Radio astronomy

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Phillip James Edwin Peebles, Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus, at Princeton University. Peebles describes his enjoyment in pursuing the issues in cosmology that are most interesting to him in retirement and he explains his appreciation for the importance of taking a sociological perspective to science. He describes his first exposure to cosmology as a field to specialize in during graduate school and he surveys some of the experiments and observational advances that have propelled theoretical cosmology. Peebles recounts his childhood in Manitoba, and he discusses his undergraduate education at the University of Manitoba. He describes arriving at Princeton in 1958 and how he became a student of Bob Dicke's. Peebles discusses his thesis research on the possibility that the fine-structure constant might be evolving. He describes staying at (and never leaving) Princeton for his postdoctoral work, and some of the exciting promises of infrared astronomy and radio astronomy. Peebles conveys the simple process of joining the faculty, and he describes the developments leading to the prediction of the cosmic microwave background. He discusses the trend of particle theorists pursuing questions in cosmology, and he reflects on the impact of the Vietnam era on Princeton. Peebles conveys the significance of the introduction of cold dark matter and his perspective on the inflationary theory of the universe. He explains why LambdaCDM has become standard in the field and why COBE was so important. Peebles surveys the many observational projects that are currently being planned, and he reflects on the "buzz" that he felt in advance of winning the Nobel Prize. He describes how his life has been affected by this honor, and he reflects on how the Department of Physics has changed over the course of his long career. At the end of the interview, Peebles emphasizes his interest in remaining close both to theory and experimentation, and he shares his sense of curiosity at what clues might be found from the epoch of light element production in the very early universe.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Alan Rogers, Research Affiliate and retired as Associate Director of the MIT Haystack Observatory. Rogers discusses his current work on the EDGES project and he suggests the possibility that this research will yield insights on the nature of dark energy. He recounts the circumstances of his birth in Rhodesia and the opportunities that led his family to the United States. Rogers discusses his education at MIT, his interest in radio astronomy, and his research under the direction of Alan Barrett. He narrates the origins of Very Long Baseline Interferometry and its application at the Haystack Observatory. Rogers explains geodesy and why the Mansfield Amendment changed the funding structure at Haystack. He describes becoming Associate Director of Haystack and how he became involved in cell phone infrastructure projects in the 1990s. Rogers explains how EDGES started, its value for measuring ozone concentrations, and he discusses his work for the Event Horizon Telescope. He explains his research contributions for the discovery of hydrogen in the early, cold universe and the value he places on the SRT telescope for educational purposes. At the end of the interview, Rogers explains his desire to expand understanding of low-frequency arrays, particularly in the SKA.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Sheperd Doeleman, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, founding member of the Black Hole Initiative, and founding director of the Event Horizon Telescope. He surveys his global initiatives and his interest in fostering black hole research in Africa and he describes how the pandemic has slowed down his work. Doeleman affirms that he is of the generation for which black holes were always “real” and not theoretical abstractions, and he provides a history of the discovery that supermassive black holes were at the center of galaxies. He reflects on the applied science that was achieved in the course of creating EHT, and he describes the unique values that land and space-based telescopes offer. Doeleman recounts his childhood in Oregon and his admission to Reed College when he was fifteen. He explains his motivations in completing a solo research mission in Antarctica and he describes the opportunities that led to his graduate research at MIT, where he worked with Alan Rogers at the Haystack Observatory on the 3mm VLBI. Doeleman narrates the technical advances that allowed his team to achieve an eight-fold increase in bandwidth, and he describes the EHT’s administrative origins and the events leading to the measurement of the Sagittarius A* black hole. He describes what it meant to image the black hole, and he conveys the deep care and caution that went into the analysis before EHT was ready to publicize its findings. Doeleman discusses winning the Breakthrough Prize as the public face of a large collaboration, and at the end of the interview, he considers the ways that EHT’s achievement can serve as a launchpad to future discovery.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Joseph Taylor, the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Princeton University, recounts his upbringing in and around Philadelphia, and the centrality of Quakerism throughout his childhood. He describes his undergraduate experience at Haverford, where he developed his interest in physics and in experimental radio astronomy specifically. Taylor discusses his graduate work at Harvard, and why the mid-1960s was an exciting time for radio astronomy, and he describes his thesis research under the direction of Alan Maxwell on observing radio galaxies and quasars to create two-dimensional maps. Taylor describes the impact of the discovery of pulsars, just as he was completing graduate school, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at the University of Massachusetts to start the Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory. He describes the fundamental advances in pulsar research in the 1970s, and he recounts his early and soon to be significant interactions with Russell Hulse, and he describes the logistical challenges of setting up research at the Arecibo Observatory. Taylor describes the intellectual origins of discovering gravitational radiation, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at Princeton which centered around its strength in gravitational physics. He discusses the long period of time between his research and the Nobel Prize for which he was recognized, and he discusses the impact of the prize on his life and his research. Taylor discusses his tenure as Dean of Faculty at Princeton, and in the last part of the interview, he describes his current and recent interests in WMAP, and why he welcomes the strides his field has taken toward greater diversity.  

 

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
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Charles Bennett, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and in the Applied Physics Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University. He recounts his childhood in suburban Washington, D.C., and he describes the influence of his father, who was a physicist with the National Bureau of Standards. He describes his early interests in radio waves and telescopes. He describes his decision to attend the University of Maryland on the basis of its excellent reputation in radio astronomy, and he discusses his interests in instrumentation and his work at the Clark Lake Radio Observatory. Bennett describes the circumstances regarding his decision to attend MIT for graduate school, where he worked with Bernie Burke on analyzing radio observatory data. He discusses his career at Goddard at NASA and his involvement in some of the major missions of the time, including COBE and WMAP. Bennett describes his decision to join the faculty at Hopkins, and the ways in which his research changed in an academic setting. He discusses his current interest in the Hubble constant measurement and the importance in conveying scientific concepts to the broader public. At the end of the interview, Bennett shares his thoughts on how the scientific community can continue to progress in areas relating to diversity and inclusivity in the field, and he relates that his sense of wonder at what can be learned by looking at the universe remains much the same as when he was a boy.

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.

Interviewed by
Jarita Holbrook
Interview date
Location
Le Meridien Resort, Mauritius
Abstract

In this interview, Radhakhrishna (Dinesh) Somanah discusses topics such as: his educational background, Loyola College, George Sudarshan, University of Mauritius, Mauritius Radio Telescope, Raman Research Institute (RRI), Ravi Subrahmanyan, International Astronomical Union (IAU), Nadeem Oozeer, radio astronomy, Richard Hundstead, quasars.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Abstract

Family history and educational background; undergraduate degree from University of California Los Angeles (1924-1927); PhD from University of California Berkeley (1927-1931); orbit computing with A. O. Leuschner; thesis work at Lick Observatory with Donald Menzel; work at Harvard College Observatory (1931-1955); with Harlow Shapley, Donald Menzel, Annie Jump Cannon, Antonia Maury, Bart Bok, Leon Campbell, Cecelia Payne Gaposchkin; comets and meteors; radio astronomy; Super Schmidt meteor camera project (1948); Director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (1955-1973); science fiction authors, especially Arthur C. Clarke; Moonwatch project, Armand and Grace Spitz; military and science funding; Multi-mirror telescope with A. B. Meinel; "icy comet" model.

Interviewed by
Owen Gingerich
Interview date
Location
Bad Gastein, Austria
Abstract

Family background; education at Tubigen Univ.; Schrodinger Theory thesis at Univ. of Munich (1927), influence of Sommerfeld, Heisenberg. Potsdam experiments inspired by K. Schwarzschild, Emden: Local thermodynamic equilibrium and curve of growth. Spent 1928 at Mt. Wilson. Return to Germany to teach physics during Depression; use of microphotometer, Coude spectrograph; analysis of Tau Scorpii. Pre-war professorship at Yerkes with Struve: line profile information, stellar composition. WWII return to Kiel, star temperature detection, solar spectrum analysis, elements/energy production. Isolation and destruction of German physics, anti-German attitude. Remarks on history of science, views on contemporaries and astrophysical (radio) research; fate of Unsold's correspondence.