faculty at MIT, and he explains his ongoing research collaboration with Goldreich on studying Saturn's rings. Tremaine describes the intellectual origins of his book, co-authored with James Binney, Galactic Dynamics, and he explains his decision to join the University of Toronto to become the director of CITA. He describes his interests in the origins of comets, his contributions to black hole research, and his appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study. Tremaine discusses his work on exoplanets, and at the end of the interview, he surveys the importance of increasing computational power over the course of his career, the exciting advances that have been made in understanding galaxy development, and why the "three-legged" stool upon which cosmology rests - namely, on inflation, dark matter, and dark energy, is problematic.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Joseph Silk, Homewood Research Professor of Physics at Johns Hopkins, Researcher Emeritus at the Institute of Astrophysics in Paris, and Senior Fellow at the Beecroft Institute for Cosmology and Astro-Particle Physics. Silk recounts his childhood in London as the child of working-class parents, and he describes his early interests in math and his acceptance to Cambridge. He discusses the influence of the fluid dynamicist George Batchelor and the gravitational theorist Denis Sciama, and his decision to pursue graduate work at Manchester before enrolling at Harvard for his PhD research under the direction of David Layzer. Silk describes the revolutionary discovery of the cosmic microwave background and some of the observational advances that were driving the young field of cosmology and galaxy formation. He discusses his postdoctoral appointment with Fred Hoyle back at Cambridge and his next research position working with Lyman Spitzer at Princeton, and with Jerry Ostriker on black holes and pulsars. Silk describes the circumstances leading to his first faculty appointment at Berkeley and the excitement surrounding the high red shift universe, the birth of X-ray astronomy, and he describes Berkeley Laboratory’s gradual emphasis on astrophysics over his 30-year career at UC Berkeley. He discusses his long-term research endeavor to verify the prediction of the Big Bang theory and the incredible results of the COBE project. Silk describes his budding interests in particle astrophysics, which he considers a discipline distinct from astronomy, cosmology and astrophysics, and which grew from cosmic inflation. He describes the import and future prospects of supersymmetry, how his namesake contribution “Silk damping” came about, and he conveys his excitement about moon-based telescopes. Silk draws a distinction between understanding the very beginning of the universe (t = 0) and the tiniest fraction of time after that (t = epsilon) and why an understanding quantum gravity will be necessary to make advances in this field. He discusses the current controversy around the Hubble constant, he describes his decision to transfer from Berkeley to Oxford and how this led to his current slate of affiliations, including his appointment at Johns Hopkins. At the end of the interview, Silk discusses his current interests in the moon telescope project and what the legal ramifications of a permanent moon presence might look like and why, in his popular talks, he finds it important to project a sense of awe about the universe.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 27 and August 18, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Anne Kinney, Deputy Center Director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Kinney recounts her childhood in Wisconsin and her early interests in science. She describes her undergraduate experience at the University of Wisconsin where she pursued degrees in physics and astronomy. Kinney discusses her time in Denmark at the Niels Bohr Institute before completing her graduate work at NYU relating to the International Ultraviolet Explorer. She explains the opportunities leading to her postdoctoral appointment at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore where she focused on obtaining optical data and near-infrared data to understand spectral energy distribution for quasars and blazars. Kinney discusses her work on the aberrated Hubble Telescope and her new job at NASA Headquarters where she became head of Origins before she was transferred to Goddard where she became division direct of the Planetary Division. She describes Goddard’s efforts to promote diversity and she describes her subsequent position as chief scientist at Keck Observatory before returning to Washington to join the National Science Foundation to be head of the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Kinney provides a broad view of the NSF budgetary environment, and she explains the circumstances that led her back to NASA to her current work. She describes where Goddard fits into NASA’s overall mission and she explains her interest in promoting NASA in an educational framework to children. At the end of the interview, Kinney conveys her excitement about the James Webb Telescope and why she is committed to ensuring that NASA is a driver behind the broader effort to make astronomy and physics more diverse.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Roger Blandford, the Luke Blossom Professor at the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University and Professor of Physics at SLAC. He discusses his current work developing alternate understandings of the Event Horizon Telescope image, on fast radio bursts, and on the notion that handedness has astrophysical origins. Blandford describes the history of cosmology as a respectable discipline within physics, and he credits the rise of VLBI in the 1960s and 1970s for demonstrating the evidence of black holes. He recounts his childhood in England, his early interests in science, and his education at Cambridge, where his thesis research on accretion discs and radio sources was supervised by Martin Rees. Blandford discusses his postdoctoral work on astrophysical particle acceleration and plasma and QED processes in pulsars and a formative visit to the Institute for Advanced Study and to Berkeley. He describes his initial impressions of Caltech where he joined the faculty and where he worked closely with Roman Znajek, and he explains the distinctions between radio jets and relativistic jets. Blandford explains his reasons for moving to Stanford to set up the Kavli Institute and he describes his involvement with the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey. At the end of the interview, Blandford contends that the most exciting developments in the field have been on exoplanet research, why the possibilities in astrobiology give him cause for optimism, and why the concept that astronomical discovery arrives as “logically unscripted” resonates with him.

Interviewed by
Steven Dick, David DeVorkin, Ron Doel, and Robert McCutcheon
Interview date
Abstract

Topics discussed include: education and career in astronomy.

Interviewed by
Spencer Weart
Interview date
Location
International Astronomical Union meeting, Montreal, Canada
Abstract

Notes on Shklovskii's origins, education in Moscow, World War II experience, approach to astronomy and teaching, and changes in his lifetime.

Interviewed by
Samantha M. Thompson
Interview date
Location
Lenox, Massachusetts
Abstract

Elske van Panhuys Smith discusses topics including: her childhood in Monaco, Austria, Holland, Venezuela, Costa Rica, and the United States of America; undergraduate education at Radcliffe with Harlow Shapley; marriage to Henry Smith; graduate school in astronomy at Harvard University with Bart Bok; job interviews with Leo Goldberg, Jesse Greenstein, Carnegie Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM), Jack Evans; job offer at Sacramento Peak; reception from graduate professors concerning solar astronomy; family life and children in Alamogordo; High Altitude Observatory; fellowship at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics in Boulder; move to Washington, DC for husband's job offer at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) headquarters; teaching position at the University of Maryland; American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the early years of the Solar Physics Division (SPD); discrimination against women in scence; Ed Dennison; Donald Menze; Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) teaching and administration in the College of Humanities and Science; research at the Naval Observatory and Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

Interviewed by
Spencer Weart
Interview date
Location
Montreal, Canada
Abstract

Transcription of dictation using notes made at a short interview, not tape-recorded, during an IAU meeting. Novikov's early interest in astronomy, and training with Livshitz and Zeldovitch. Functioning of Zeldovitch's group and their outside contacts. Views on evolution of our ideas in cosmology, on current cosmological questions, and on the nature of cosmology.

Interviewed by
David Edge
Interview date
Location
Cambridge, England
Abstract

Career in astronomy beginning with early work in the radio astronomy group at University of Cambridge in 1951. Scheuer's work in cosmology and radio source counts; the 2C survey controversy and the P(D) paper. Scheuer's work outside Cambridge. Change from experimental to theoretical work; the theoretical group at Cambridge and new discoveries; astronomers outside of Cambridge; comparison of astronomy at Cambridge and Jodrell Bank.