Women in physics

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Michal Lipson, Eugene Professor in the Departments of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at Columbia University. She recounts her childhood as the daughter of a prominent physicist whose work took the family to Israel and then in Brazil, where she spent her formative years in São Paulo. Lipson explains her decision to pursue a degree in physics at Technion in Israel, where she remained to complete her graduate studies in semiconductor physics under the direction of Elisha Cohen. She describes her postdoctoral research at MIT in material science with Lionel Kimerling, and she explains the opportunities that led to her first faculty position at Cornell. Lipson describes her dual interest in pursuing basic science research and industry-relevant work. She discusses her work in photonics which led to her MacArthur fellowship and the significance of her study of slot waveguides and optical amplification in silicon. Lipson describes her subsequent work in nonlinear photonics and high-power lasers, and she explains the opportunity leading to her current position at Columbia, where she has focused on two-dimensional materials. At the end of the interview, Lipson emphasizes the fundamental importance of oscillators that have always informed her research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Location
Video conference
Abstract

For information regarding this transcript, please contact [email protected].

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Donna Strickland, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Waterloo. Strickland describes the challenges of operating an experimental laser lab during the pandemic, and she recounts her childhood in Nova Scotia, her early interests in science, and her decision to pursue an engineering physics degree at McMaster. She discusses the early influence of Brian Garside and her immediate interest in CO2 lasers. Strickland describes her graduate research at the University of Rochester where she worked with Gérard Morou, whose lab was pursuing shorter laser pulses. She narrates the origins of the CPA laser idea and explains some of the technical challenges in designing the CPA system. Strickland discusses the opportunity to work at the NRC with Paul Corkum and then her subsequent position at Livermore before she joined a research group at Princeton. She describes securing her first full time faculty position at Waterloo and her interest in coherent control of molecules and why she enjoys two color lasers. Strickland describes her service work for the OSA, and she narrates how she never noticed the “buzz” leading up to the announcement that she won the Nobel Prize. She emphasizes the importance of Steve Williamson’s contributions to the CPA research and her post-Nobel work with the OSA on environmental measurement and modeling. At the end of the interview, Strickland emphasizes the importance of luck in her career, she reviews the broader applications of CPA lasers, and she conveys her interest in quantum entanglement which she hopes to pursue when her schedule allows.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Sally Dawson, Senior Scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and head of the high energy theory group there. Dawson recounts her childhood in Cleveland where her father was a rocket scientist for NASA. She describes her undergraduate education at Duke and how she came to focus on physics. Dawson cites the formative influence of Howard Georgi during her graduate work on proton decay and precision calculations at Harvard. She discusses her postdoctoral research in the theory group at Fermilab and her focus on some of the theoretical implications of the Tevatron project. Dawson surveys the research on supersymmetry and the Higgs mass at that time, and she explains her decision to join the scientific staff at Brookhaven where Mike Creutz and Bill Marciano were doing research of interest to her. Dawson discusses her long-term efforts to search for new physics beyond the Standard Model and she describes her book the Higgs Hunter’s Guide. She surveys what is known and unknown about the Higgs boson, and she discusses the g-2 muon experiment at Brookhaven and its relation to the current experiment at Fermilab. Dawson explains the value of the Snowmass process in achieving a high-level and future-oriented view of where the field is headed, and why the discovery of the Higgs demonstrated the overall accuracy of the Standard Model. She surveys the new questions that can be probed following the Higgs discovery and the complementary nature of neutrino precision measurements for this research. At the end of the interview, Dawson discusses her outreach efforts to emphasize that particle theory is not “dead,” why she sees advisory work as a vital service to the field, and why over the course of her career, experimentalists have provided more guidance to theorists, and not vice-versa.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Elizabeth Simmons discusses: role as Executive Vice Chancellor (EVC) at UC San Diego; impact of COVID-19; current developments in the field that she finds exciting; family background and childhood; experiences as a woman in physics; M.Phil at Cambridge in Volker Heine’s group working on condensed matter theory; study of condensed matter theory at Harvard; Howard Georgi; work on models exploring electroweak symmetry breaking and quark masses; opinions on why SSC died and the impact on the field; collaboration with Cynthia Brossman on the Pathways K12 outreach project supporting girls’ involvement in STEM; research on the top quark; interest in supersymmetry and physics Beyond the Standard Model (BSM) using a Higgless model; papers with husband Sekhar Chivukula and others exploring the idea of a five-dimensional spacetime; leading Lyman Briggs College; MOOSE model; reaction to the discovery of the Higgs boson; post-Higgs work distinguishing which models can and can’t be consistent with the data; consulting work for the American Physical Society (APS) and the wider academic and scientific community on matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI); advocacy on behalf of the LGBTQ community; advisory work for the Center for High Energy Physics in China; collaborations at the Aspen Center for Physics to support EDI in the field; role creating career development workshops for women at the International Center for Theoretical Physics; work increasing EDI in curricula and faculty hiring; building cross-field collaboration at UCSD; collaboration with other EVCs in the UC system; current physics work on model building and how to get the most out of available data; and current work on graviton-graviton scattering. Toward the end of the interview, Simmons reflects on intersectionality and the value of diversity in science and discovery.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
February 15, March 29, May 12, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of CERN, reflects on being the first woman in this position and the multi-layered challenges of maintaining operations at CERN during the pandemic. She recounts her upbringing in Milan and the scientific influence of her father, who was a geologist. Gianotti describes her education at the University of Milan and her formative interactions with Carlo Rubbia at CERN. She describes her work on the LEP and ADELPH collaborations and how the cancellation of the SSC affected CERN. Gianotti narrates the origins of the LHC and parallel concentration on supersymmetry and she describes the ATLAS and CMS teams and her advisory work for P5 in the United States. She discusses her election and responsibilities as Spokesperson of ATLAS and she describes the careful process of detecting and analyzing the signals that confirmed the Higgs. Gianotti describes the unique opportunity to engage a global audience given the magnitude and interest in the discovery, and she explains LHC’s planning, post-Higgs, for new physics. She describes the shutdown period that started in 2013 and the circumstances to her being named Director-General in 2013. Gianotti surveys what has, and has not, been detected at the LHC over the past decade, and how dark matter searches at CERN are complementary to those using Xenon detectors. She conveys optimism about the high luminosity upgrade at the LHC and how she frequently operates in political realms given the international nature of CERN. At the end of the interview, Gianotti observes that current projects at the CERN are reminiscent of the buildup to the LHC, and why this bodes well for the future of experimental particle physics. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Junko Shigemitsu, Professor Emerita in the Department of Physics at the Ohio State University, surveys the field of lattice gauge theory over the course of her career, and she recounts her childhood moving around the world because her father was a diplomat for Japan’s foreign ministry. She explains the circumstances that led her family back to Japan, and her decision to pursue a degree in physics at Sophia University in Tokyo. Shigemitsu discusses her interest in attending Cornell for graduate school, where she studied under the direction John Kogut. She discusses Ken Wilson’s revolutionary work on renormalization, and her thesis work on QCD. Shigemitsu describes her postdoctoral work at the Institute for Advanced Study at a time when lattice gauge theory was beginning to mature, and she discusses her subsequent postdoctoral position at Brown. She explains that opportunities that led to her faculty position at Ohio State and her subsequent research on QCD at non-zero temperatures. Shigemitsu discusses the international HPQCD collaboration and more recent advances in understanding subatomic particles in partnership with SLAC and KEK in Japan. She places the greatest excitement in finding physics beyond the Standard Model in the period starting in 2009, and she explains the increasing utility of computers as their power has grown over the decades. At the end of the interview, Shigemitsu conveys her excitement that the field will yield new discoveries, perhaps including new physics, and that quantum computing will likely be central to these prospects. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
March 2, 4, 8, 2021
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview with Kate Kirby, recently retired and now CEO Emerita of the American Physical Society, Kirby surveys the many challenges in leading APS during the pandemic, and she recounts her early childhood in Washington DC and then Chicago. She describes her early interests in science and her decision to attend Harvard-Radcliffe for her undergraduate education. Kirby discusses her gravitation toward physics after her initial intent to be pre-med, and she explains her decision to pursue thesis research in chemical physics at Chicago under the direction of Juergen Hinze before returning to Harvard for her postdoctoral research at the Harvard College Observatory which soon merged with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. She explains her decision to take a full time federal position at the Observatory and she describes her merging interests of chemical and atmospheric physics. Kirby narrates the steady advances in leadership positions she took on at the Observatory, and she describes her increasing involvement in APS activities. She explains the circumstances of becoming Executive Officer of APS in 2009 and she describes the central issue of corporate reform. Kirby describes the process of taking a broad view of the entirety of physics research from this vantage point and the value she places in growing APS membership. She discusses her emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in physics, particularly after the events of 2020, and she narrates her considerations about when to step down from leadership. At the end of the interview, Kirby considers some of the key challenges and opportunities as APS charts its future, she specifies science and ethics and a key area for APS to focus on, and she reflects on the gains women in physics have made over the course of her career.

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

In this interview, Glennys Farrar, professor at New York University, discusses her career and shifting interests within physics. She details her time as an undergraduate student at University of California, Berkeley. Farrar discusses how she chose to attend Princeton University for graduate school to further her interest in particle theory. She discusses her thesis research which calculated the rate of decay for The Lambda under the mentorship of her advisor Sam Treiman. She describes the social isolation she faced within the physics department as the only woman. Farrar discusses her time as a postdoc at Caltech and details her research on the pion decay constant, as well as pioneering the field of phenomenological supersymmetry. Additionally, she speaks on the sexism she experienced while at Caltech. She details her experience at Rutgers University where she worked on Hadron Physics. Farrar discusses her time at New York University as Chair of the Department of Physics and her efforts putting together a strong faculty. She also details her growing interest in cosmology at this time and describes founding the Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics. She also speaks about her work on the stellar tidal disruption phenomenon. Lastly, Farrar notes her excitement for the increase in computation power in the future and reflects on the merging of different fields of physics.