Geophysics

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Peter L. Bender, Senior Research Associate at the University of Colorado and the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) in Boulder. Bender recounts his childhood in New Jersey, he describes his undergraduate focus in math and physics at Rutgers, and he explains his decision to pursue a graduate degree in physics at Princeton to work with Bob Dicke. He discusses his dissertation research on optical pumping of sodium vapor, which was suggested by Dicke as a means of doing precision measurements of atoms. Bender discusses his postdoctoral research at the National Bureau of Standards, where he focused on magnetic fields and he narrates the administrative and national security decisions leading to the creation of JILA in Boulder, where the laboratory would be less vulnerable to nuclear attack. He describes his work on laser distance measurements to the moon and his collaborations with NASA, and he discusses his long-term advisory work for the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council. Bender describes the origins of the NASA Astrotech 21 Program and the LISA proposal, he explains his more recent interests in massive black holes, geophysics and earth science, and he explains some of the challenges associated with putting optical clocks in space. At the end of the interview, Bender reflects on the central role of lasers in his research, and he explains the intellectual overlap of his work in astrophysics and earth physics, which literally binds research that is based both in this world and beyond it.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Steven Squyres discusses: taking Chief Scientist position at Blue Origin; current interests in planetary science including the shift toward sample return missions; changes to human and robotic spaceflight; private enterprise’s emerging role; family background; decision to attend Cornell undergrad in geology; how a course on the results of the Viking mission influenced his decision to pursue robotic exploration of the solar system; involvement in underwater exploration; PhD at Cornell under Carl Sagan and Joe Veverka for the Voyager project; details of the Voyager mission; dissertation work on the geology and geophysics of Ganymede and Callisto with Gene Shoemaker; postdoc and later job with Pat Cassen and Ray Reynolds at NASA Ames; working on Mars with Michael Carr; reaction to the Challenger tragedy; decision to take position at Cornell and to study the Martian surface; 10 years of proposals to NASA, including one that led to Spirit and Opportunity; Martian habitablity; question of how life arises from non-living material; details of his approach to the Martian geological exploration project; discussion of Spirit and Opportunity’s “honorable” demises; experience as rover’s Primary Investigator (PI) and his internal management strategies; communicating information to the press; reflections on the nature of science; conclusions from Spirit and Opportunity missions; involvement with the Magellan mission; work on the Cassini imaging system; chairing NASA’s planetary decadal survey 2013-2023, recommending Europa Clipper and Perseverance; chairing the NASA Advisory Council; writing Roving Mars; stories of innovative problem-solving from the rover missions; meteorite science; reflections on his time as faculty at Cornell; transition to Blue Origin; and his long-term view of potential space occupation and habitation. Toward the end of the interview, Squyres reflects on the question of whether other lifeforms exist and on the importance of experimentation to answer that question.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Marcia McNutt discusses: current position as President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, D.C.; mission, history, and structure of the NAS; NAS’s work on climate change and COVID-19; experience as a geophysicist; partnering with the National Academies of Engineering and Medicine; childhood in Minnesota; decision to study geophysics; graduate research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography; research on ocean island volcanism in French Polynesia and Hawaii; early use of magnetometers, gravity meters, and seismometers in oceanic plate tectonic observation; development of techniques to take gravity, bathymetry, or topography data on continent and use them in inversion to learn about topography; work directing Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI); time at US Geological Survey (USGS) under Ken Salazar; professorship at MIT and collaboration with Woods Hole; details of leading an oceanographic expedition in the Marquesas Islands; spearheading structural change at MBARI; MBARI-created autonomous device to identify microscopic ocean life without samples; MBARI-invented deep-sea laser Raman spectrometer; being the first organization to put AI on autonomous underwater vehicles to map plumes; response to the Deepwater Horizon spill; fracking; the National Water Census; decision to become editor-in-chief of Science; procedures as editor; career evolution; becoming president of NAS; transition from the Obama to Trump administrations; opinions on geo-engineering; Decadal survey; Koshland Science Museum and LabX; efforts to nominate and elect younger scientists and underrepresented minorities to the Academy; making recommendations to Congress; collaborations with the private sector; communication with the public; and the 2018 Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s report on sexual harassment in academia. Toward the end of the interview, McNutt reflects on her career as both scientist and leader and the importance of integrity in research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Renata Wentzcovitch, professor of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics and Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. Wentzcovitch recounts her childhood in Brazil, and she describes how her grandfather sparked her interest in science early on. She describes her education at the University of São Paulo’s Institute of Physics where she developed an interest in density functional theory. Wentzcovitch discusses her interest in pursuing a graduate degree in the United States, and her decision to attend UC Berkeley and study under the direction of Marvin Cohen. She describes her thesis research on pseudopotential plane-wave codes and super-hard materials such as boron nitride and diamonds. Wentzcovitch explains the impact of High Tc Superconductivity on both her career and the field generally, and she describes her postdoctoral research with joint appointments at Brookhaven and Stony Brook on evolving electronic wavefunctions via classical dynamics. She discusses her subsequent work with Volker Henie at Cambridge to study silicate perovskite, which in turn led to her first faculty appointment at the University of Minnesota. Wentzcovitch describes the importance of Minnesota’s Supercomputing Institute for her research, and she explains how her research focused more centrally on geophysics and the thermo-elasticity of minerals and their aggregates. She describes the founding of the Virtual Laboratory for Earth and Planetary Materials and explains her decision to join the faculty at Columbia and her involvement with VLab and the study of exchange-correlation functionals to address electronic interactions. At the end of the interview, Wentzcovitch discusses her current work on developing codes for thermodynamic computations and seismic tomography, and she conveys the value of pursuing international collaborations to fit her broad and diverse research agenda.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Lonnie Thompson, Distinguished University Professor at Ohio State University and Senior Scholar at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. Thompson describes the administrative history of the Byrd Center and he surveys his current field work in ice core drilling and the role of theory in his research. He provides his perspective on how humanity should respond to climate change and why natural climate fluctuations do not explain the current climate situation. Thompson recounts his childhood in West Virginia and the opportunities that allowed him to pursue a degree in physics at Marshall University. He discusses his graduate research at Ohio State in geophysics and geology while serving in the Army Reserves, and he describes how he developed the Byrd Center. Thompson describes his field work in China and Russia and the value of drilling across the planet. He discusses his work with Al Gore on An Inconvenient Truth and he conveys his feelings about winning the National Medal of Science. Thompson describes working with his wife Ellen Mosley-Thompson as his closest collaborator and what he has learned about conveying his scientific findings to the public. He reflects on the meaning of environmental heroism and the remaining field work that needs to be done after nearly 50 years of drilling. At the end of the interview, Thompson describes his current interest in finding and preserving biodiversity and why the next frontier for ice core drilling will be on Mars and beyond.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with G. Brent Dalrymple, Dean and Professor Emeritus at Oregon State University. Dalrymple recounts his childhood in Los Angeles, and he explains how he settled on geology as a major at Occidental and the impact of the plate tectonics revolution that was happening at the time. He discusses his graduate work at Berkeley, and he recounts his field work under the direction of Garniss Curtis on potassium argon dating. Dalrymple explains his decision to join the U.S. Geological Survey after graduate school and his interest in learning more about volcanic rocks and magnetic fields in the Sierra range. He explains how this research solved the problem of continental drift and he discusses his subsequent research on the Hawaiian Island range. Dalrymple discusses his work on earthquake detection, and he describes the advances in K-Ar dating and techniques. He discusses his work on meteorite dating and the light this shed on what killed off the dinosaurs, and he describes his advisory work for the Apollo missions. Dalrymple explains how he became involved in debates with religious communities who insisted the age of the Earth was 6,000 years old and how this turned into his book The Age of the Earth. He describes how geo-dating is relevant for understanding star and galaxy formation and he discusses his tenure as president of the American Geophysical Union. Dalrymple describes what it was like to win the National Medal of Science, and he explains his decision to retire from the USGS and join the administration at Oregon State. At the end of the interview, Dalrymple describes the impact of continental drift research, and he conveys his enjoyment with life in retirement.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Louis J. Lanzerotti, Distinguished Research Professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Center for Solar Terrestrial Research in the Department of Physics. Lanzerotti describes the origins of the Center, and he recounts his Italian heritage and his upbringing in southern Illinois. Lanzerotti discusses his undergraduate experience at the University of Illinois and his initial interest in civil engineering. He explains why he transitioned to physics, the formative influence of Charlie Slichter and the opportunities that led to his graduate admission to Harvard, where he developed fiber optics research under the direction of Frank Pipkin. He explains his decision to accept a postdoctoral offer at Bell Labs, and he explains how Bell Labs became involved in space research. Lanzerotti discusses his initial work on the Applications Technology Satellite 1 and the earliest incarnations of space weather as a discrete field. He describes his work on communications and geophysical collaboration and his involvement it the beginning of the Voyager, Ulysses, and then the Cassini missions. Lanzerotti describes the breakup of Bell Labs and the considerations that led to him joining the faculty at NJIT. He explains his ongoing research focus analyzing data from the Ulysses mission at the Van Allen probes, and he describes his service on the National Science Board. Lanzerotti describes his long association with the AGU, and his work on Director of the Board for AIP. At the end of the interview, Lanzerotti reflects on the opportunities in his career that intersected with the zenith of American scientific power and influence, and he prognosticates on both future prospects for foundational discovery and the societal commitments required to achieve them.

Interviewed by
Nils Randlev Hundebøl
Interview date
Location
Climate Institute, Washington, D.C.
Abstract

Michael MacCracken discusses topics such as: his family background and childhood; climatology; undergraduate work at Princeton University in engineering; being interviewed by Edward Teller for a fellowship; University of California, Davis; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory; Michael May; Chuck Leith; geophysics; Project Plowshare; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Ames Research Center; Climate Impact Assessment Program (CIAP); United States Department of Energy; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); climate change; George Hidy; Peter Mueller; Fred Koomanoff; National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR); Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Bob Watson of NASA; Dan Albritton of NOAA; Chuck Hakkarinen; United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP); Jerry Melillo; Climate Institute. 

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Abstract

In this interview Robert Noyes discusses topics such as: his family background; undergraduate at Haverford College; graduate work at California Institute of Technology (Caltech); Frank Press and geophysics; Fay Ajzenberg Selov; Robert Leighton as his advior in graduate school; Mt. Wilson Observatory; Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO); Leo Goldberg; Chuck Whitney; astronomy; solar satellite project; helioseismology; Tim Brown; Dave Charbonneau; Ed Reeves; Bill Parkinson; George Withbroe; Andrea Dupree; Martin Huber; John Raymond; Peter Foukal; Jacques Beckers; Frank Low; Sacramento Peak Observatory; Orbiting Solar Observatories (OSO); Fred Whipple; space solar physics.

Interviewed by
Tanya Levin
Interview date
Location
Surrey, England
Abstract

Topics include:  his family and early education; his decision to attend Cambridge University and Kings College; the impact of WWII on his education; his Naval experiences; his post-war education; getting into geophysics; work on seismic refraction at sea; his dissertation work on the velocity of sound through the sea-bottom sedimentation; obtaining a Fulbright scholarship to go to U.S. where he spent one year at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observation; work with deep-sea camera; work with Bruce Heezen; comparison of Lamont with Scripps Institution of Oceanography; work leading to the gradual acceptance of sea-floor spreading; his work at National Institute of Oceanography; studies related to sea-floor spreading; comparison of British and American standards for classification of data; the Indian Ocean Expedition and its importance to the theory of sea floor spreading; his research vessel, Discovery;  reactions to the work of Vine and Matthews; his work in the Gulf of Aden; Soviet ships and style of research; recollections of Russian scientist Gleb Udintsev; participation on the Atlantic Panel and participation on international programs and committees; comparison of the NIO to Lamont; the British government's support for research; the Rothschild report; differences between applied and strategic research; submarine detection work; creating government science policy; negotiations on the 3rd Law of the Sea; radioactive waste disposal.