United States. Department of Energy

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.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Willy Haeberli, Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin. Haeberli recounts his childhood in Basel, Switzerland, and he describes his experiences as a student during World War II. He discusses his early interest in physics and his decision to pursue nuclear physics at the University of Basel under the direction of Paul Huber. Haeberli describes his graduate research on the ionization of gasses by alpha particles, and he describes the circumstances leading to his subsequent postdoctoral job at the University of Wisconsin, where he was attracted to work with Raymond Herb in accelerator physics. He explains some of the scientific and cultural adjustments in order to settle in at Madison, and he describes the central questions of the structure of atomic nuclei that propelled nuclear physics at that time. He describes his subsequent research at Duke University before returning to Madison to join the faculty, he describes his many research visits to ETH Zurich, the Max Planck Institute, Fermilab, Saclay, and at DESY in Hamburg, and he offers insight on some of the differences in approach between American and European accelerator labs. Haeberli reflects on his contributions to the study of polarized protons and deuterons and angular momentum assignments. He discusses his work developing gas targets of pure spin polarized hydrogen and deuteron atoms, and he describes the critical support of the DOE and the NSF for this research. Haeberli shares his feelings on being elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and he explains his preference teaching undergraduates to graduate students. At the end of the interview, Haeberli describes how the department of physics at Wisconsin has changes over his decades of service, and he explains how only with the benefit of historical hindsight can one distinguish the truly important advances in the field. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Vyacheslav Romanov, Research Physical Scientist at the National Energy Technology Laboratory. Romanov recounts his upbringing in the Urals region of the Soviet Union, and he describes his education at a special high school for gifted students in Moscow. He explains the circumstances that led to his enrollment at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology for graduate school and his dawning realization that one can make sense of the world through physics. Romanov discusses his thesis research on the kinetics of light-matter interactions, and he describes his postgraduate work for the Soviet Space Program to develop thin film solar cells to power the International Space Station. He discusses the collapse of science funding after the breakup of the USSR and the opportunity he saw to emigrate to the United States at part of the Symposium on Diplomacy and Global Affairs in Washington, D.C. Romanov explains why he got an MBA from Waynesburg College and how this program put him on the path to U.S. citizenship. After a stint in the materials science industry, he describes his PhD research in physical chemistry and spectroscopy at the University of Pittsburgh, and how this led to his employment at NETL, first as a postdoc and then as a full-time employee. Romanov explains his initial work in geology and data analysis, his subsequent work in optimizing power plant generation, and his current research in reducing the environmental footprint of energy systems with machine learning. He describes the political and economic ramifications of his research, and he explains why carbon-based energy is central to the transition to a de-carbonized future, which, he asserts, will take decades to realize. At the end of the interview, Romanov explains why global efforts to mitigate environmental energy problems must rely on successful cooperation between the U.S. and China. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Ellen D. Williams, Director of the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center and Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland. Williams recounts her childhood in Michigan, and the benefits that she enjoyed growing up during the height of the U.S. car manufacturing era. She discusses her undergraduate education at Michigan State where she developed an interest in physical chemistry and become involved in women’s rights issues. Williams explains her decision to attend Caltech for graduate school, where she conducted thesis research on the statistical mechanics of surfaces using electron diffraction. She describes the opportunities leading to her appointment in physics and astronomy at Maryland, and she explains the transition from chemistry to a physics department, which was smoothed by the fact that her research focused on phase transitions and critical phenomena. Williams describes achieving tenure and her work within the Institute for Physical Science and Technology. She explains her research in scanning tunneling microscopes and nanotechnologies, and her increasing fluency in working with government funding agencies. Williams explains her decision to join BP as chief scientist where she was involved in fostering BP’s commitment to sustainability, and she describes Ernest Moniz’s offer for her to direct ARPA-E at DOE during the second term of the Obama administration. She conveys her enjoyment working in such a focused manner on clean energy in this role and her contributions to the Paris Climate Accord. Williams describes returning to Maryland and explains the most efficacious way of teaching students about both the science and policy implications of climate change. At the end of the interview, Williams discusses her work as director of the Earth Systems Science Interdisciplinary Center and the ongoing governmental collaborations this position allows, and she offers optimism that we have both the technological and political tools to mitigate climate change effectively.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Evan Granite, Research Chemical Engineer at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in the Department of Energy. He explains the value of his adjunct appointment at the University of Pittsburgh and he provides an overall view of the structure and organization of NETL. Granite recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and his early interests in math and science, and he discusses his undergraduate education at Cooper Union where he focused on chemical engineering. Granite describes his interest in energy issues and his decision to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Rochester, where he focused on hydrocarbon catalysis. He explains his initial work at the Pittsburgh lab of NETL studying mercury pollution and coal emissions. Granite discusses his transition from postdoc to federal employee and his long-term focus on the photochemical removal of mercury from simulated flue gases. He describes his subsequent work on carbon dioxide capture, and the importance of this research on global warming mitigation. Granite discusses the science of fracking, and he explains how the instrumentation available at NETL enables him to conduct cutting-edge research experiments. At the end of the interview, Granite explains how technological advances can theoretically get U.S. energy production to a place where fossil fuels can be burned for the next fifty years with minimal increases in carbon emissions.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Piero Pianetta, Research Professor in the Photon Science Department, joint with Electrical Engineering, at Stanford. He recounts his family’s Italian heritage, and his upbringing in Italy and then in California. He explains his interest in pursuing physics as an undergraduate at Santa Clara University, and his graduate work at Stanford where he worked on monochromator experiments and contributed to the SPEAR collaboration at SLAC. Pianetta discusses his scientific interests converging on surface science and the influence of Seb Doniach on his research. He describes his postgraduate work at HP where he focused on laser annealing and subsequently SSRL to conduct research on device technology and photoemission techniques. Pianetta explains how SSRL became integrated in SLAC and how he became administratively housed in the Photon Science department, and how this development is illustrative of the way SLAC has diversified its research and redefined its relationship with the Department of Energy. He describes his most recent responsibilities as chair of the photon science group at SLAC and his current work chairing the laboratory promotions committee. At the end of the interview, Pianetta reflects on the long-term impact of remote work for SLAC generally and he conveys optimism on improving SSRL’s long-term capabilities.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Peter Lyons, former Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy in the Department of Energy. Lyons describes his consulting work as an advisor to National Laboratories, for Jordan’s Atomic Energy Advisory Board, and as a Distinguished Energy Fellow at the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan. He recounts his childhood in Nevada, and he discusses his undergraduate education in physics at the University of Arizona. Lyons discusses the opportunities that led to his graduate research at Caltech where Charlie Barnes and Willy Fowler were formative influences for his work on stellar nucleosynthesis. He describes his postdoctoral appointment at Los Alamos to work on laser fusion and his work in the plasma group. Lyons explains the value of fiber optics for nuclear testing, and he describes his view of SDI when he was a program director at the Lab. He describes his work as Deputy Associate Director for Defense Research and Applications, and how the end of the Cold War was felt at the Lab and in particular for its work in securing the nuclear stockpile of the former Soviet Union. Lyons describes how the Lab adapted to post-Cold War research during his time as Deputy Associate Director for Energy and Environment, and how he became increasingly interested in civilian energy issues. He discusses how the Lab became more involved as a partner to major industrial projects, and he explains his decision to leave the Lab to work for Senator Pete Domenici as science advisor, where he was closely involved in legislation on a number of scientific projects. Lyons describes recent advances in civilian nuclear energy and why hydrogen will be a significant player in the energy future. He discusses his tenure at NRC Commissioner, and his appointment at the Department of Energy with the incoming Obama administration. Lyons explains the impact of the Fukushima disaster on broader discussions relating to civilian nuclear energy, and he explains his decision to retire and the satisfaction he has felt as many of the program he contributed to continue to grow. At the end of the interview, Lyons provides a broad view on where civilian nuclear energy is on the right track as part of a carbon neutral future, and where he sees opportunities for technical and administrative improvement. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Bruno Coppi, Professor of Physics Emeritus at MIT. Coppi recounts his childhood in Lombardi, Italy. He discusses his early interests in nuclear engineering and his graduate work in Milan on neutron transport theory. He explains the opportunities that led to his postgraduate appointment at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and his subsequent work at Stanford for his postdoctoral research in collision-less plasma. Coppi discusses his work at the Institute for Advanced Study where he interacted closely with Freeman Dyson, and he explains his decision to join the faculty at MIT where he could work with Bruno Rossi. He describes his collaborations in the Soviet Union with nuclear physicists, and he explains the sequencing of the Alcator program to the Ignitor program. Coppi describes the changes inherent in the AEC’s transformation into the DOE, and he explains the import of the Voyager 2 space mission. He describes his current interest in spontaneously rotating plasma and he reflects on why science is a humbling profession, even for geniuses. At the end of the interview, Coppi explains why the role of angular momentum remains profoundly mysterious, and why he is optimistic that he will continue to make contributions to the understanding of burning plasmas.