Solid state physics

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with James David Litster, Professor Emeritus at MIT. Litster recounts his childhood in Toronto, then Edmonton and back to Toronto for high school. He explains the importance of Sputnik both on his interests and for the support of science generally, and he describes his undergraduate education in engineering physics at McMaster University. Litster describes his graduate work at MIT, where he focused on experimental solid-state physics working under the direction of George Benedek. He explains his contributions to phase transition research, and he explains the opportunities leading to his postdoctoral research and faculty appointment at MIT. Litster describes his entrée into the world of liquid crystals and Landau theory working with de Gennes in Paris. He explains the origins of the joint MIT-Harvard Health Science and Technology program and he describes some of his scientific and administrative achievements at Vice President for Research at MIT and as a member of the MIT Nuclear Reactor Safeguards Committee. At the end of the interview, Litster reflects on some of the major advances that have been achieved in condensed matter physics over the course of his career, and how much more interdisciplinary science generally has become.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Jagdish (Jay) Narayan, John C.C. Fan Family Distinguished Chair Professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at North Carolina State University. Narayan explains his approach to materials science from the vantage point of understanding how materials create and advance technology. He explains his longstanding affiliation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and he recounts his childhood in Kanpur, northern India. Narayan describes his studies at IIT Kanpur in physics, math, and engineering, and he explains his decision to pursue a PhD at UC Berkeley in materials science under the direction of Jack Washburn. He discusses his thesis research on introducing defects in oxides using electron microscopy, and he describes his postdoctoral studies at Berkeley Lab before forming the Thin Film and Electron Microscopy Group at Oak Ridge. Narayan explains the discovery of laser annealing and rapid thermal processing of semiconductors and its many applications, and he describes his close collaboration with the Division of Materials Science at the DOE. He narrates the discovery of Q-carbon and he explains what it means to find a new material in nature and what the potential commercial applications are, including the creation of synthetic diamonds. Narayan explains his decision to join the faculty at NC State, and his partnership with the state government to develop the Microelectronics Center. He reflects on his contributions as an inventor, particularly relating to the formation of supersaturated semiconductor allows via ion implantation for semiconductor device fabrication. At the end of the interview, Narayan explains how physics drives his research sensibilities, why he is devoted to improving the resolution of electron microscopes, and why he is excited for the future of diamond and c-BN based high-power devices.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Robert Jennings, retired since 2018 from the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, where he was a research physicist. He recounts his childhood in Southern California and the formative influence of Sputnik on his physics education. Jennings discusses his undergraduate experience at Occidental and his master’s work at UCLA, and he describes his postgraduate work at the NASA Ames Research Center where he worked on optical detectors. He explains his decision to pursue a PhD at Dartmouth where he studied under John Merrill and worked on Tonks-Dattner resonances. Jennings describes the circumstances leading to his postdoctoral research in Brazil at the Institute of Atomic Energy, where he worked on medical radiation in the Division of Solid-State Physics. He discusses his subsequent research with John Cameron at the University of Wisconsin’s Medical Physics section to develop spectroscopy systems. Jennings explains that the expertise he developed in radiation and modeling in Wisconsin served as his entrée to the FDA ,which excited him as the place where the most impactful research was happening at the time. He surveys the major projects he was involved with over his career, including human visual signal detection, quality assessment of medical devices, improving mammography diagnostics, tomosynthesis, and CT scanners. At the end of the interview, Jennings surveys the fundamental developments that have advanced over the course of his forty-plus year career at FDA, his major contributions in tissue simulation science, and why he believes AI will become increasingly central to advances in medical imaging. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Lene Hau, Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard. Hau recounts her childhood in Denmark and her early interests in science, and she describes her education at the University of Aarhus. She describes her studies in math and physics and her determination to build something meaningful for experimentation. Hau describes her interest in using lasers to cool down atoms during her postdoctoral work at Harvard and at the Rowland Institute, and she describes the opportunities that led to her full-time work at Rowland. She describes her collaboration with Jene Golovchenko and the impact of the discovery of Bose-Einstein condensation in 1995. Hau details the experiments that initially slowed down and then ultimately stop light in a Bose-Einstein condensate. She explains her decision to join the Harvard faculty and she surveys some of the practical applications of her research. Hau describes her research in nanoscale systems and her interest in applying her research to create more energy efficient systems with the explicit goal of addressing climate change. She describes some of the difficulties and systemic biases that women have to deal with in the sciences, particularly when they achieve prominence. At the end of the interview, Hau explains her interest to promote diversity in physics and particularly to encourage students who are the first in their generation to go to college.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Moty Heiblum, Professor of Condensed Matter Physics at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. Heiblum discusses his current work in mesoscopic physics and he reflects broadly on the interplay between theory and experiment in condensed matter. He recounts his family's travails in Europe during World War II and he discusses his childhood outside Tel Aviv. Heiblum describes his military service during the Six Day War and his education at Technion. He explains his interest in focusing on integrated optics for graduate school, and he describes the convoluted path that led to his research at UC Berkeley. Heiblum talks about his postdoctoral transition to solid state research at IBM Labs, and he explains his decision to return to Israel and to build up a solid-state program at the Weizmann. He describes his longstanding interest in the quantum Hall effect and his fascination with turning electrons "on and off." Heiblum discusses his group's contributions to quasiparticle research and he reflects on receiving the Buckley Prize. At the end of the interview, Heiblum conveys his motivations in building devices, he describes the "eureka" moments in his career, and he explains his future focus on exploring the possibilities of working with gallium arsenide.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Philip Phillips, Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Phillips recounts his early childhood in Tobago and the circumstances of his family’s move to Washington State. He conveys his bemusement at having no degree in physics, as his graduate work at the University of Washington was in chemistry, where he completed a PhD on fluorescence lifetimes in single molecules under the direction of Ernest Davidson, and where David Boulware provided the intellectual entrée to physics. Phillips explains the opportunities that allowed him to pursue postdoctoral work at Berkeley and learning RG from Orlando Alvarez. He describes his first faculty position in the chemistry department at MIT, some of the research challenges given that his primary interests were in physics, and his feeling that MIT was at the time not a very inclusive atmosphere. Phillips discusses his work on the random dimer model and the happenstance opportunity that led to his faculty appointment at Illinois. He explains getting involved with the National Society of Black Physicists and his efforts to make the department more diverse. Phillips describes the research that was recognized by the Edward Bouchet award and why Tony Leggett is among the few physicists who truly understands Mottness. He discusses advances in strongly coupled electron systems and he explains why he dislikes the term condensed matter and prefers solid-state. Phillips reflects on STEM’s response to the racial strife over the past year, and he discusses his current interests in pseudogaps. At the end of the interview, Phillips conveys his dream to solve the Hubbard model and to make advances in high-Tc research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Bertram Batlogg, Professor Emeritus at ETH Zurich. Batlogg surveys his current interests in topological superconductivity and superconductivity in twisted layer graphene, and he connects this current research with his own work at Bell Labs earlier in his career. He considers the current state of play in high-Tc research and he recounts his family's Austrian heritage and his upbringing early interests in physics. Batlogg describes his undergraduate experience at ETH Zurich and his reasons for remaining to complete his PhD thesis work. He describes Bell Labs as the Mecca for his research as a postdoctoral fellow and then as a staff scientist. Batlogg discusses his work on Hall effect measurements, superconductivity, and heavy Fermions, and he describes his tenure as head of the solid state physics and materials research division.  He describes the culture of basic science and how it changed from the 1980s to the 1990s, and he discusses his formative collaborations with Bob Cava and 1-2-3 YBCO. He narrates the story of meeting Jan Hendrik Schön and the issues that would lead to the investigation led by Mac Beasley. Batlogg conveys the scientific and emotional turmoil of this episode and the impact this episode had on his sense of trust in people. He describes participating in the investigation after he had already left Bell Labs to return to ETH Zurich to build up a research group with a focus that included topics such as charge dynamics and heavy Fermions in very high magnetic fields. At the end of the interview, Batlogg emphasizes advances in data acquisition and spectroscopy that propelled the field forward over his career, and he considers how some his research can contribute in the future to discoveries in both the applied and basic realms of science.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Philip Pincus is a Distinguished Professor of Materials, Physics, and Biomolecular Science at UC Santa Barbara. In this interview, he explains the origin of his nickname “Fyl,” he recounts his childhood in San Francisco, as well as his decision to study physics at Berkeley and his mentorship by Charlie Kittel. Pincus describes his thesis research on temperature dependence of anisotropy energy, and nuclear spin relaxation in magnetic materials. He describes his postdoctoral work at Saclay and his faculty appointment at UCLA, and he describes working with de Gennes and Alan Heeger. Pincus describes his contributions to dirty type II superconductors and the excitement surrounding early research on liquid crystals. He explains his decision to join the research lab at Exxon Mobil and he describes the basic science research culture there and his increasing focus on soft matter physics, which he continued to pursue at UC Santa Barbara in the Chemical Engineering Department. Pincus discusses his current interests in water and cohesive energy, and at the end of the interview, he reflects on the growth of soft matter physics out of his original interest in solid state physics, and he explains why condensed matter theorists might have something to offer dark matter research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
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Remote Interview
Abstract

This is an interview with Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy, Engineering and Applied Sciences Emeritus at Harvard. He recounts his childhood in India and he explains the origins of his nickname “Venky” by which everyone knows him, and he explains his transition from a career primarily rooted in lab work to his more current interests in science and national public policy. He describes the imperial British influence that pervaded his upbringing, and he discusses his education at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. He explains the opportunities that lead to his graduate work at Cornell to study solid state physics with a focus on defects in crystals under the direction of Robert Pohl. Narayanamurti describes his brief return to India before he was recruited to work at Bell Labs where he ultimately rose to serve as Director of Solid-state Electronics and as head of the Semiconductor Electronics Research Department. He contextualizes his decision to join the faculty at UC Santa Barbara after working at Sandia National Lab against the backdrop of the impending breakup of Bell. He discusses his work at Dean building up the computer science, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering programs before he decided to come to Harvard where he was the founding Dean of the Engineering and Applied Sciences. He explains his interest in joining the Kennedy School as he became more interested in public policy. At the end of the interview, Narayanamurti conveys optimism that higher education in the United States will be equipped to study and offer key solutions to some of the key scientific and technological challenges of the future. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Remote Interview
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Kenneth Nordtvedt, Professor Emeritus of Physics at Montana State University. Nordtvedt recounts his childhood in suburban Chicago and he describes how he discovered his early talents in math and science. He discusses his undergraduate experience at MIT and he explains the formative impact that Sputnik had on his scientific interests. Nordtvedt discusses his graduate work at Stanford, where he studied with Marshall Sparks, and he explains his decision to leave the program early to return to MIT where he worked in the Instrumentation Lab. Nordtvedt describes his dissertation work at Stanford on the coupling of fermions to bosons, and his interest in pursuing research that would be mutually beneficial to elementary particle physics and solid state physics. He describes his postgraduate work on bubble chambers at Los Alamos, and he explains the origins of his interest in general relativity and the influence of Leonard Schiff. Nordtvedt describes his teaching and research career at Montana State, and his long-standing collaborations with NASA. He discusses some of his politically-oriented motivations to retire early, and at the end of the interview, Nordtvedt describes some of the contract physics work he has done in recent years.