Many-body problem

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Mansour Shayegan, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton. Shayegan recounts his family roots in Isfahan, and the political and social dynamics of growing up in Iran. He explains his decision to pursue an undergraduate education in the United States and the opportunities leading to his enrollment at MIT as an undergraduate. He describes his decision to stay at MIT for graduate school and his experiences in the electrical engineering program, where he worked with his advisor Millie Dresselhaus, during the Iranian Revolution. Shayegan describes Dresselhaus’s reputation as the “Queen of Graphite” and he describes the impact of her research on his dissertation on graphite intercalation. He discusses some of the commercial potential of his graduate research and emphasizes his primary interest in basic research and describes his postdoctoral work at the University of Maryland. He explains the origins of his interest in semiconductor physics in collaboration with Bob Park and Dennis Drew, and he describes the events leading to his faculty appointment at Princeton. Shayegan describes the work involved getting his lab and the MBE system set up, and he discusses the excellent culture of collaboration in both the physics and EE programs at Princeton. He explains recent advances in superconductivity research, and he reflects on the success he has enjoyed as a mentor to graduate students over the years. Shayegan expresses his pleasure in teaching quantum mechanics to undergraduates, and he explains his long-term interest in research on gallium arsenide. At the end of the interview, Shayegan reflects on his contributions to the field, its intellectual origins in the prediction of Bloch ferromagnetism, and the importance of securing the ongoing support from the National Science Foundation.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Lu Sham, Distinguished Professor of Physics Emeritus, University of California at San Diego. Sham recounts his childhood in Hong Kong and he describes the legacy of Japanese rule from World War II. He describes his early interests in math and he explains his decision to pursue a higher education in England at Imperial College. Sham discusses his motivation to conduct graduate work at Cambridge University and to study under Nevill Mott on the first principle method calculating the electron contribution to lattice vibration. He describes the help provided by John Ziman to secure his postdoctoral position at UC San Diego to work with Walter Kohn, and he describes the foundational collaboration and research that went into the Kohn-Sham equation and how this work builds on the classic debate between Einstein and Bohr. He describes the opportunities leading to his faculty appointment and eventual tenure on the physics faculty, and he explains the benefits of spending summers doing research at Bell Labs. Sham discusses his contributions to research on semiconductors, quantum computing, and density-functional theory. He describes his more recent interest in optics and the formative work he has done with graduate students and postdoctoral researchers over the years. Sham discusses his administrative service as department chair and Dean of Science. At the end of the interview, Sham asserts that the future of condensed matter physics holds limitless possibilities, and that improvements in semiconductor materials will push quantum information abilities in exciting and unforeseen directions.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Wick Haxton, professor of physics at UC Berkeley. Haxton recounts his childhood in Santa Cruz and his early interests in math and science. He describes his undergraduate education at the newly created UC Santa Cruz where his initial interest was in mathematics before he was given the advice that he did “mathematics like a physicist.” Haxton discusses his graduate work at Stanford where his original intent was to study general relativity before he connected with Dirk Walecka and Bill Donnelly to focus on nuclear theory and dense nuclear matter. He discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Mainz where he concentrated on photo-pion physics during the early days of chiral perturbation theory, and he explains the opportunities that led to his next appointment at the LAMPF facility at Los Alamos. Haxton emphasizes the excellence of both his colleagues and the computational capacity at the Lab, and he describes his faculty appointment at Purdue and the solar neutrino experiment he contributed to in Colorado. He explains the opportunities that led to him joining the faculty at the University of Washington where the DOE was about to fund the Institute for Nuclear Theory. Haxton explains the “breakup” between nuclear theory and particle theory and how the INT addressed that. Haxton discusses the opportunities afforded at the INT to engage in nuclear astrophysics and he explains the rise and fall of the Homestake DUSEL project. He explains his decision to go emeritus at UW and to join the faculty at UC Berkeley and to be dual hatted at the Berkeley Lab, and he describes his tenure as department chair. At the end of the interview, Haxton describes his current work organizing the new Physics Frontier Center and the challenges presented by the pandemic, and he credits his formative time as Los Alamos for the diverse research agenda he has pursued throughout his career.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Steven Koonin, University Professor at New York University, recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and his education at Stuyvesant High School, which he credits for providing an excellent education in math and science. He explains his decision to pursue a degree in physics at Caltech, where Willie Fowler supervised him, and where he focused on nuclear physics. Koonin discusses his graduate work at MIT, where he studied under Art Kerman and focused on Hamiltonian variational principles for quantum many-body systems and on the study of nuclear motion. He explains the opportunity that led him back to Caltech for his first faculty position without going through a postdoctoral experience first. He describes his interest in then doing a postdoc in Copenhagen, where he had more opportunities to collaborate on theoretical nuclear physics than at Caltech. Koonin describes the pleasures of teaching quantum mechanics to undergraduates, he describes the impact of personal computing technology on his research in the mid-1980s, and he discusses his contributions in extrapolating nuclear reactions to get astrophysical rates. Koonin discusses his involvement in national security issues including the Strategic Defense Initiative as part of the JASON group, and his advisory work for the Department of Energy and DARPA. He describes his administrative accomplishments as vice president at provost at Caltech and the institutional advancements that he fostered in biology and high-performance computing. Koonin explains his position to take a position at BP as chief scientist where he had a mandate to push the company to pursue alternative energy resources, and he describes his decision to accept Steve Chu’s offer to run the Office of Science at DOE during the first Obama administration. Koonin describes his focus there on exascale computing and high-energy density science, and he discusses his long-range interest in climate science and some of the inherent challenges this field presents in both the scientific and political realms. He describes his decision to accept his current position at NYU, and at the end of the interview, Koonin describes his goals in founding the Center for Urban Science and Progress. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Paul Chaikin, Silver Professor of Physics at NYU, recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and he describes his early interests in math and science and his education Stuyvesant High School. He discusses his undergraduate education at Caltech, he conveys how special it was to learn from Feynman and Pauling, and he explains the fields that would go on to form his area of specialty, soft matter physics. Chaikin explains his reasoning to pursue a graduate degree with Bob Schrieffer at Penn, where he did his thesis research on the Kondo effect in superconductors. He describes his first postgraduate work at UCLA where he developed an expertise in thermoelectric power, and he describes the intellectual and technological developments that paved the way for the creation of soft matter physics as a distinct field. Chaikin explains what it would take to solve the many-body problem of nonequilibrium phenomena, and he describes the delicate nature of collaborating with biologists while ensuring they don’t overtake the field. He discusses his joint appointment with Penn physics and the research laboratory at Exxon, and he explains his move to Princeton, which was just starting to develop a program in soft matter physics. Chaikin describes the famous experiment that discovered that M&M shapes (ellispoids) provided the most efficient and minimal negative space in packing applications, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at NYU. At the end of the interview, Chaikin reflects on some of the remaining mysteries in the field, and he describes his interest in pursing research on self-assembly among soft condensed matters.  

 

Interviewed by
Charles Weiner
Interview date
Location
Cornell University
Abstract

Natural radioactivity; ideas of nuclear constitution, size in 1920s; Gamow-Condon-Gurney theory of alpha decay 1928; discovery of neutron 1932; Cambridge as a center of research 1933; early theories of nuclear forces; analysis of short-range nuclear forces 1935-40; reasons for writing Rev. Mod. Phys. review articles 1935-37 and detailed review of articles' contents; beta decay and the neutrino hypothesis; application of group-theoretic methods to nuclear physics 1936-37; compound nucleus model 1936; nuclear models in general (compound nucleus, evaporation, liquid drop, direct interaction, statistical); contemporary knowledge of nuclear physics 1938-39; stellar energy production; energy limit on cyclotron; accelerators and theoreticians; nuclear physics at Los Alamos; post-war conferences; origins and development of the shell model of the nucleus; many-body theory in nuclear physics; current algebras in particle physics; origins and development of the optical model; of the collective model; autobiographical comments on political, social, scientific conditions in Germany and England in early 1930s ; nuclear studies at Cornell after the war; building the H-bomb; the Oppenheimer hearings; work as a consultant 1950-1970; involvement with PSAC 1956; views on disarmament; receipt of 1967 Nobel Prize.

Interviewed by
Charles Weiner
Interview date
Location
Cornell University
Abstract

Natural radioactivity; ideas of nuclear constitution, size in 1920s; Gamow-Condon-Gurney theory of alpha decay 1928; discovery of neutron 1932; Cambridge as a center of research 1933; early theories of nuclear forces; analysis of short-range nuclear forces 1935-40; reasons for writing Rev. Mod. Phys. review articles 1935-37 and detailed review of articles' contents; beta decay and the neutrino hypothesis; application of group-theoretic methods to nuclear physics 1936-37; compound nucleus model 1936; nuclear models in general (compound nucleus, evaporation, liquid drop, direct interaction, statistical); contemporary knowledge of nuclear physics 1938-39; stellar energy production; energy limit on cyclotron; accelerators and theoreticians; nuclear physics at Los Alamos; post-war conferences; origins and development of the shell model of the nucleus; many-body theory in nuclear physics; current algebras in particle physics; origins and development of the optical model; of the collective model; autobiographical comments on political, social, scientific conditions in Germany and England in early 1930s ; nuclear studies at Cornell after the war; building the H-bomb; the Oppenheimer hearings; work as a consultant 1950-1970; involvement with PSAC 1956; views on disarmament; receipt of 1967 Nobel Prize.

Interviewed by
Charles Weiner and Jagdish Mehra
Interview date
Location
Cornell University
Abstract

Natural radioactivity; ideas of nuclear constitution, size in 1920s; Gamow-Condon-Gurney theory of alpha decay 1928; discovery of neutron 1932; Cambridge as a center of research 1933; early theories of nuclear forces; analysis of short-range nuclear forces 1935-40; reasons for writing Rev. Mod. Phys. review articles 1935-37 and detailed review of articles' contents; beta decay and the neutrino hypothesis; application of group-theoretic methods to nuclear physics 1936-37; compound nucleus model 1936; nuclear models in general (compound nucleus, evaporation, liquid drop, direct interaction, statistical); contemporary knowledge of nuclear physics 1938-39; stellar energy production; energy limit on cyclotron; accelerators and theoreticians; nuclear physics at Los Alamos; post-war conferences; origins and development of the shell model of the nucleus; many-body theory in nuclear physics; current algebras in particle physics; origins and development of the optical model; of the collective model; autobiographical comments on political, social, scientific conditions in Germany and England in early 1930s ; nuclear studies at Cornell after the war; building the H-bomb; the Oppenheimer hearings; work as a consultant 1950-1970; involvement with PSAC 1956; views on disarmament; receipt of 1967 Nobel Prize.