Climatic changes

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Ellen D. Williams, Director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland. Williams recounts her childhood in Michigan, and the benefits that she enjoyed growing up during the height of the U.S. car manufacturing era. She discusses her undergraduate education at Michigan State where she developed an interest in physical chemistry and become involved in women’s rights issues. Williams explains her decision to attend Caltech for graduate school, where she conducted thesis research on the statistical mechanics of surfaces using electron diffraction. She describes the opportunities leading to her appointment in physics and astronomy at Maryland, and she explains the transition from chemistry to a physics department, which was smoothed by the fact that her research focused on phase transitions and critical phenomena. Williams describes achieving tenure and her work within the Institute for Physical Science and Technology. She explains her research in scanning tunneling microscopes and nanotechnologies, and her increasing fluency in working with government funding agencies. Williams explains her decision to join BP as chief scientist where she was involved in fostering BP’s commitment to sustainability, and she describes Ernest Moniz’s offer for her to direct ARPA-E at DOE during the second term of the Obama administration. She conveys her enjoyment working in such a focused manner on clean energy in this role and her contributions to the Paris Climate Accord. Williams describes returning to Maryland and explains the most efficacious way of teaching students about both the science and policy implications of climate change. At the end of the interview, Williams discusses her work as director of the Earth Systems Science Interdisciplinary Center and the ongoing governmental collaborations this position allows, and she offers optimism that we have both the technological and political tools to mitigate climate change effectively.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard. Hau recounts her childhood in Denmark and her early interests in science, and she describes her education at the University of Aarhus. She describes her studies in math and physics and her determination to build something meaningful for experimentation. Hau describes her interest in using lasers to cool down atoms during her postdoctoral work at Harvard and at the Rowland Institute, and she describes the opportunities that led to her full-time work at Rowland. She describes her collaboration with Jene Golovchenko and the impact of the discovery of Bose-Einstein condensation in 1995. Hau details the experiments that initially slowed down and then ultimately stop light in a Bose-Einstein condensate. She explains her decision to join the Harvard faculty and she surveys some of the practical applications of her research. Hau describes her research in nanoscale systems and her interest in applying her research to create more energy efficient systems with the explicit goal of addressing climate change. She describes some of the difficulties and systemic biases that women have to deal with in the sciences, particularly when they achieve prominence. At the end of the interview, Hau explains her interest to promote diversity in physics and particularly to encourage students who are the first in their generation to go to college.

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 Frank Shu, University Professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego, and Founder and CEO of Astron Solutions Corporation. Shu describes his current work on climate mitigation through his company, Astron Solutions Corporation, and he reflects on how his expertise in physics is useful for this endeavor. He recounts his family origins in Wenzhou, China, and their experiences during the Japanese occupation. Shu describes his family’s journey to the United States through Hong Kong and Taiwan, and the opportunities that led to his undergraduate study in physics at MIT. He describes his early interests in gravitational collapse, and he explains his decision to pursue graduate research at Harvard, where he worked on density wave theory of spiral structure under the direction of Max Krook. Shu explains his broader interest in star formation and his work at Stony Brook before taking a faculty position at Berkeley. He describes the “inside out” collapse model and the formative influence of Peter Goldreich. Shu explains how he came to lead Tsing Hua University and his achievements in raising its stature before joining the faculty at San Diego, and he discusses his original interests in climate change research. He describes the Heat Exchanger (HX) Project and how his research on nuclear energy has therapeutic benefits for cancer patients. Shu discusses his patent on sealed carbon fiber reinforced carbon nanotubes and the hurdles that are preventing the widespread adoption of molten salt technology. At the end of the interview, Shu describes the importance of taking multi-pronged approach to climate mitigation and that humanity’s best response at this point is to recognize climate change as an emergency.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

David Wenner is a retired businessman and consultant who curated the rare physics manuscript library that would eventually become the Wenner Collection at the Niels Bohr Library. In this interview, Wenner recounts his childhood in Florida and describes his early interests in sports and academics. He describes his interest in pursuing a liberal arts education as an undergraduate at Yale, and he discusses his graduate work in computer science at Purdue. Wenner discusses his professional experiences at Texas Instruments and his long career in consulting at McKinsey & Company. He explains how he became involved with the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara and how an interest in reading physics books grew into a full time pursuit curating what would become a singular library of rare physics manuscripts. Wenner describes how he built the collection and the various considerations that led to him deciding to work with AIP and to create the Wenner Collection. He describes the process that went into his book History of Physics, and he discusses his current interest collecting manuscripts relating to climate change. At the end of the interview, Wenner reflects on ongoing questions raised by cosmology and quantum theory.

Interviewed by
Ryan Hearty
Interview date
Location
La Jolla, California, U.S.A.
Abstract

Dr. Charles Kennel, director emeritus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and (currently) Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Science and Policy, University of Cambridge, is interviewed at his home in La Jolla, California, by Ryan Hearty, oral history fellow at the American Institute of Physics. Kennel describes several milestones in his diverse career spanning industry, academia and government service. Subjects include: Kennel’s childhood in Boston; undergraduate studies at Harvard University; doctoral research at Princeton University, including work experience at Avco-Everett Research Laboratory; postdoc work at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, Italy; his academic career as professor and later chair of physics, as well as vice chancellor, at UCLA; his service as associate administrator at NASA; directing Scripps; and recent work in climate change policy.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Richard Garwin. AIP has several interviews with Garwin already on record; the discussion here focuses on Garwin’s interest and work in recent years. Garwin describes his involvement in pandemic research generally and the Covid-19 crisis specifically. He discusses his involvement in advising on bioterrorism, and he reflects on the import of his research in the realm of national policy. Garwin describes the strength of the United States today in the world arena relative to earlier parts of his career, and he describes his involvement in the creation of the hydrogen bomb. He discusses the current status of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, and he discusses the prospects for ongoing nuclear security in the face of threats from Iran and other U.S. adversaries. Garwin offers his views on the ongoing threats from climate change and terrorism and the challenges facing America’s energy future. He describes his work for the JASON national security advisory work, and he reflects on some of the individuals that he considers heroes. At the end of the interview, Garwin reflects on the singular genius of Feynman, and he reflects on the life of his wife, Lois, who died in 2018.

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
Spencer Weart with Diane Gaffen
Interview date
Location
Air Resources Lab Office, Silver Spring, Maryland
Abstract

Brief review of education and work: interest in carbon dioxide; program administration under David Slade at Atomic Energy Commission/Department of Energy, ca. 1974-1982, and development of Slade's climate change research program; advice from A. Weinberg; studies at NOAA Air Resources Laboratory of carbon dioxide emissions; controversies over fate of carbon dioxide.

Interviewed by
Keynyn Brysse
Interview date
Location
University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
Abstract

This group interview with Michael Edgeworth McIntyre, Joseph Farman, J. D. Shanklin, Tony Cox, Ian W. M. Smith, Neil R. P. Harris, H. Graf, and Peter Braesicke discusses the way scientists of the 1970s and 80s learned about ozone depletion. Topics discussed include: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Antarctic ozone hole; chlorofluorocarbons; Montreal Protocol; climate change policy; carbon dioxide; DuPont company; Mack McFarland; F. S. Rowland; Mario Molina; polar stratospheric clouds (PSCs); Pat McCormick; Climate Impact Assessment Program (CIAP).