Science and state

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Yifang Wang, Director of the Institute of High Energy Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He describes the role of the Institute within the Chinese Academy, and he recounts his childhood in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, in China. Wang discusses his undergraduate work in nuclear physics at Nanjing University and he discusses the opportunities to being chosen by Sam Ting to go to CERN. He discusses his graduate work at the University of Florence, where Ting had the L3 experiment, and he described his work going back and forth from CERN for six years, and his involvement in the Higgs search and excited leptons. Wang discusses his postgraduate work in tau polarization and some of the theoretical bases for testing the Standard Model. He describes his work on the AMS collaboration and the search for antimatter, and he describes his postdoctoral work in neutrino oscillations at Stanford. Wang discusses the opportunities leading to his offer from the Institute of High Energy Physics in Beijing and the prospect of shooting a neutrino beam. He discusses the unique ways that the Chinese government supports physics, and the importance of the Beijing Electron-Positron Collider and the search for glueballs. Wang describes his increasing responsibilities at the Institute leading to his directorship, and he discusses his current work on the Large Circular Collider and the future prospects of high energy physics in China. He describes his tenure as director of Juno and the origins of the Daya Bay experiment. At the end of the interview, Wang asserts that the future of elementary particle physics is through the Higgs for which new understandings of space and time will be achieved, and he emphasizes the importance of scientific collaboration and the benefits of competition as a key component in the future of American-Chinese relations.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Roald Sagdeev, professor of physics emeritus at the University of Maryland. He recounts his family’s ethnic Tatar heritage, his childhood in Kazan, and his family’s experience during World War II. Sagdeev describes his physics education at Moscow State University, and how he felt regarding the larger issues of physics and Soviet national security – especially during his time in Sarov, which was the equivalent of Los Alamos National Lab for nuclear weapons research. He discusses his work on radiation transport in stellar atmospheres, his subsequent research at the Kurchatov Institute, and his graduate research in controlled nucleosynthesis under the direction of Lev Landau. Sagdeev describes this time as the origins of his expertise in plasma physics and he explains the work he was doing at a classified site in Siberia. He explains how major Cold War events including the Cuban Missile Crisis and nuclear diplomacy affected his career and his moral satisfaction in not contributing to weapons science. Sagdeev discusses his work at the Institute of Physics of High Temperatures, and his developing interests in astrophysics, and he explains his subsequent tenure at the Space Research Institute of the Academy of Sciences, and why the American moon landing demonstrated that Russia had ceded its dominance in the Space Race. He explains why manned space missions were always more politicized than unmanned missions and describes the political value of the Soviet-US Soyuz-Apollo test project as an opportunity for “hand shaking in space.” Sagdeev discusses his experiences advising Gorbachev on disarmament negotiations, and he shares his perspective on SDI and why it was actually the Pershing missile system that contributed more to the Soviet collapse than U.S. defense spending under Reagan. He describes witnessing the end of the Cold War as watching a movie in slow motion, and he explains how he met Susan Eisenhower and the circumstances leading to his move to the United States, where he joined the faculty at the University of Maryland and served as an adviser to NASA. Sagdeev explains his current interests in intergalactic shock waves and he shares his ideas on the newly formed U.S. Space Force and the weaponizing of space. At the end of the interview, Sagdeev shares that if he could start his career all over again, he would focus on neuroscience.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Neal Lane, University Professor Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University, with an additional affiliation at the Baker Institute for Public Policy. Lane recounts his childhood in Oklahoma and his education at the University of Oklahoma, where Chun Lin became his thesis advisor for his research on the excitation of a sodium atom from its ground state. He discusses his postdoctoral appointment at Queen’s University of Belfast to work with Alex Dalgarno before taking a position at JILA in Boulder. Lane describes his work with Sydney Geltman and the opportunity to take a faculty position at Rice, and he discusses his role as NSF physics division director. He narrates his decision to become chancellor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, before returning to Rice to serve as provost. Lane describes how the Clinton administration invited him to lead the NSF. He explains the importance of direct communication with OMB, his relationship with Al Gore, and the key guidance offered by National Academy reports. Lane describes the LIGO effort from his vantage point at the NSF, and he explains his time as director of OSTP and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology. Lane discusses his work for PCAST and in the creation of the NNSA, and he describes returning to Rice after Gore lost the presidency, where the Baker Institute allowed him an environment to continue working in science and policy. At the end of the interview, Lane emphasizes the power of human connections as the foundation of all good science and policy endeavors.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Peter Zimmerman, Emeritus Professor of Science and Security in the War Studies Department, King’s College London. Zimmerman recounts his upbringing in Wisconsin and then New Mexico in support of his father’s work in civilian and military defense, and he describes his early interests in science. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Stanford and the influence of Walter Meyerhof, and his decision to remain at Stanford for graduate school. Zimmerman discusses his postdoctoral appointments at DESY and then Fermilab until his first faculty appointment at LSU. He explains his involvement with the nuclear issues at the federal level in the 1970s and his offer to join the ACDA. Zimmerman discusses his opposition to strategic missile defense and he explains how his policy analysis work at the Carnegie Endowment filtered its way into policymaking. He describes the debates around ending nuclear testing and his interest in looking at nuclear weapons in the context of international terrorism. Zimmerman explains the negative security ramifications of the ACDA being folded into the Department of State and he explains his move to become Chief Scientist of Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He describes the scene in Washington on 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks in Congress, and he explains why he never believed that Saddam Hussein had a WMD capability before the Iraq War. Zimmerman discusses his professorship in London and his opportunity to create a new center on science and security, and he shares his perspective on the JCPOA and what bothered him the most about Trump’s foreign policy decisions. At the end of the interview, Zimmerman reflects on how to best translate scientific analysis into good policy outcomes, and why a lack of public interest or media coverage should never make us lose sight of ongoing security threats.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Marcia McNutt discusses: current position as President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in Washington, D.C.; mission, history, and structure of the NAS; NAS’s work on climate change and COVID-19; experience as a geophysicist; partnering with the National Academies of Engineering and Medicine; childhood in Minnesota; decision to study geophysics; graduate research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography; research on ocean island volcanism in French Polynesia and Hawaii; early use of magnetometers, gravity meters, and seismometers in oceanic plate tectonic observation; development of techniques to take gravity, bathymetry, or topography data on continent and use them in inversion to learn about topography; work directing Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI); time at US Geological Survey (USGS) under Ken Salazar; professorship at MIT and collaboration with Woods Hole; details of leading an oceanographic expedition in the Marquesas Islands; spearheading structural change at MBARI; MBARI-created autonomous device to identify microscopic ocean life without samples; MBARI-invented deep-sea laser Raman spectrometer; being the first organization to put AI on autonomous underwater vehicles to map plumes; response to the Deepwater Horizon spill; fracking; the National Water Census; decision to become editor-in-chief of Science; procedures as editor; career evolution; becoming president of NAS; transition from the Obama to Trump administrations; opinions on geo-engineering; Decadal survey; Koshland Science Museum and LabX; efforts to nominate and elect younger scientists and underrepresented minorities to the Academy; making recommendations to Congress; collaborations with the private sector; communication with the public; and the 2018 Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s report on sexual harassment in academia. Toward the end of the interview, McNutt reflects on her career as both scientist and leader and the importance of integrity in research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Cherry Murray, Professor of Physics and Deputy Director of Research at Biosphere 2 at the University of Arizona. She describes some of the logistical challenges in managing Biosphere 2 during the pandemic, and she considers how current political and environmental crises perhaps make the research at Biosphere 2 all the more urgently needed. Murray reflects on how her work at the DOE has been an asset for Biosphere 2 and she recounts her early childhood, first in Japan and then Pakistan during her father’s postings for the Foreign Service. She describes her high school education in Virginia and then South Korea and the opportunities that led to her undergraduate admission at MIT, where she became close with Millie Dresselhaus. Murray explains her decision to remain at MIT for graduate work to conduct research in surface physics under the direction of Tom Greytak. She discusses her subsequent work at Bell Labs on negative positron work functions and where she rose to become Vice President, and she provides context for some of the exciting developments in superconductivity. Murray explains the circumstances and impact of the breakup of Bell Labs, and she reflects on her contributions on surface enhanced Raman scattering during her tenure. She discusses her work with Ernest Moniz, the circumstances of her being named Deputy Director for Science and Technology at Livermore Lab, she describes her tenure at Harvard and the development of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and her experiences as Commissioner of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. At the end of the interview, Murray discusses the development of Biosphere 2, some of its early stumbles, and the vast research value it promises for the long term.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Joel Primack, Distinguished Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Primack discusses what he has been able to do in his free time since his retirement, including writing papers, giving lectures, hosting meetings at UC Santa Cruz, leading international collaborations, and supervising research. He sees the new data coming from the Vera Rubin Observatory and the Gaia Survey as exciting developments in the realm of astrophysics, and he is looking forward to adding to this data when we begin receiving images from the James Webb Space Telescope. Primack discusses his work with various simulations that he has utilized to understand what may be occurring within galaxies, and the growing importance of astrobiology in these simulations. He takes us back into his early years in Montana, where his passion for science began to develop, and how his high school education and internships led him to Princeton University for his undergraduate career. While at Princeton, Primack took classes from John Wheeler, worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab under Bill Pickering, and participated in the Students for a Democratic Society, where his interest in the combination of politics and science began to grow. Primack discusses how important the communication between politicians and scientists is, and he saw this need for improved communication early on. He started the Congressional Science and Technology Fellowship program as a preliminary way to work on the relationship between government and science. He then recounts his experiences at Harvard University and his eventual move to Santa Cruz, where he continued working on dark matter and dark energy, among other things. He remarks on his relationship and work with Nancy Abrams, including the courses they taught and the books they wrote together. He ends the interview talking about his family, his recovery from cancer, and the people he’s looking forward to working with in the future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
January 30, February 6, 13, 20 & 27, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview Dr. Kenneth Watson, Dr. Richard Garwin, Dr. Curtis Callan, and Dr. Roy Schwitters participate in a roundtable discussion on the origins and early history of the JASON scientific advisory group. Watson, an emeritus from University of California San Diego Scripps Institution of Oceanography, discusses the early efforts of Charles Townes and Marvin Stern in forming JASON. Garwin, IBM Fellow Emeritus at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Laboratory of IBM, reflects upon IDA, the management organization that allowed for the formation of the JASON group. Callan, Professor of Physics at Princeton University, discusses the Charney Report and the sponsorship of Ari Patrinos of the Department of Energy, and his relationship with JASON. Schwitters, Regents Professor Emeritus from University of Texas Austin, and Garwin detail JASON’s 1980 report on tunnel detection. The group reflects upon the launch of Sputnik in 1957, and how it added urgency to the creation of JASON. Watson and Garwin discuss the early agenda of JASON and their focus on detection of missile launches, nuclear effects, and Nick Christofilos work with particle beam weapons. They discuss the involvement of JASON in the Vietnam War effort and how some members were targeted by protestors for their involvement. Watson and Schwitters reflect on the presence of Claire Max and the time it took to get more women involved in JASON in face of the traditional “boys club” atmosphere that was present in professional circles at the time. Garwin speaks about the development of the sonic boom report. Callen talks about his study on neutrino detection and the purpose of JASON in a post-Cold War era. He also discusses JASONs work on CHAMMP, Computer Hardware, Advanced Mathematics and Model Physics. The group describes the Human Genome project of the late 1990s. Schwitters and Garwin discuss how JASON can offer independent judgment in ways U.S. Intelligence agencies cannot, such as in 2009 when they were commissioned to study North Korean nuclear capability. Lastly, Watson speaks about how he believes GPS will become an important issue of study for JASON in the future, a point which is furthered by Garwin who also cites cybersecurity in general as a main focal point for JASON moving forward.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Ilko Ilev, discusses his career as a Senior Biomedical Research Service Scientist within the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. He details getting his PhD from the Technical University of Sofia in laser physics, where his thesis was focused on the development of alternative effective laser designs with direct lens-free optical fiber outputs and their implementations towards nonlinear broadband frequency conversions in optical fibers. Ilev details his experience as a Senior Assistant Professor at the Technical University of Sofia where he taught courses on general physics, quantum electronics, and fiber optics. He discusses the relationship between the FDA and medical device manufacturers. He describes the FDA’s longstanding collaboration with the Uniformed Service University of the Health Sciences, which has resulted in the development of a new field, Photobiomodulation Therapeutics. Lastly, Ilev discusses the various ways in which physics is directly applicable to his work.