Nobel Prizes

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Gabriela Gonzalez, Louisiana State University Boyd Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Gonzalez explains how the pandemic has slowed down data analysis for LIGO, and she recounts her childhood in Cordoba, Argentina. She describes her early interests in science and her physics education as an undergraduate in Cordoba. Gonzalez explains the circumstances that led to her graduate studies at Syracuse University where she studied relativity under the direction of Peter Saulson, and where she first became involved with LIGO. She discusses her postdoctoral appointment at MIT to work in Rai Weiss’s group, and she explains LIGO’s dual goals of detecting gravitational waves and building precision instruments toward that end. Gonzalez explains her decision to join the faculty at Penn State and she describes the site selection that led to the detection facility in Livingston, Louisiana. She describes the necessary redundancy of the LIGO detectors at Livingston and Hanford, Washington, and the importance of “locking” the mirrors on the detectors. Gonzalez describes the overall scene at LIGO in the months up to the detection and the theoretical guidance that improved the likelihood of success. She describes the intensive communication and data analysis to confirm the detection prior to the announcement, and she explains how she felt honored as part of the overall Nobel Prize award and subsequent celebration. Gonzalez describes LIGO’s work in the current post-detection period, and her own focus on diagnostics of the data, and she explains why this work, and the constant concern in missing something important, can be stressful. At the end of the interview, Gonzalez surveys what mysteries LIGO can, and cannot, solve, and she conveys optimism for LIGO’s long-term prospects to continue to push fundamental discovery. 

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 Gerard 't Hooft, University Professor of Physics (Emeritus) at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. 't Hooft considers the possibility that the g-2 muon anomaly experiment at Fermilab is suggestive of new physics, and he reflects broadly on the current shortcomings in our understanding of quantum mechanics and general relativity. 't Hooft recounts his childhood in postwar Holland and the influence of his great uncle, the Nobel Prize winner Frits Zernike and his uncle, the theoretical physicist Nico van Kampen. He describes his undergraduate education at Utrecht University where he got to know Martinus Veltman, with whom he would pursue a graduate degree and ultimately share the Nobel Prize. 't Hooft explains the origins of what would become the Standard Model and the significance of Yang-Mills fields and Ken Wilson’s theory of renormalization. He describes Veltman’s pioneering use of computers to calculate algebraic manipulations and why questions of scaling were able to be raised for the first time. 't Hooft discusses his postdoctoral appointment at CERN, his ideas about grouping Feynman diagrams together, and how he became involved in quantum gravity research and Bose condensation. He explains the value in studying instantons for broader questions in QCD, the significance of Hawking’s work on the black hole information paradox, the holographic principle, and why he has diverged with string theorists. 't Hooft describes being present at the start of supersymmetry, and the growing “buzz” that culminated in winning the Nobel Prize. He describes his overall interest in the past twenty years in thinking more deeply about quantum mechanics and he places the foundational disagreement between Einstein and Bohr in historical context. At the end of the interview, 't Hooft surveys the limitations that prevent us from understanding how to merge quantum mechanics and general relativity and why this will require an understanding of how to relate the set of all integer numbers to phenomena of the universe.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Adam Riess, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins, and Distinguished Astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. Riess explains the value of his dual affiliation and his focus on calibrating the Hubble Telescope for cosmological experiments. He recounts his childhood in New Jersey and the “boot camp” style of physics education he received at MIT. Riess explains his decision to go to Harvard for his graduate work, where Bob Kirshner advised his thesis research on supernovae, while he worked closely with Bill Press on data analysis. He describes his field work at Mount Hopkins in Arizona and his use of the early internet to collect and share data, and he explains what we did not previously understand about supernovae and how that prevented an earlier understanding that the universe’s expansion is accelerating. Riess describes working closely with Brian Schmidt and Nick Suntzeff and how the High-Z team came together, and he explains the decision to use the term “accelerating” to describe the findings from the research. He describes being unprepared for the enormous reaction the High-Z team received after it published its findings, and he explains the opportunities that led to his staff appointment at Space Telescope. Riess narrates his sense of when the “buzz” for the Nobel Prize started and he related the sense of bedlam when the announcement was made and his immediate plan to make this a recognition for the entire High-Z team. He explains how the world of dark energy research has opened up since the discovery and he surveys advances in instrumentation that have propelled the field forward in the last twenty years. At the end of the interview, Riess discusses his current focus on the Hubble tension, he conveys his excitement for the launch of the James Webb Telescope, and he shares that he can’t wait to meet students that he has never seen in person after a year of pandemic-mandated virtual interactions.

 

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
Charles Weiner
Interview date
Location
Carl Anderson's office, Pasadena, California
Abstract

Anderson talks almost exclusively about his work during the thirties with particles of high energy involved in nuclear reactions. He covers in detail his discovery of the positive electron, his pair production work with gamma rays, his expedition to Pike’s Peak with Neddermeyer and their discovery of the mesotron. He mentions that it was in his speech accepting the Nobel Prize in 1936 that he first mentioned the possibility of negative and positive particles of intermediate mass. After noting the absence of any cosmic ray work during the war years, he mentions the postwar development of cosmic ray work into high energy physics.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with David Shoemaker, Senior Research Scientist at MIT, with an affiliation at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Shoemaker explains the relationship between LIGO, the MIT Department of Physics, and Kavli, and describes how these relations have changed over the years. He recounts his upbringing in Virginia, then Walla Walla, then Eugene Oregon, and then in New Jersey, where he spent his formative years, as his family moved to accommodate his father’s career. Shoemaker discusses his academic and social troubles in high school, and his undergraduate experience at Drew and then Tufts, where he majored in physics. He explains why he did not complete his undergraduate degree, and how he got to know Rai Weiss and the opportunity he offered to work as a technical instructor in the MIT Junior Lab. Shoemaker describes his decision to enroll in MIT’s graduate program, and he describes the Lab’s role in the COBE endeavor and the FIRAS interferometer project. He describes his work at the Max Planck Institute where he continued his focus on building interferometers, and he explains his decision to move to France to work with Alain Brillet. Shoemaker recounts his decision to return to MIT at the point that Weiss was becoming further involved in the LIGO effort and was forging partnerships with Caltech toward that end. He narrates the point at which MIT institutionally began to support the Lab’s work, and he emphasizes that the support predated any notion of LIGO’s success as a foregone conclusion. Shoemaker explains the early successes and promises of Advanced LIGO, and he provides a detailed account of the detection of gravitational waves, and the significance of this discovery. He describes the day of the Nobel announcement, and reflects on the impact of the attention LIGO received for the prize, for better and worse. Shoemaker discusses the post-Nobel life of LIGO and how, in many ways, the detection should be understood as a starting point for further additional discovery and not just the coda of a decades-long endeavor. At the end of the interview, Shoemaker muses on what lessons might be drawn from his experiences and the improbable nature of his successes in the field relative to the academic challenges he faced earlier in life. 

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview Jerome I. Friedman, Institute Professor and Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Massacusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), discusses his life and career. Friedman recounts: his childhood as the son of European immigrants in Chicago, and how his interest in art would serve him well later in his career; attending the University of Chicago because of his admiration for Fermi; his decision to stay on at Chicago to pursue a graduate degree in experimental particle physics under Fermi's direction; origins of the Δ3,3 resonances that led to unitary symmetry; his postdoctoral research at Chicago's nuclear emulsion lab, directed by Valentine Telegdi; opportunities leading to his work on electron scattering at Stanford; his first faculty position at MIT, where he joined Dave Ritson's group and where he developed the Cambridge Electron Accelerator program; the excitement of synchrotron over linear accelerators at the time in order to understand why the neutron is heavier than the proton; his collaborations with Henry Kendall; origins of his research at SLAC where he concentrated on the construction of the hodoscope; his interest in inelastic scattering and why Panofsky's support was so important in advancing his research; why Feynman's model of the proton represented a significant advance in particle physics; his interest in the work on neutrino and muon scattering at Fermilab; his role as chair of the Scientific Policy Committee for the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC); his tenure at director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at MIT and the goals he set during his time as chair of the physics department; his understanding of the time lag between his research in the 1970s and the Nobel announcement in 1990, and some of the ways he has worked to advance science as a result of the platform that recognition from the Nobel Prize affords. At the end of the interview, Friedman confirms that he was fortunate to have participated in a golden age of particle physics, and he asserts that this golden age has and will continue into the future. As an example, he cites the possibilities that even quarks are comprised of smaller constituents, and confirming this possibility would require enormous energies that are currently not available.

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews John Mather, senior astrophysicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and senior project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope. Mather recounts his childhood in rural New Jersey and the benefits of pursuing a physics education at a small school like Swarthmore. He discusses his research at Berkeley and the value of pursuing dissertation research based on an unsuccessful research experiment. Mather describes his work at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the decisions that led to his participation at NASA in the COBE satellite team that measured the heat radiation of the Big Bang. Mather narrates what it was like to learn he won the Nobel Prize for this work, and describes his current work and excitement about the James Webb Telescope. 

Interviewed by
Charles Weiner
Interview date
Location
Dr. McMillan's office, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, Berkeley, California
Abstract

Youth and early education; undergraduate years at Caltech, 1924-1929; influence of Arthur A. Noyes, Linus Pauling; graduate training and molecular beam work at Princeton University with Karl Compton, Edward U. Condon, Robert Van de Graaff, 1929-1932. National Research Council Fellow at University of California at Berkeley, 1932-1934; at Radiation Laboratory with Ernest O. Lawrence, J. Robert Oppenheimer; on Berkeley staff as teacher and working on cyclotrons, nuclear physics and radiochemistry, 1934-1940. War work at MIT, Underwater Sound Laboratory at San Diego, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, 1940-1945; Trinity Test. Postwar career at Berkeley working on accelerators; Nobel Prize, 1951. Also includes "Impressions of Trinity Test," 2 pp. Also prominently mentioned is: Jesse William Monroe DuMond.