Lasers

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with Claire Max, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, and Director of University of California Observatories. Max recounts her childhood in Manhattan, and she describes the formative influence of her father’s work in science on her blossoming academic interests. She describes her undergraduate education at Radcliffe where she pursued a degree in astronomy, and the opportunities leading to her graduate degree at Princeton where she studied pulsars under the direction of Francis Perkins. Max discusses her postdoctoral research at Berkeley working with Allan Kaufman and her subsequent work at Livermore Lab on laser plasma interactions, and where she did formative work developing laser guide stars for adaptive optics in astronomy. She describes her entrée into the JASON advisory group, and what it was like as the first woman to become a JASON. Max explains her decision to join the faculty at Santa Cruz, the opportunities leading to her directorship of the Observatory, and her interest in leading research in extrasolar planets. She reflects on some of the budgetary and administrative challenges she has faced at the Observatory, and she discusses some of the characteristics that her most successful graduate students have shared over the years. At the end of the interview, Max discusses the controversy over the Thirty Meter Telescope site in Hawaii, she explains why promoting diversity in the field is personally important to her, and why future advances in galaxy merger research are so promising.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Peter Fritschel, Senior Research Scientist in the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics at MIT. Fritshel explains the historical connections between Kavli, Caltech, MIT, and the overall LIGO collaboration. He recounts his childhood in South Dakota, then New York City, and then back to South Dakota in support of his father’s academic career. Fritschel discusses his undergraduate education at Swarthmore, where he pursued degrees in physics and engineering, and he discusses his post-college work at Raytheon on CO2 lasers in its research division. He describes the events leading to his admission to MIT for graduate school where he joined Rai Weiss’s research lab, and he explains the progress that the lab had made on interferometers at that point in the mid-1980s. Fritschel explains the utility of his background in lasers for Weiss’s lab, and the significance of Caltech’s involvement in the LIGO project. He discusses the relationship between his thesis research on making an interferometer with a power recycling configuration in two arms, and LIGO. Fritschel describes his intent to leave MIT after he defended, and he considered opportunities more broadly in atomic, molecular, and optical physics, which led to his work in Orsay, France, with Alain Brillet and Adelberto Giazotto, the founders of the Virgo collaboration. He explains his decision to return to MIT, and how his work in France was useful for his return to LIGO. He explains how LIGO had advanced during his absence, he discusses his contributions to improving the sensitivity of the gravitational interferometers, and he describes how LIGO had made consistent progress over many years and not “all at once” with the detection of gravitational waves in 2015. Fritschel explains that the Nobel Prize given to LIGO’s principal scientists recognized the collaboration both as a theoretical and an experimental endeavor, and he describes the overall positive impact that this recognition had on the collaboration as it continues to push discovery in gravitational wave research and the advances in both physics and engineering that are required for LIGO to realize its future goals. At the end of the interview, Fritschel conveys the centrality of LIGO’s study of black holes and neutron stars in order to harness the collaboration’s ability to garner new insights on the early Universe.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Thomas Ramos, a physicist detailed to the Principal Associate Director for Weapons and Complex Integration at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Ramos discusses his current work writing an unclassified history of the weapons program at Livermore and the broad perspective this has given him on the Laboratory from the postwar era to the present. Ramos recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and his military enlistment after high school, which led to a tour in South Korea and then an order from West Point to pursue a master’s degree in nuclear physics. He discusses his graduate work at MIT and his research on bubble chamber experiments at Fermilab and Argonne before being ordered back to West Point to teach nuclear science. Ramos describes the opportunities leading to his appointment at Livermore four years later and his initial work on the X-ray laser program and the origins of the SDI program. He discusses the impact of the end of the Cold War on the Laboratory and the extent to which Reagan’s military spending accelerated the Soviet collapse. Ramos discusses his work at the Pentagon as a legislative affairs officer for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, and he explains Livermore’s increasing involvement in monitoring nuclear proliferation among terrorist groups and rogue states. He describes his transition to counterproliferation as a result of the end of nuclear testing at Livermore and the signification of the creation of the National Ignition Facility. Ramos describes the transition to his current work documenting Livermore’s history, and he reflect broadly at the end of the interview on how Livermore has adapted to evolving security threats over its long history.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Donna Strickland, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo. Strickland describes the challenges of operating an experimental laser lab during the pandemic, and she recounts her childhood in Nova Scotia, her early interests in science, and her decision to pursue an engineering physics degree at McMaster. She discusses the early influence of Brian Garside and her immediate interest in CO2 lasers. Strickland describes her graduate research at the University of Rochester where she worked with Gérard Morou, whose lab was pursuing shorter laser pulses. She narrates the origins of the CPA laser idea and explains some of the technical challenges in designing the CPA system. Strickland discusses the opportunity to work at the NRC with Paul Corkum and then her subsequent position at Livermore before she joined a research group at Princeton. She describes securing her first full time faculty position at Waterloo and her interest in coherent control of molecules and why she enjoys two color lasers. Strickland describes her service work for the OSA, and she narrates how she never noticed the “buzz” leading up to the announcement that she won the Nobel Prize. She emphasizes the importance of Steve Williamson’s contributions to the CPA research and her post-Nobel work with the OSA on environmental measurement and modeling. At the end of the interview, Strickland emphasizes the importance of luck in her career, she reviews the broader applications of CPA lasers, and she conveys her interest in quantum entanglement which she hopes to pursue when her schedule allows.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Peter Nanos discusses: family background and childhood in New Hampshire; decision to study at the Naval Academy; fraternal culture at the Academy; experience as a Trident Scholar working with Ralph Goodwin; Ph.D. at Princeton as part of the Burke Program; working in Bob Dicke’s gravity group on the first large-scale measurement of the polarization of the microwave background; work on the timing of the crab nebula pulsar; thesis advisor Dave Wilkinson; getting feedback on his thesis pre-publication from Bob Wilson; working with Captain Al Skolnick on the Navy High Energy Laser Program to demonstrate the ability to down supersonic aircraft with the Mid-Infrared Chemical Laser (MIRACL); decision to stay with the Navy as an engineering duty officer (ED); various assignments as ED, including on the USS America; involvement in Operation El Dorado Canyon (1986 U.S. bombing of Libya); effects of Reagan’s increased military spending; power of nuclear deterrence in reducing worldwide war fatalities; work with and promotion to director of Naval Strategic Systems Programs (SSP); use of the first GPS; START Treaty; work with Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA); Drell commission to determine safety of the Trident II D5 missile; creation of the National Nuclear Security Administration; director position at Los Alamos; response to reports of “lost” nuclear material; explanation of laboratory shut down; position as associate director at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA); creation of R&D Enterprise at DTRA; investments in nuclear detection technology; experiences running exercises; work with the Applied Physics Lab at Johns Hopkins; and post-retirement consulting work. Toward the end of the interview, Nanos reflects on demanding technical excellence and on the value of his training and study of physics, “the liberal arts of STEM.” 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Ilko Ilev, discusses his career as a Senior Biomedical Research Service Scientist within the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. He details getting his PhD from the Technical University of Sofia in laser physics, where his thesis was focused on the development of alternative effective laser designs with direct lens-free optical fiber outputs and their implementations towards nonlinear broadband frequency conversions in optical fibers. Ilev details his experience as a Senior Assistant Professor at the Technical University of Sofia where he taught courses on general physics, quantum electronics, and fiber optics. He discusses the relationship between the FDA and medical device manufacturers. He describes the FDA’s longstanding collaboration with the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences, which has resulted in the development of a new field, Photobiomodulation Therapeutics. Lastly, Ilev discusses the various ways in which physics is directly applicable to his work.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Milton Dean Slaughter, Affiliate Professor of Physics at Florida International University. Slaughter recounts his childhood in New Orleans, his involvement in the civil rights movement, and he describes his undergraduate work in physics at Louisiana State University and his graduate work in theoretical physics at the University of New Orleans, where his dissertation focused on electron-laser pulse scattering. Slaughter discusses his long tenure in the department of physics at UNO, and prior to that his research in theoretical physics at Los Alamos. At the end of the interview, he discusses his long-term interest in gravity.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Margaret Murnane, professor of physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, fellow at JILA, and director of the NSF STROBE Science and Technology Center. Murnane recounts her childhood in Ireland and emphasizes that, culturally, she was encouraged to pursue her interests in science from a young age. She discusses her undergraduate education at University College Cork where she focused on physics and developed her specialties in experimentation with light. Murnane describes the opportunities leading to her graduate work at UC Berkeley, where, for her thesis research, she developed a high-power femtosecond laser to create X-ray emitting plasma. She describes her first faculty appointment at Washington State University in Pullman where she continued work in ultrafast laser science, and she explains the decision to transfer to the University of Michigan at the Center for Ultrafast Optics. Murnane discusses her subsequent decision to join the faculty at JILA, where the instrumentation and opportunities for collaboration in her field were peerless. She describes the centrality of achieving very fast X-ray pulses to her field, and she describes some recent advances in applications such as EUV lithography. Murnane discusses the work that remains to be done to ensure that STEM promotes diversity and inclusivity, and she reflects on the many excellent graduate students she has mentored. At the end of the interview, Murnane conveys her excitement at the possibilities offered in the future of ultrafast lasers, including the ability of real-time microscopes that can make three-dimensional nanoscale and A-scale movies.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Philip Anfinrud, Senior Biomedical Research Scientist, National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, at the National Institutes of Health. Anfinrud likens his work environment to the “Bell Labs of Biophysics” and he expresses his pride in working with colleagues conducting research at the cutting-edge of their respective fields. He recounts his upbringing in small town North Dakota and how he developed his early interests in atmospheric chemistry. Anfinrud describes the circumstances leading to his graduate work at Berkeley, and how he approached his interests in physics from a physical chemistry perspective. He describes his work with Walter Struve on energy transport and picosecond lasers, and he describes his postdoctoral research with Robin Hochstrasser at the University of Pennsylvania where he worked on infrared spectroscopy on the femtosecond time scale. Anfinrud discusses his first faculty appointment at Harvard, and he describes the process building a laser lab in partnership with Mitsubishi. Anfinrud explains his research on myoglobin and photolysis laser pulses, and he describes his first forays in X-ray radiation and crystallography. He describes his move to the NIH, where he created Laboratory of Ultrafast Biophysical Chemistry. Anfinrud explains the value of NMR spectroscopy to understand protein folding, and he describes how his interests are situated more in the realm of basic science and not clinically-oriented research. He discusses the value of scaling laws in physics as a means for understanding biochemical phenomena, and he describes the numerous ways that the NIH provides an ideal environment for research. At the end of the interview, Anfinrud provides an overview of his current research in time-resolved crystallography and single molecule behavior, and he describes the public health impact of his work on speech droplets as a means of transmitting the coronavirus.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews William T. Silfvast, Professor Emeritus of Optics at the University of Central Florida. Silfvast recounts his childhood in Salt Lake City and he discusses his education at the University of Utah and a formative internship he spent at NASA Ames Laboratory. He describes his growing interests in lasers during graduate school at Utah working under the direction of Grant Fowles. Silfvast discusses his postdoctoral research as a NATO fellow at Oxford before he joined the Electronics Research Lab at Bell. He describes his major research work at Bell discovering new types of lasers, using optical detectors and photomultipliers for this research, and he explains his motivations in both basic research and the practical applications he saw for lasers in healthcare and in industry. Silfvast explains his decision to join the University of Central Florida where CREOL, the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers was getting started. He recounts the enormous growth and success of the Center over the past thirty years, and he explains his motivations for writing Fundamentals of Lasers which is considered a standard text in the field. At the end of the interview, Silfvast reflects on his contributions to laser science, he provides an overview of all the ways lasers have become central to modern existence, and he explains how modern computing has revolutionized laser science and applications.