Interview with Demetrius Venable, Professor Emeritus at Howard University. Venable discusses the administrative distinctions between physics and astronomy at Howard, and he surveys some of the most interest projects currently in train at NASA. He recounts his upbringing in segregated small-town Virginia, the educational limitations this imposed, and his service in ROTC at Virginia State University. He discusses a formative intensive summer program at Columbia, and he describes the opportunities that led to his graduate admission at American University to work with Richard Kay on the effectiveness of circular polarization versus linear polarization in excited states in solid material. Venable describes his postdoctoral research at IBM, then taking a faculty position at St. Paul’s College, before taking a longer-term position at Hampton Institute. He discusses his early involvement with NASA’s remote sensing program, he describes his tenure as director of the dual degree engineering program and the collaborative opportunities he was able to pursue with Jefferson Lab. Venable recounts his increasing administrative responsibilities leading to becoming Provost at Hampton, and he discusses the growth of the NASA-supported Center for Optical Physics. He explains his decision to move to Howard, where he could be more fully involved in research for CSTEA and the LiDAR system, and his partnership with NOAA on climate modeling. Venable conveys his enjoyment at receiving NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, and he provides historical perspective on current and past calls to make STEM more diverse and inclusive. At the end of the interview, Venable explains his deep interest in physics education, and he expresses optimism in the long-term strength of Howard’s physics program.
Interview with Sylvester James Gates, Jr., Ford Foundation Professor of Physics and Director of the Theoretical Physics Center at Brown University. Gates discusses his preparations to lead the APS and the value of his service for PCAST for this new role. Gates recounts his family heritage and he discusses his father’s military service and the death of his mother. He explains how his family navigated racist challenges during his upbringing in El Paso and then in Orlando and how he navigated his own intellectual abilities in school. Gates explains his interest in physics in high school and the opportunities that led to his admission at MIT for his undergraduate work. He recounts the many mentors who made a positive impression on him and he explains his realization that his specialty would be at the boundary between math and physics. Gates describes his earliest interactions with string theory and he explains his decision to remain at MIT for his graduate work to work with Jim Young on supersymmetry. He paints a broader picture of supergravity research at this time and the rising importance of computers for this work. Gates describes his postdoctoral research at Harvard as a Junior Fellow, where he worked closely with Warren Siegel, and he describes his decision to join the faculty at MIT after a subsequent postdoctoral position at Caltech. He addresses Shelly Glashow’s criticism of string theory, and he explains his decision to leave MIT for a faculty position at the University of Maryland. Gates reflects on his teaching and mentoring career at Maryland, he describes his time at Howard University, and he discusses the broader issue of diversity in physics and AIP’s TEAM-UP Report. He describes his more recent interests in graph theory and the broader effort to unify gravity with the other forces. Gates reflects on how he became an advisor to President Obama for PCAST and how he worked with John Holdren to translate reports into policy changes. He explains his decision to go emeritus at Maryland and to take a new position at Brown, and why joining the Watson Institute was an attractive part of the offer. Gates reflects on assuming leadership at APS during the twin crises of Covid and racial strife, he surveys the state of string theory and high energy physics, and he explains why supersymmetry might offer a path to understanding dark matter. At the end of the interview, Jim conveys his hope that his work in math will yield deep insights into nature, and he considers the possibility of pursuing an autobiographical project.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Jackson recounts her family heritage and describes her upbringing in Washington DC and her early experiences attending segregated schools and visiting the Smithsonian museums. She considers some of the opportunities that came with being high school valedictorian, and she describes the circumstances leading to her undergraduate admission at MIT. Jackson discusses the discrimination she encountered during college and describes her experience amid campus protests against the Vietnam War. She describes her undergraduate thesis on tunneling density states in superconducting niobium-titanium alloys, and she explains why the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was central to her decision to remain at MIT for graduate school. Jackson describes her thesis research officially under the direction of Jim Young but in reality more with Roman Jackiw. She discusses her experience as a postdoctoral researcher Fermilab, where she continued her thesis research on one-particle inclusive reactions, and then CERN, where she worked as a fellow of the Ford Foundation, and from which she used as a home base to travel in Europe. Jackson describes her subsequent work at Bell Labs where she focused on the electronic and optical properties of layered materials. She explains her decision to join the faculty at Rutgers University and she describes the moment not long after when President Clinton asked her to become the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Jackson recounts the history and structure of the NRC and she shares her views on the role of nuclear power as an energy sources and as part of the solution for climate change. She describes the interplay between regulation and private industry from her vantage point of leading the NRC and the responsibility of ensuring safety in the civilian nuclear energy industry. Jackson discusses her work as a board member of the New York Stock Exchange, and she explains the circumstances that led to her being named President of RPI. She describes the process for establishing a mandate and a vision for the university as she assumed leadership. Jackson discusses her work in the Obama administration as a member of PCAST and the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and she explains why as president of a university it is important not to get caught up in the political controversies of any particular day. She shares her views on the importance of diversity and inclusivity in higher education and she describes how RPI has dealt with broader issues of racial justice in 2020. Jackson discusses her work on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus task force, and what she has learned from the pandemic. She describes why being awarded the National Medal of Science is so important to her personally and she reflects on her contributions in physics, and particularly on the properties of unique two-dimensional systems. At the end of the interview, Jackson describes her central focus on guiding RPI through the pandemic and championing environmental issues.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Stephen McGuire, James and Ruth Smith Endowed Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Southern University and A&M College. McGuire recounts his family’s heritage in Louisiana and his upbringing in New Orleans, which was completely segregated during his childhood. He describes his early interests in physics and how NASA and the space race captured his boyhood imagination. McGuire describes his undergraduate education at Southern, where he was given a full scholarship and where he pursued a degree in physics. He explains his decision to enter graduate school at the University of Rochester where he focused on experimental nuclear physics and was supported by the NSF on the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory. He discusses the import of the Cold War on nuclear physics during his graduate school years, and his work with the Fulbright Group, named after Harry Fulbright, who worked on the Manhattan Project. McGuire explains his decision to transfer from Rochester to the Applied and Engineering Physics Program at Cornell for his Ph.D. and where he studied under David Delano Clark, who was the director of the Ward Laboratory of Nuclear Engineering. He discusses his postdoctoral work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he joined the High Flux Isotope Reactor group, and his subsequent work as a professor at Alabama A&M. He describes the satisfaction he felt teaching at a Historically Black University and how the proximity to the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center led to his collaborative work with NASA. McGuire explains his decision to move back to Cornell where he had a joint appointment in the nuclear reactor laboratory and the physics department. He discusses his subsequent move to Southern, where he became chair of the physics department, and he explains the origins of LIGO’s Observatory in Louisiana. McGuire explains Southern’s contributions to the LIGO collaboration, his specific research on reducing noise in the test mass mirror substrates and coatings, and he provides an overview of how the project has changed over his twenty years of involvement, and what we know about the universe as a result of LIGO. At the end of the interview, McGuire reflects on his efforts to make physics and STEM more inclusive of under-represented groups and why optimism in the future has and continues to serve him well as a citizen and as a scientist.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Walter Massey, chairman of the board of the Giant Magellan Telescope organization. Massey describes his childhood in segregated Mississippi and his academic achievements that led to his admission to Morehouse College from the 10th grade. He describes his developing interest in physics during a formative summer program at Columbia, which convinced him that he could compete at high levels. Massey describes his graduate work at Washington University and how he came to be a student of Eugene Feenberg, who was working on correlated basis functions to many-body physics problems. He discusses his postdoctoral work at Argonne Laboratory and his interest in becoming involved in civil rights issues in the late 1960s, when he became a professor at the University of Illinois. Massey describes his subsequent tenure at Brown, where he focused on mixtures of helium-3 and helium 4 and on the problem of sound dispersion. He discusses the impact of an ACE fellowship which led to his work in the chancellor’s office at UC Santa Cruz, which in turn changed the course of his career trajectory toward policy. Massey describes his tenure at the University of Chicago, his directorship at Argonne, and how he worked through the existential challenge of nuclear energy following the Three Mile Island disaster. He explains his decision to accept an offer to head the National Science Foundation and how he grappled with creating a national science policy in a post-Cold War world. He discusses his work in support of the LIGO project and he explains his decision to lead Morehouse College after a brief appointment with the University of California. Massey reflects on his accomplishment at Morehouse, and he describes the ways the college had changed since his time there as a student. At the end of the interview, Massey discusses his work on the board of Bank of America and for the School of Art Institute of Chicago, and he discusses some of the ongoing challenges and areas of improvement to pursue in promoting diversity in the sciences.
In this interview, AIP Oral Historian David Zierler interviews high energy physicist Sekazi Mtingwa. Mtingwa describes his upbringing in Atlanta, life under segregation as a child, and his early interests as a budding scientist. He discusses his undergraduate education at MIT, where he developed his interest in theoretical physics and became involved in student protests in the late 1960s. Mtingwa describes his graduate work at Princeton, the cultural differences he experienced there versus at MIT, and his dissertation, which focused on collisions of elementary particles at high energies. He describes his postdoc at the University of Rochester, and some of the changes he felt personally that led to his decision to change his name. Mtingwa discusses his work at Fermilab, where he worked on creating the Antiproton Source, and his decision to move to Argonne Lab to work on plasma wakefield accelerators. Mtingwa describes his decision to build up the physics program at North Carolina A&T and his work at Morgan State. At the end of the interview, Mtingwa discusses his work in recent years, which has included trips to Africa to expand science education, supporting minorities in science, and his service for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
American Institute of Physics, College Park, Maryland
This interview with Jim Stith was conducted following his retirement as Vice President of the AIP’s Physics Resource Center. It covers his childhood in rural Virginia, and how he became interested in science, attendance at segregated schools, and at Virginia State University, where he received a BS degree in physics 1963 and an MS in physics in 1964. It discusses his work in physics under John Hunter, the third African-American to receive a PhD in the subject. The interview then covers his drafting into the Army during the Vietnam War, and his work in air defense in Korea, as well as his brief and successful career as an associate engineer at RCA under Bob Pontz. His graduate education and obtaining of a D.Ed degree in physics in 1972 at Pennsylvania State University is discussed. The interview then focuses on his lengthy career as an instructor of physics at the United States Military Academy at West Point (1972-1993), his experiences as an African-American physicist, and his work in the field of physics education. The remainder of the interview concentrates on his move to teach and research physics education at The Ohio State University, his involvement with the American Association of Physics Teachers, and his work at AIP.
George Carruthers was born 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio; child of George Arthur Carruthers and Sophia Singley Carruthers; father an engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; interest in science from reading science fiction; built his own telescope while in junior high school; very little discrimination in elementary or junior high school even though he was one of few African Americans; moved to Chicago for high school; access to Adler Planetarium and built more telescopes; read about rocket launches and Herb Frieman; read The Viking Rocket Story by Milton Rosen; undergraduate University of Illinois 1957-61; Ph.D. University of Illinois 1964; "An Experimental Investigation on Atomic Nitrogen Recombination;" while in graduate school spent a summer at AerJet in California; exposure to engineers and "big science;" post-doctorate at E. O. Hurlburt Center for Space Research at Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), in unit headed by Talbot Chubb; dichotomy between scientists and engineers; little discrimination; small science vs. big science; molecular hydrogen; concern with science education and Project SMART; cameras and sensors on rockets; spectrography; electronographic technology; joint proposal with Thorton Page; hired permanently at NRL; charge-coupled device (CCD) technology; Apollo 16; geocorona camera.