Galaxies

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Edmund Bertschinger, professor of physics at MIT. Bertschinger recounts his childhood in California and he describes how his natural curiosities developed into academic talents in math and science. He describes his undergraduate work at Caltech where he became interested in radio astronomy. Bertschinger describes his decision to pursue a Ph.D. under the direction of Arno Penzias at Princeton, and he explains the formative influence of Steve Weinberg’s book The First Three Minutes. He describes how he came to work with Jerry Ostriker on galaxy formation. Bertschinger describes some of the administrative decisions that defined where cosmology and astrophysics were studied at Princeton. He explains how he developed his interest in social issues including nuclear disarmament, and why he initially pursued a career at the State Department. Bertschinger discusses his postdoctoral work at the University of Virginia with Roger Chevalier and his next postdoctoral position at Berkeley where he worked with Chris McKee. He explains the importance of charge-coupled device detectors as a key technology advance for astronomy, and he describes the circumstances leading to his decision to join the faculty at MIT. Bertschinger recounts how his social interests had became increasingly focused on gender issues and how, in his view, the toxic masculinity that pervaded cosmology pushed him further and further from the field. He describes his ongoing interest in nuclear and social issues, and at the end of the interview, Bertschinger explains that he has been fortunate to have been able to shift his current research interests while remaining within the physics department. 

Interviewed by
Alan Lightman
Interview date
Location
Berkeley, California
Abstract

In this interview Joseph Silk discusses topics such as: influence of Boy Scouts in childhood; family background; high school education; early interest in mathematics; coaching by high school math teacher; math at Cambridge; influence of Dennis Sciama at Cambridge and decision to go into astronomy; fellow students at Harvard; character of Harvard astronomy department in the 1960s; David Layzer's opposition to the standard big bang model; first interest in the problem of galaxy formation and the union of hydrodynamics, radiative transfer, and cosmology at Woods Hole in summer of 1967; influence of Richard Michie; thesis work on interaction of matter and radiation in galaxy formation; ignorance about the first second of the universe and the origin of the primordial fluctuations; history of the growing confidence in the meaning of the cosmic background radiation; the philosophy of simplicity in physics; the role of the cosmic background rdiation in testing theories of galaxy formation; history of the horizon problem and Silk's attitude toward that problem; change in attitude as a result of the inflationary universe model; attitude toward the inflationary universe model; reasons why the model has become so popular; first introduction to and attitude toward the flatness problem; Silk's acceptance of appropriate initial conditions as explanations of cosmological problems; attitude toward the missing mass required by inflation; reaction to de Lapparent, Geller, and Huchra's work on inhomogeneities; ignorance of nature of inhomogeneities on scales betwen 20 megaparsecs and 2000 megaparsecs; worry over large-scale velocity fields and reported anistropies in the cosmic background radiation as challenges to standard models for the origin of fluctuations; importance of reported distortions in the spectrum of the cosmic background radiation (CBR) and difficulties of explaining such distortions if true; outstanding problems in cosmology: distortions in the CBR, galaxy formation, suitable initial conditions, satisfactory theory of inflation, value of omega; importance of metaphors and good verbal descriptions in scientific communication; interplay of theory and observation in cosmology; ideal design of the universe; question of whether the universe has a point.

Interviewed by
Alan Lightman
Interview date
Location
Princeton, New Jersey
Abstract

Edwin Turner discusses his childhood experiences looking up at the stars; background of parents; encouragement and support of parents; early interest in science fiction and in history; childhood fascination with the scale of the universe; education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); influence of Philip Morrison and Irwin Shapiro at MIT; preference for an open universe; dislike of missing mass that is invisible; scientific interests at MIT; graduate education at California Institute of Technology (Caltech); influence of Wallace Sargent; dislike of problem-set approach to education at Caltech; thesis work on dynamics of binary galaxies; influence of Ostriker-Peebles-Yahil work on dark matter and massive haloes in galaxies on Turner's observational thesis to measure masses of galaxies; interaction with Allan Sandage on philosophy of experimental science; Turner's surprise at finding dark matter in galaxies; community reaction to dark matter in 1975; continued belief in an open universe despite dark matter; history of N-body work on structure formation and correlation functions: influence of lecture by James Peebles, history of collaboration with Richard Gott and Sverre Aarseth; inability to measure omega by comparing N-body simulations with observations; reaction to inflationary universe model; reasons why the inflationary universe model has been so popular; Turner's reservations about the model; doing scientific projects because they can be done; introduction to and attitude toward the flatness problem; change in attitude after inflationary universe model; surprise at de Lapparent, Geller, and Huchra's results on large-scale inhomogeneities and its evidence for unknown processes: irrelevance of earlier work on correlation functions and lessening of Turner's expectations for what can be accomplished in cosmology; fear that cosmologists are heading in the wrong direction and underestimating the complexity of reality; use of imagery in science; interplay of theory and observation in cosmology and the divergence of the two; worry that we may have several untestable scenarios for the early universe; possible inability to reconstruct the history of the early universe; ideal design of the universe and desire for a rich and accessible universe; question of whether the universe has a point.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Campbell Hall, Berkeley, California
Abstract

Early life in New York and California, and decision to do undergraduate work in astronomy at University of California at Berkeley. Decision during army service, 1955-1957, on a career in astronomy; return to Berkeley, 1957, for graduate work. Professional career: work at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), 1961-1964; return to Berkeley as professor in 1964, and research in galaxy-related problems. General problems in cosmology. Also prominently mentioned are: Wilhelm Heinrich Walter Baade, Jerry Brown, Armin Deutsch, Jesse Leonard Greenstein, Louis Henyey, Alfred H. Joy, Lou Kaplan, Richard Kron, Gerard Peter Kuiper, Nicholas Ulrich Mayall, Rudolph Leo Bernhard Minkowski, William Wilson Morgan, Guido Münch, George Preston, Ronald Reagan, Allan Sandage, Emanuel B. Spinrad, Bengt Georg Daniel Strömgren, Otto Struve, George Wallerston, Joe Wampler, Harold Weaver, Albert Edward Whitford; California Institute of Technology, Hayden Planetarium, International Astronomical Union, Lick Observatory, San Diego State University, Sky and Telescope, United States Army Map Service, and Yale Conference on Cosmology (1977).

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Van Vleck Observatory, Wesleyan University, Middleton, Connecticut
Abstract

Interview covers early education in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. and early interests in astronomy and science; early contact with H. Luyten (1940); graduate school at the University of Michigan and continuation of graduate work at Case; Jason Nassau and galactic structure; research positions at Swarthmore and the Naval Observatory; move to Wesleyan, 1966; teaching and astrometric research; the FAR: Fund for Astrophysical Research; the restoration of Clark telescopes; influential astronomers: W. Luyten, P.van de Kamp, K.A. Strand, S. McCuskey, Bart Bok; professional conditions at Wesleyan.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Yale University Observatory
Abstract

Covers the origins and development of a conference on the evolution of galaxies held at Yale University in 1977 and organized by a committee chaired by B. Tinsley. The topics discussed at the conference and their implications for cosmology are covered, as well as indications of problems yet to be solved. Also prominently mentioned are: Wilhelm Heinrich Walter Baade, Pierre Demarque, Sandra Faber, George Brooks Field, Ken Freeman, Ivan Robert King, Richard Kron, Richard Larson, R. D. McClure, Jeremiah P. Ostriker, Martin J. Rees, Edwin Ernest Salpeter, Allan Sandage, Wallace Leslie William Sargent, Gerard Henri de Vaucouleurs; Kitt Peak National Observatory, and Yale Conference on Cosmology (1977).

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D. C.
Abstract

After surveying Martin Harwit's family background and early education, the interview concentrates on: his graduate education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; his career in physics at Cambridge Unviersity as a NATO Fellow; his time at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) as a National Science Foundation Fellow; and, principally, his work at Cornell as assistant and associate professor of astronomoy, professor, and chairman of the Physics department.  While discussing his childhood and education, Harwit addresses the antisemitism he and his family faced in German and in the United States.  This interview covers a broad range of his scientific interest: galaxy and star formations; comets; infrared optics, especially relating to detector technology; infrared astronomy; rocketry; history of philosophy in science; use of balloons in observation; and astronomy education.  Some affliliations discussed include:  John Decker, Herbert Friedman, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D. C.
Abstract

After surveying Martin Harwit's family background and early education, the interview concentrates on: his graduate education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; his career in physics at Cambridge Unviersity as a NATO Fellow; his time at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) as a National Science Foundation Fellow; and, principally, his work at Cornell as assistant and associate professor of astronomoy, professor, and chairman of the Physics department.  While discussing his childhood and education, Harwit addresses the antisemitism he and his family faced in German and in the United States.  This interview covers a broad range of his scientific interest: galaxy and star formations; comets; infrared optics, especially relating to detector technology; infrared astronomy; rocketry; history of philosophy in science; use of balloons in observation; and astronomy education.  Some affliliations discussed include:  John Decker, Herbert Friedman, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D. C.
Abstract

After surveying Martin Harwit's family background and early education, the interview concentrates on: his graduate education at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; his career in physics at Cambridge Unviersity as a NATO Fellow; his time at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) as a National Science Foundation Fellow; and, principally, his work at Cornell as assistant and associate professor of astronomoy, professor, and chairman of the Physics department.  While discussing his childhood and education, Harwit addresses the antisemitism he and his family faced in German and in the United States.  This interview covers a broad range of his scientific interest: galaxy and star formations; comets; infrared optics, especially relating to detector technology; infrared astronomy; rocketry; history of philosophy in science; use of balloons in observation; and astronomy education.  Some affliliations discussed include:  John Decker, Herbert Friedman, Thomas Gold, and Fred Hoyle.

Interviewed by
Alan Lightman
Interview date
Location
Monte Sereno, California
Abstract

Interview covers Sandra Faber's childhood experiences; parental background; early reading; early preference for steady state model; relationship between questions and answers in science; confusion over being a woman and being a scientist; lack of female role models in science; education at Swarthmore and the influence of Sarah Lee Lippincott there; graduate work at Harvard; husband's job; graduate work at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism; influence of Vera Rubin; early results of dark matter by Morton Roberts in the late 1960s; thesis work on photometric studies of elliptical galaxies; community's attitude toward excess mass in rotation curves in the late 1960s; motivation for work on the Faber-Jackson relationship between luminosity and velocity dispersion; motivation for work with the Seven Samurai (Burstein, Davies, Dressler, Faber, Lynden-Bell, Terlevich, and Wegner) on peculiar velocities; attitude of the community toward the Seven Samurai work on peculiar velocities; attitude toward the big bang assumption of homogeneity; attitudes toward the horizon problem, the inflationary universe model, missing matter, the flatness problem; discussion of what types of problems can be addressed in cosmology; attitude toward Center for Astrophysics (CfA) red shift surveys by de Lapparent, Margaret Geller, and John Huchra; importance of understanding how large-scale structure is formed; issues of gender in science and the experience of being a woman in science; the ideal design of the universe; the question of whether the universe has a point.