United States. Department of Energy

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Michael Turner discusses his life and career. topics include: Kavli Foundation; Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics; Fred Kavli; Aspen Center for Physics; Rand Corporation; California Institute of Technology (Caltech); Robbie Vogt; Ed Stone; Barry Barish; SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory; B.J. Bjorken; University of Chicago; Dave Schramm; Kip Thorne; Fermi Institute / University of Chicago Institute for Nuclear Studies; Bob Wagoner; University of California, Santa Barbara; Larry Smarr; Dan Goldin; quarks-to-cosmos study; National Science Foundation; Rita Colwell; Advanced LIGO; Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA); IceCube South Pole Neutrino Observatory; Department of Energy; Argonne National Laboratory; Paul Steinhardt.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Saul Perlmutter, Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley and Staff Scientist and senior faculty member at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, discusses his life and career. Perlmutter shares that his research has not been slowed down by the pandemic by happy coincidence that he is currently focused on remote data analysis, and he recounts his childhood in Philadelphia where he was educated in Quaker schools. He discusses his early fascination with quantum mechanics and his decision to go to Harvard for his undergraduate education, where he cemented his interests in experimental physics. Perlmutter explains his decision to go to Berkeley for graduate school, where he worked in Buford Price’s group before Richard Muller became his graduate advisor. He discusses his early awareness of the cosmic microwave background and how he became involved with robotic searches for supernovae. Perlmutter describes the importance of NASA’s BITNET program as a way to connect observatory data worldwide to the computer systems at Berkeley, and he explains the intellectual and observational connections between the inflation, expansion, and acceleration of the universe. He discusses his postdoctoral research at Berkeley, and the circumstances leading to him becoming leader of the supernova group and how the DOE became more involved in astrophysics funding. Perlmutter explains the group’s focus on deceleration and he conveys the difficulties in scheduling telescope time to demonstrate spectroscopy proof of type Ia supernovae. He describes the origins of the SNAP satellite project, some of the early theoretical discussions on the nature of dark energy, and when, finally, his group secured long-term support from the Lab. Perlmutter narrates his first interactions with Brian Schmidt and Adam Riess and he describes the batch technique that could predict the discovery of supernovae, which vastly improved the efficiency of scheduling time on large telescopes. He explains the role of dark matter in speeding up the universe’s expansion, and he narrates the celebration with his team when he won the Nobel Prize and how he has chosen the use the political platform that comes with this recognition. Perlmutter discusses his interest in studying climate change, and at the end of the interview, he conveys his excitement about future observational discovery in astrophysics and cosmology.

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 John Spence, Richard Snell Professor of Physics at Arizona State University. Spence discusses his dual role as a Director of Science at NSF and his focus on research at the intersection of biology and physics. He recounts his childhood in Australia and his undergraduate education at Queensland University. Spence describes his graduate research on plasmons at Melbourne and the opportunities that led to his postdoctoral appointment at Oxford, where he worked with Mike Whelan and David Cockayne on quantifying atom arrangements in solids. He describes his decision to join the faculty at Arizona State, and the nascent field of high-resolution electron microscopy, which compelled him to write a book on the topic. Spence discusses his work on the structure of defects in superconductors and his collaborations with Bell Labs, and he explains the significance of the LCLS to his research. He describes the BioXFEL project, his work as part of the broader community of crystallographers, and the intellectual origins of the book "Lightspeed". At the end of the interview, Spence credits Michael Crow for bringing ASU to the forefront of so much innovation in science, and he reflects on how physics has never failed to surprise him.

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
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Yuhua Duan discusses: his role at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) under the US Department of Energy (DoE); childhood poverty in the Chinese countryside; experience as an undergraduate in 1980s China; master’s degree in chemical physics at the University of Science and Technology (UST) in China; PhD in condensed matter physics; mentorship with T.S. Kê at UST; postdoc studying surface physics at Fudan University under Xide Xie; time at Basel University in the Institute of Physical Chemistry; research associate position at University of Minnesota (U of M) School of Physics and Astronomy under Woods Halley, modeling on the polymer electrolyte for battery applications; switch to Chemical Engineering and Materials Science Department to focus on protein-protein interaction; decision to stay in the US and apply for citizenship; joining the NETL team; research simulating the microwave sintering by finite element approach; work on CO2 capture to fight climate change; discussion of CO2 storage and use; work developing sensor materials that function under extreme conditions; discussion of quantum information science in the energy sector and quantum sensor research; tritium production research; using a supercomputer for his work, discussions of capabilities of the quantum computer; and the impact of political administration changes on work focus at NETL. Toward the end of the interview, Duan reflects on NETL’s contributions to research on controlling carbon emissions and mitigating climate change.

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 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

Elliott Bloom, Professor Emeritus of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at SLAC, recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and then in Los Angeles, and he describes his early interests in physics. He discusses his undergraduate experience at Pomona College where he became interested in particle physics and cyclotrons. Bloom describes his graduate work at Caltech, where he worked under the direction of R.L. Walker and did his thesis experiment on studying gamma ray production of charged pions from hydrogen or deuterium. He discusses his postdoctoral research at SLAC to work with Richard Taylor, who was building spectrometers in End Station A at the end of the linear electron accelerator. Bloom discusses his early interests in online computing and he describes the origins of the Parton model and his collaboration with Joe Ballam on BC-42. He explains his original involvement with axion research and the significance of the DORIS-II storage ring at DESY. Bloom discusses his subsequent work at the SLAC B-factory on PEP-II, he describes his interests in the COBE satellite, and he explains SLAC's entrée into astrophysics. He discusses the collaborative effort with NASA on the GLAST experiment and his focus with DOE support to understand dark matter. At the end of the interview, Bloom reflects on his career trajectory as part of a larger narrative of particle physicists who became engaged in astrophysics later in their careers, and why it is important for physicists to remain open to new avenues of inquiry.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Jonathan Dorfan, emeritus director of SLAC, and emeritus president of the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Graduate University. Dorfan recounts his childhood in South Africa and his experiences with apartheid, and he explains how he developed his early interests in science. He discusses his time at the University of Cape Town and a formative visit he made to SLAC where his older brother was working. Dorfan describes his subsequent studies at UC-Irvine and he explains his interest in pursuing a graduate degree in particle physics and high-energy physics during the excitement surrounding the Standard Model. He discusses his move to SLAC to conduct research with rapid cycling bubble chambers which turned into his thesis. Dorfan describes his postdoctoral research at SLAC with Martin Perl and his involvement with the Mark I and Mark II experiments, and he describes the opportunities leading to his faculty position at SLAC. He discusses the centrality of the B-factory project, and he describes his considerations when he was offered the directorship at Fermilab. Dorfan describes the impact of the rise and fall of the SSC on SLAC, and he explains the leadership positions which at a certain point put him on track to assume the directorship of SLAC. He describes SLAC’s entrée to astrophysics and the strategic partnership it developed with NASA, and he reflects on whether this transition would have been conceivable to Panofsky’s founding vision for the lab. Dorfan describes the changing culture of SLAC and its increasingly bureaucratized nature toward the end of his directorship, his work in support of advancing cancer research at Stanford, and he discusses the circumstances leading to his directorship of the Okinawa Institute. At the end of the interview, Dorfan emphasizes continuity over change as the dominant theme of his career in science with an arc that has increasingly bent toward concerns of broad societal relevance.