Physics -- Study and teaching

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 27 & August 2, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
Eline V. A. van den Heuvel
Interview date
Interview dates
January 14, February 8, and May 11, 2020
Location
Kensington Park Senior Living, Kensington, Maryland, USA
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
July 27 and August 18, 2020
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Anne Kinney, Deputy Center Director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Kinney recounts her childhood in Wisconsin and her early interests in science. She describes her undergraduate experience at the University of Wisconsin where she pursued degrees in physics and astronomy. Kinney discusses her time in Denmark at the Niels Bohr Institute before completing her graduate work at NYU relating to the International Ultraviolet Explorer. She explains the opportunities leading to her postdoctoral appointment at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore where she focused on obtaining optical data and near-infrared data to understand spectral energy distribution for quasars and blazars. Kinney discusses her work on the aberrated Hubble Telescope and her new job at NASA Headquarters where she became head of Origins before she was transferred to Goddard where she became division direct of the Planetary Division. She describes Goddard’s efforts to promote diversity and she describes her subsequent position as chief scientist at Keck Observatory before returning to Washington to join the National Science Foundation to be head of the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Kinney provides a broad view of the NSF budgetary environment, and she explains the circumstances that led her back to NASA to her current work. She describes where Goddard fits into NASA’s overall mission and she explains her interest in promoting NASA in an educational framework to children. At the end of the interview, Kinney conveys her excitement about the James Webb Telescope and why she is committed to ensuring that NASA is a driver behind the broader effort to make astronomy and physics more diverse.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with David Griffiths, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Reed College. Griffiths discusses his current projects on Sidney Coleman’s lecture series and a completing a fifth edition of his textbook on electrodynamics. He surveys the current interplay between experiment in theory in today’s world of particle physics, and he reflects on his career rooted in small teaching colleges, as opposed to pursuing an alternate path at large research universities. Griffiths recounts his childhood in Berkeley and then in Madison in support of his father’s academic career, and he describes finishing out high school in Vermont before attending Harvard. He laments the poor physics education Harvard offered when he was an undergraduate, and he explains his decision to remain at Harvard for graduate school, where Sidney Coleman and Carl Bender advised his thesis work on massless field theory. Griffiths discusses his postdoctoral appoints at the University of Utah and then the University of Massachusetts, and he explains how the November revolution at SLAC resonated with him. After brief teaching appointments at Mount Holyoke and Trinity Colleges, Griffiths explains his decision to join the faculty at Reed and how he learned to strike the right balance between teaching and research. He describes the origins and his motivations in writing textbooks for physics students and how he has integrated pedagogy into his mentorship of students. Griffiths discusses the influence of Kuhn in his more recent survey of physics in the twentieth century, and at the end of the interview, he explains why including students in his own research is both personally and academically meaningful.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Tsuneyoshi (Tune) Kamae, Professor Emeritus, both of the University of Tokyo, Department of Physics and of SLAC. Kamae discusses his current work configuring digital devices on science education for the visually impaired, and he recounts his childhood in Himeji and then Osaka, Japan and his early memories of World War II. He describes his undergraduate education at Kyoto University and his developing interest in physics and the opportunity that led to his acceptance at Princeton to work with Val Fitch on the root cause of CP violation. Kamae describes his postdoctoral work at KEK in Japan, where he studied the internal motion of the proton inside the nucleus, and he explains the circumstances that led him to LBL and then SLAC to work on the Time Projection Chamber. He discusses his involvement with the SSC planning and how he became involved in X-ray astronomy. Kamae discusses SLAC’s embrace of astrophysics under the leadership of Burt Richter, and he reflects on some of the cultural differences in physics environments in the United States and Japan. At the end of the interview Kamae shares his hopes for the future of the education program he is developing, and he discusses some of the strategic challenges Japan is facing in light of its demographic trends.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Arthur Eisenkraft, Professor of Physics, Distinguished Professor of Science Education, and Director of the Center of Science and Math in Context (COSMIC) at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He explains the origins of COSMIC and its role in his transition from high school to university teaching, and he discusses his current focus on the Wipro Science Education Fellowship Program. Eisenkraft surveys current trends in science pedagogy, and he reflects on the value of UMass Boston’s diverse student population for his research. He recounts his upbringing in Queens, his strong public school education, and his decision to go to Stony Brook for college where he started to think about education in scientific terms. Eisenkraft discusses his experience with the Peace Corps in Nepal before returning to Stony Brook for graduate school to work under Cliff Swartz on Fourier optics. He discusses his PhD research at NYU in science education and he explains his decision to pursue high school teaching. Eisenkraft surveys his advisory work for the National Research Council and how the NAEP Frameworks Project started. He explains his strategic partnership with Toshiba, and he describes the feedback mechanisms that inform his research. At the end of the interview, Eisenkraft frames teaching as a means to learning, and he conveys his interest in watching how higher education plans to combat systemic racism in the future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
February 18 and April 26, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Nergis Mavalvala, Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor of Physics and Dean of the School of Science at MIT. Mavalvala surveys her administrative focus as Dean in a time of the pandemic, and to foster inter-departmental research. Mavalvala recounts her childhood in Karachi, Pakistan, and her Zoroastrian heritage, and she explains the opportunities that led to her coming to the United States where she pursued her undergraduate education at Wellesley and she developed her skills in experimental physics and in the machine shop. She describes her decision to attend MIT for graduate school, and she narrates meeting Rai Weiss and her involvement in the LIGO project. Mavalvala describes coming to understand her queer identity in graduate school and her understanding of the complex arrangement between Caltech, NSF, MIT and the detector sites in Washington state and Louisiana. She discusses her postdoctoral position with the LIGO group at Caltech and her focus on mirror interferometry and Caltech’s support in securing her green card. She explains her decision to return to MIT to join the faculty and the transition to Advanced LIGO. Mavalvala narrates the excitement and moment of LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves, and she explains what it means to detect them and the broader technical, theoretical and astrophysical significance of this achievement. She describes the careful analysis to confirm that data and the excitement surrounding the announcement, and she discusses the generosity in the way that Kip Thorne, Barry Barish, and Rai Weiss accepted the Nobel Prize. Mavalvala emphasizes all of the applied scientific discovery achieved through the creation of the LIGO instrumentation, and she talks about her work as a professor and mentor to graduate students. She explains her decision in accepting the dean position and how she maintained an active research agenda. At the end of the interview, Mavalvala describes all of the fundamental discovery that can be made as the LIGO collaboration charts its future.