Quasars

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 Roger Blandford, the Luke Blossom Professor at the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University and Professor of Physics at SLAC. He discusses his current work developing alternate understandings of the Event Horizon Telescope image, on fast radio bursts, and on the notion that handedness has astrophysical origins. Blandford describes the history of cosmology as a respectable discipline within physics, and he credits the rise of VLBI in the 1960s and 1970s for demonstrating the evidence of black holes. He recounts his childhood in England, his early interests in science, and his education at Cambridge, where his thesis research on accretion discs and radio sources was supervised by Martin Rees. Blandford discusses his postdoctoral work on astrophysical particle acceleration and plasma and QED processes in pulsars and a formative visit to the Institute for Advanced Study and to Berkeley. He describes his initial impressions of Caltech where he joined the faculty and where he worked closely with Roman Znajek, and he explains the distinctions between radio jets and relativistic jets. Blandford explains his reasons for moving to Stanford to set up the Kavli Institute and he describes his involvement with the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey. At the end of the interview, Blandford contends that the most exciting developments in the field have been on exoplanet research, why the possibilities in astrobiology give him cause for optimism, and why the concept that astronomical discovery arrives as “logically unscripted” resonates with him.

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
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Meg Urry, Israel Munson Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Yale University, and Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. She recounts her childhood in Indiana and then in Boston and she discusses her family background and what she gained as a result of having a father who was a professor of chemistry. Urry describes her undergraduate experience at Tufts, where she developed her career interests in physics, and she describes a formative summer working at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, where she became the first person to identify the first gravitational lens source of a background quasar. Urry discusses the circumstances leading to her graduate work at Johns Hopkins, where she conducted research with Art Davidsen, and she explains how she got her first job at the Goddard Space Flight Center where she spent a majority of her time during graduate school. She describes her research with Richard Mushotzky on blazars, and she explains some of the cultural differences between physics, which she felt was overly hierarchical and astronomy, which was more laid back and which employed many more women. Urry discusses her postdoctoral research on Seyfert galaxy spectra at MIT with Claude Canizares, who at the time was building the Chandra X-ray Observatory. She describes her second postdoctoral position at the Space Telescope Science Institute where she focused on the unification of radio-loud AGN, and she describes the decisions that led to her first full-time job at Space Telescope. She describes the high-pressure work environment at Space Telescope, and some of the structural disadvantages she experienced as a woman. Urry reflects on some of the shifting distinctions in the terms astronomy and astrophysics, and she explains the centrality of supermassive black holes during her tenure at Space Telescope. Urry recounts her decision to join the physics faculty at Yale, and she describes her excitement at the prospect of teaching in an academic environment. She describes how she maintained her collaborations with her former colleagues associates with the Hubble telescope. Urry describes tenure as chair of the department, and she reflects on her efforts to encourage a culture of greater diversity and inclusivity in the department, where she championed the recognition and promotion of many women and people of color, and she shares her ideas on how the physics community can work collectively to continue to advance this work. Urry discusses her work as president of the American Astronomical Society, and she reflects on the lessons of perseverance she learned from her father. At the end of the interview, Urry provides an overview of the current state of research on supermassive black holes, and she describes her work conveying scientific concepts to a broader audience. At the end of the interview, Urry explains the specific threats that science faces in a culture of eroding trust in public institutions.

Interviewed by
Jarita Holbrook
Interview date
Location
Le Meridien Resort, Mauritius
Abstract

In this interview, Radhakhrishna (Dinesh) Somanah discusses topics such as: his educational background, Loyola College, George Sudarshan, University of Mauritius, Mauritius Radio Telescope, Raman Research Institute (RRI), Ravi Subrahmanyan, International Astronomical Union (IAU), Nadeem Oozeer, radio astronomy, Richard Hundstead, quasars.

Interviewed by
David DeVorkin
Interview date
Location
American Institute of Physics, New York City, New York
Abstract

In this interview, Geoffrey Burbidge discusses his life and career.  Topics discussed include: his family and childhood; Bristol University; Nevill Mott; University College, London; Harrie Massey; David Robert Bates; theoretical physics seminars at Cambridge University; Richard Feymnan; Freeman Dyson; Dick Dalitz; Abdus Salam; Nicholas Kemmer; becoming interested in astronomy and astrophysics via Margaret Burbidge; Royal Astronomical Society; Clive Gregory; research into stellar parallax, stellar atmospheres; Herbert Dingle; Auger effect; Otto Struve; Harvard University; Bart Bok; Donald Menzel; Harlow Shapley; Yerkes Observatory; development of radio astronomy; I. I. Rabi and big bang skepticism; Chandrasekhar; Gerard Kuiper; Enrico Fermi; Cavendish Laboratory, Martin Ryle; nucleosynthesis; Kapitza Club; Willie Fowler; Fred Hoyle; stellar evolution; steady state cosmology; red shift; Erwin Finlay-Freundlich; Max Born; Mount Wilson Observatory; Allan Sandage; Milt Humason; Ira Bowen; status at women at Hale observatories and at the California Institute of Technology (CalTech); Edwin Hubble; Walter Baade; synchrotron radiation; Rudolph Minkowski; Californium and supernovae; Halton Arp; Hans Suess; Vera Rubin's work on anisotropy; quasars; galaxy formation.

Interviewed by
Paul Wright
Interview date
Location
Perceptions of Scientific Works
Abstract

Childhood and unconventional early education; Harvard University: impressions of courses and social climate; Caltech, Mt. Wilson, comments on Walter Baade and background of Baade’s theory; differences between astronomy and astrophysics; early professional career work on Magellanic clouds; interest in peculiar galaxies, Viktor A. Ambartsumian at the 1957 Solvay Conference; Fritz Zwicky; Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies; comments on published papers: Distribution of Quasars compared to Maarten Schmidt’s work with similar title; Edoard Stephan’s quintet; work on discrepant red shift with respect to the Friedman universe; future research interest, non-professional interests. Also prominently mentioned are: Basch, Bart Jan Bok, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, William Alfred Fowler, Jesse Leonard Greenstein, Edwin Powell Hubble, Milton Lasell Humason, Bernard Lovell, Rudolph Leo Bernhard Minkowski, Jan Hendrik Oort, Edison Petit, Robert Richardson, Allan Sandage, Maarten Schmidt, Harlow Shapley, Dick Stoy, Vanderlaan, Gerard Henri de Vaucouleurs; Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies, Institut de Physique at Solvay, and United States Navy.