In this interview, AIP Oral Historian Jon Phillips interviews Dr. Earl Blodgett, Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin River Falls and Historian for Sigma Pi Sigma and the Society of Physics Students. Blodgett discusses his undergraduate education at the University of Wisconsin River Falls and graduate education at Washington University St. Louis in detail, including his work on acoustics with James Miller at Washington. He describes his return to River Falls as a teaching professor, and the development of physics pedagogy there, as well as his longstanding activity with both the American Association of Physics Teachers and the Society of Physics Students, for which he has served as both President and Historian. The interview includes extensive discussion of both the administrative and pedagogical dimensions and trends within undergraduate physics education in the United States over the course of Blodgett’s full career.
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In this interview, Dean Zollman discusses: interests in current physics education research (PER); family background and childhood; PhD at Maryland under Carl Levinson and Manoj Banerjee; involvement in civil rights movement; postdoc at Kansas State; collaborations with Bob Fuller and Tom Campbell; involvement with American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT); Jack Renner’s research on the intellectual development of college students; overview of the big names and ideas in PER in the early-to-mid 70s; research on how to meet students’ current developmental levels and capabilities; hands-on and visual approaches to physics learning; NSF-funded work at University of Utah, developing instructional laser discs with Bob Fuller and Tom Campbell; forays into using video for physics instruction and early application of computers to physics education; Fulbright at University of Munich; Fascination of Physics collaboration with his partner J.D. Spears; teaching quantum mechanics visually; winning the Milikan Award; the Physics InfoMall CD-ROM project; relationship with NSF; Center for Research and Innovation in STEM Education project and COVID’s damage to its realization; Oersted Medal; crossovers with field of psychology in researching how learning happens; internet-based Pathways project for high school instructors; collaborations with the International Commission on Physics Education; the excitement of helping people learn; and the hope that innovative teaching strategies will draw in a more diverse student body to solve the big physics questions of our time. Toward the end of the interview, Zollman looks forward to continuing PER both on the fundamentals of how students learn as well as on applied methods for teaching. He notes that the quest to understand the mechanisms of learning invite a more interdisciplinary approach going forward.
Interview with Geoffrey West, Shannan Distinguished Professor at the Santa Fe Institute. West provides a brief history of SFI as a collaborative idea between Murray Gell-Mann, Phil Anderson, and David Pines, and he explains the funding sources that launched the Institute. He recounts his childhood in England and his family’s Jewishly-observant household. West describes his switch from math to physics as an undergraduate at Cambridge and his interest in becoming involved in the origins of SLAC at Stanford. He discusses Panofsky and the “Monster Accelerator,” and studying fold factors of the triton and helium-3 nuclei under the direction of Leonard Schiff. West describes his subsequent postdoctoral work at Cornell and the formative influence of Ken Wilson, and his next position at Harvard where he pursued research on the quark proton model into a kind of a covariant framework. West explains his decision to join the faculty back at Stanford, he conveys the excitement at SLAC in deep inelastic research, and he provides a backdrop of the work that would become the “November Revolution” in 1974. He describes the importance of meeting Peter Carruthers and his reasons for transferring to the theory group at Los Alamos. West discusses his moral conflict working at a Lab with such close ties to nuclear weapon research, and he credits the Manhattan Project as the intellectual source for the Lab’s multidisciplinary approach. West discusses how the culture at Los Alamos served as a prototype for SFI, and how at that point he had migrated intellectually from high energy physics to string theory, and how both organizations encouraged the kind of multidisciplinary approach that encouraged his interests in biological populations. He describes his tenure as SFI president and his developing interest in sustainability, he prognosticates on what the SFI education model could contribute to post-pandemic higher education, and he explains how the pandemic has influenced his views on the future of cities. At the end of the interview, West describes his current interest in biological lifespans and he reflects on the extent to which is unorthodox career trajectory could serve as a model for scientists who will increasingly work in realms less bounded by strict departmental divisions.
Interview with David Sokoloff, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Oregon. Sokoloff discusses his focus on improving physics education at the collegiate level, and the programs and methods he has implemented to ensure that the state of physics education, both domestically and internationally, continues to advance. He discusses the workshops he has organized around the world for the development of Active Learning in Optics and Photonics (ALOP). These workshops also involve Interactive Lecture Demonstrations (ILDs), which Sokoloff has utilized throughout his career as a physics educator. He also reflects on creating Home-Adapted ILDs during COVID so that students could continue learning about these concepts during the pandemic. Sokoloff talks about how he has grappled with active throughout the pandemic, when so many aspects of education have been forced online. He discusses the challenges of replicating live learning situations through online platforms. Sokoloff then looks back on his time at MIT and his engagement with local and national politics during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly with the Teacher Corps. He returns to his discussions of Active Learning workshops and his multi-year collaboration with Priscilla Laws and Ron Thornton. Towards the end of the interview, Sokoloff remarks upon his experiences as a rep to the U.S. Liaison Committee for the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, a rep to the International Commission on Physics Education, and a recipient of the Oersted Medal. Sokoloff rounds out the conversation discussing the importance of active learning in physics education, as well as how vital it is that students are given the space and opportunity to question ideas, make mistakes, and speak up for themselves.
In this interview, Peter McIntyre, Mitchell-Heep professor of experimental physics at Texas A&M University, and president of Accelerator Technology Corporation discusses his career and achievements as a professor. McIntyre recounts his childhood in Florida, and he explains his decision to pursue physics as an undergraduate at the University of Chicago and the influence of his longtime hero Enrico Fermi. He discusses his interests in experimental physics and he explains his decision to stay at Chicago for graduate school, where he worked with Val Teledgi, during a time he describes as the last days of bubble chamber physics. McIntyre conveys his intense opposition to the Vietnam War and the extreme lengths he took to avoid being drafted, and his dissertation work on the Ramsey resonance in zero field. He describes Telegdi’s encouragement for him to pursue postdoctoral research at CERN where he worked with Carlo Rubbia on the Intersecting Storage Rings project. He describes his time as an assistant professor at Harvard and his work at Fermilab, and the significance of his research which disproved Liouville’s theorem. McIntyre describes the series of events leading to his tenure at Texas A&M, and he explains how his hire fit into a larger plan to expand improve the physics program there. He discusses the completion of the Tevatron at Fermilab and the early hopes for the discovery of the mass scale of the Higgs boson, and he describes the origins of the SSC project in Texas and the mutually exclusive possibility that Congress would fund the International Space Station instead. McIntyre describes the key budgetary shortfalls that essentially doomed the SSC from the start, his efforts in Washington to keep the project viable, and the technical shortcomings stemming from miscommunication and stove-piping of expertise. He describes his involvement in the discovery of the top quark and the fundamental importance of the CDF, DZero, and ATLAS collaborations. McIntyre discusses his achievements as a teacher to undergraduates and a mentor to graduate students, and he assesses the current and future prospects for ongoing discovery in high energy physics. At the end of the interview, McIntyre describes his current wide-ranging research interests, including his efforts to improve the entire diagnostic infrastructure in screening and early detection of breast cancer.
Kensington Park Senior Living, Kensington, Maryland, USA
Physics Graduate student Eline V. A. van den Heuvel (University of Amsterdam) interviews Professor Emeritus of Physics and Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland Charles W. Misner. After obtaining his BA at the University of Notre Dame in 1952, Prof. Misner continued his education at Princeton University, where he completed his PhD in Physics under supervision of Prof. John. A. Wheeler (1911-2008) in 1957. In the spring semester of 1956, Prof. Wheeler fulfilled the Lorentz professorship at Leiden University, the Netherlands, accompanied by his student Misner. Prof. Misner discusses this trip, focusing on his personal experience and his work on the Already Unified Field. He also discusses Wheeler’s relativity work and possible motivations for Wheeler to go to Leiden. The remainder of the interview deals with the many-worlds interpretation of Dr. Hugh Everett, a friend of Misner and former a PhD student of Wheeler, and Misner expresses his disappointment in how the physics community has treated Everett.
In this interview, Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, Director of The Chatterjee Group - Centers of Research in Education, Science, and Technology, discusses his time working in the United States and India. He discusses his time at Northwestern University as an advisee of John Ketterson and his work with liquid crystals. He also speaks about the interplay between experiment and theory. Bhattacharya details his time as a James Franck Fellow at the University of Chicago and his collaboration with Sid Nagel on the glass transition of glycerol. He speaks about his experience working on charge density waves at Exxon, as well as his discovery of the pseudo-gap phase while there. He discusses working at NEC with vortex phases in type-II superconductors. Bhattacharya reflects on the joy he found teaching physics to undergraduate students. He details his time working at Ashoka University where he was allowed the opportunity to create an undergraduate education framework and build a physics department. Lastly, Bhattacharya discusses the importance of incorporating science into culture.
Interview with Saul Teukolsky, Hans A. Bethe Professor of Physics and Astrophysics at Cornell and Robinson Professor of Theoretical Astrophysics at Caltech. Teukolsky recounts his childhood born in a Jewish family in South Africa, and he explains the tensions between his parents’ politics, who were accepting of apartheid, and his own views which rejected this as a national injustice. He describes his undergraduate education at the University of Witwatersrand and the impact of the Feynman Lectures on his intellectual development. Teukolsky explains his interest in pursuing general relativity for graduate school, and he discusses the circumstances leading to his enrollment at Caltech, where he studied Newman-Penrose equations and perturbations of the Kerr metric under the direction of Kip Thorne. He discusses his year-long postdoctoral research position at Caltech and his subsequent decision to join the faculty at Cornell, where he developed the gravitational theory program. Teukolsky explains the significance of the Hulse-Taylor discovery at Arecibo on general relativity, and he describes the early impact of computers on advancing GR research and specifically on numerical relativity which he worked on with Bill Press. He discusses the rise of computational astrophysics, and he surveys his interests in pedagogical issues in physics and his early involvement in LIGO and the LISA collaboration. At the end of the interview, Teukolsky explains how he has tried to communicate astrophysical concepts to broad audiences, and he expresses optimism that massive advances in computational abilities will continue to drive forward fundamental advances in the field.
Interview with Peter Lepage, Tisch Family Distinguished University Professor of Physics at Cornell. He recounts his childhood in Montreal and his decision to pursue an undergraduate degree in physics at McGill. Lepage discusses his Master’s work at Cambridge University and his decision to do his thesis research in particle physics at Stanford. He describes the fundamental advances happening at SLAC during his graduate years and his work on bound states of electrons and muons under the direction of Stanley Brodsky. Lepage discusses his postdoctoral appointment at Cornell and his work in high-precision QED calculations in atoms, and he describes the foundational impact of Ken Wilson’s work on lattice QCD and the intellectual revolution of renormalization. He describes this period as his entrée into QCD research, and he emphasizes the beauty of Ithaca and the supportive culture of the Physics Department as his main reasons to accept a faculty position at Cornell. Lepage explains how and when computers became central to Lattice QCD research and why effective field theory was an area of specialization that was broadly useful in other subfields. He describes the ongoing stubbornness of the Standard Model, and he discusses his tenure as chair of the department, then as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and his work on PCAST in the Obama administration. Lepage explains his longstanding interest in physics pedagogy, and he discusses his current work on the numerical integration program called VEGAS. In the last part of the interview, Lepage emphasizes that the most fundamental advances in physics are in astrophysics and cosmology and that lattice QCD should be “kept alive” because it’s unclear where it is going until physics goes beyond the Standard Model.