Chemistry, Physical and theoretical

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Naomi Ginsberg, Associate Professor of chemistry and physics at University of California, Berkeley and faculty scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. The interview begins with Ginsberg discussing her multidisciplinary background in science and how she prefers not to draw boundaries between research fields. She talks about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected her research and the science community in general. Then Ginsberg turns to her childhood in Canada and recalls being a curious child with many interests. She describes her undergraduate studies in engineering at the University of Toronto and her summers of research at the Institute for Biodiagnostics, which is where she became seriously interested in physics. Ginsberg discusses pursuing a PhD at Harvard University under Lene Hau, where she worked on ultraslow light in Bose-Einstein condensates and superfluid dynamics. She then talks about wanting to switch gears toward biophysics and choosing to go to LBL for a post-doc in photosynthesis work. Ginsberg describes accepting her current position at Berkeley and the different cultures between the chemistry and physics departments. Towards the end of the interview, she touches on her DARPA grant for research on organic semiconductors, as well as the advances in technology that have informed and shaped her research over the years. Ginsberg looks back on the many grad students she has mentored and points to open-mindedness and confidence as key characteristics for their success.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Charles H. Bennett, IBM Fellow and Research Staff Member at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center, IBM Corporation. Bennett recounts his childhood in the Hudson Valley, and he describes his exposure to the earliest versions of computers. He explains that his first interest as an undergraduate at Brandeis was in biochemistry, and how his focus shifted to chemical physics by the time he became a graduate student at Harvard where he studied under David Turnbull. Bennett discusses his postdoctoral research with Aneesur Rahman at Argonne National Laboratory and his growing interest in using computers for data analysis. He describes the opportunity that led to his job offer at IBM and he surveys the field of quantum information in its earliest formation. Bennett discusses his involvement in quantum cryptography and its relation to the uncertainty principle. He explains the origins of quantum teleportation, and he reflects on some of the central mysteries of quantum mechanics. Bennett discusses his work on entanglement distillation, and he describes some of the early naysaying about quantum computation. He surveys his more recent interests in the quantum reverse Shannon theorem and rediscovering rate distortion theory. At the end of the interview, Bennett puts some of the “buzz” regarding quantum computing in historical perspective and he explains his interest in applying mathematical models to understand questions about equilibrium in cosmology.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with William Gelbart, Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA. The interview begins with Gelbart discussing his research pertaining to COVID-19 and creating a vaccine. Gelbart then recounts his childhood in New York and describes growing up with a mathematician father. He takes us through his undergraduate years at Harvard where he majored in chemistry and physics. Gelbart speaks about his grad school experience at the University of Chicago and the trends in chemical physics at the time. He describes working under the mentorship of Stuart Rice, Karl Freed, and Joshua Jortner. Gelbart then details the factors that led him to a postdoctoral fellowship in Paris, followed by a postdoctoral position at UC Berkeley, at which time he transitioned into physical chemistry. Gelbart also discusses his subsequent move to UCLA and his collaborations with Avi Ben-Shaul. He explains his shift into biology and virus research, and his recent work on RNA gene expression and cancer vaccine research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with William Duax, professor emeritus at the Hauptman-Woodward Institute. Duax recounts his childhood in Illinois, and he describes his early interests in the theater and bee keeping, before he focused on science at St. Ambrose University. He describes his decision to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Iowa, and he talks about his introduction to quantum chemistry and X-ray crystallography. Duax discusses his postdoctoral research growing crystals with Abe Clearfield at Ohio University, and he explains the circumstances leading to his decision to join the faculty at HWI. He describes his developing interests in endocrinology and the formative influence of David Harker at the Roswell Park Research Crystallographic Center. Duax describes the long-term support of the NIH for his research agenda, and he discusses the value of his appointment at SUNY Buffalo. He recounts his long-term involvement in the American Crystallographic Association and his ongoing research interests in steroid structure and ribosomal proteins. Duax explains the importance of taking an evolutionary approach to his research, and he discusses some recent advances in bioinformatics. At the end of the interview, Duax describes his interest in social justice movements, and in particular, Black Lives Matter, and he explains the future promises of electron microscopy. 

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

Interview with Zane Arp, director for Biomedical Physics at the FDA. Arp provides an organizational overview of where his office sits within the FDA and its key institutional partners throughout and beyond the federal government. He recounts his childhood in Texas and his undergraduate experience at Angelo State where he majored in chemistry. Arp explains his decision to pursue a PhD in physical chemistry at Texas A&M with a focus on quantum chemistry through spectroscopy, and he describes his postgraduate work at Los Alamos on laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy. He discusses his subsequent work at Wye Laboratories and Johnson Space Controls in support of the International Space Station. Arp describes his next job at GlaxoSmithKline to work on pharmaceutical development and where he grew into management leadership roles. He describes the opportunities that led to him joining the FDA and he describes his game plan for improving the biomedical device research and regulatory process. Arp explains why this is a long-term proposition and he describes how COVID has, and has not changed FDA’s regulatory environment. At the end of the interview, he reflects on what shifts he been able to put in place so far at the FDA and why his office truly benefits from having a mission statement.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with Janice Steckel, research scientist at the National Energy Technology Lab and visiting scientist at the University of Pittsburgh. Steckel recounts her childhood in Maryland and what it was like to grow up learning from her father, who was a physicist at the Naval Research Lab and then at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Steckel explains that she was not interested in science growing up, and she describes her major in dance at the University of Maryland and then at Ohio State. Steckel explains her decision to pursue a degree in chemistry in her late 20s and how this developed into her academic specialty in physical chemistry at the University of West Virginia. She discusses her graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh to focus on density functional theory with Ken Jordan. Steckel describes her postdoctoral research at the Vienna Ab initio Simulation Package Group, and she explains the opportunities that led to her initial appointment at NETL. She discusses her initial research on mercury and its impact on coal burning for power generation. Steckel explains her transition to the carbon capture group at the Lab and she describes the different options available to capture and sequester carbon emissions. She describes NETL’s role in the larger federal framework for national energy policy, and she shares her views on how carbon-based energy sources will play a role in an increasingly de-carbonized future. At the end of the interview, Steckel explains the value of computational integration to her work and the promise that machine learning offers for the future of energy research.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Philip Anfinrud, Senior Biomedical Research Scientist, National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, at the National Institutes of Health. Anfinrud likens his work environment to the “Bell Labs of Biophysics” and he expresses his pride in working with colleagues conducting research at the cutting-edge of their respective fields. He recounts his upbringing in small town North Dakota and how he developed his early interests in atmospheric chemistry. Anfinrud describes the circumstances leading to his graduate work at Berkeley, and how he approached his interests in physics from a physical chemistry perspective. He describes his work with Walter Struve on energy transport and picosecond lasers, and he describes his postdoctoral research with Robin Hochstrasser at the University of Pennsylvania where he worked on infrared spectroscopy on the femtosecond time scale. Anfinrud discusses his first faculty appointment at Harvard, and he describes the process building a laser lab in partnership with Mitsubishi. Anfinrud explains his research on myoglobin and photolysis laser pulses, and he describes his first forays in X-ray radiation and crystallography. He describes his move to the NIH, where he created Laboratory of Ultrafast Biophysical Chemistry. Anfinrud explains the value of NMR spectroscopy to understand protein folding, and he describes how his interests are situated more in the realm of basic science and not clinically-oriented research. He discusses the value of scaling laws in physics as a means for understanding biochemical phenomena, and he describes the numerous ways that the NIH provides an ideal environment for research. At the end of the interview, Anfinrud provides an overview of his current research in time-resolved crystallography and single molecule behavior, and he describes the public health impact of his work on speech droplets as a means of transmitting the coronavirus.

Interviewed by
Leon Gortler
Interview date
Location
Medford, New Jersey
Abstract

Childhood and major influences; college education at Harvard University; position at Edward C. Worden Co., position at Columbia University's chemistry department as a graduate student and instructor, as a professor, and as the department chairman; history of chemistry department's administration. Major emphasis on his research results and papers spanning his entire career; Hammett equation and acidity theory; his contact with students Henry P. Treffers, Martin Paul, Lois Zucker. Work during the World War I and World War II; consulting work; development of the field of physical organic chemistry and opinion of the future of chemistry. Philosophy of research; talk with Mrs. Hammett. Also prominently mentioned are: Roger Adams, Adkins, Bernard Auchincloss, Paul Doughty Bartlett, Hal Beans, Ernst Bodenstein, Marston Bogert, Branch, Breslow, Johannes Brn︣sted, Joseph Bunnett, Burkhardt, Mary Caldwell, Ray Christ, James Bryant Conant, Ralph Connor, Alder J. Deyrup, John R. Dunning, Henry Eyring, Leo Flexser, George S. Forbes, Ernie Grunwald, Janet Hammett, Arthur R. Hantzsch, Christopher Ingold, Iserman, James Kendall, Elmer Kohler, A. B. Lamb, Irving Langmuir, Jose Levy, Gilbert Newton Lewis, Willard Frank Libby, Bill McEwan, J. L. R. Morgan, Rosetta Natoli, J. M. Nelson, James Flack Norris, Louis Plack, Michael Polanyi, T. W. Richards, R. Robinson, Smith, Alexander Smith, E. F. Smith, Hermann Staudinger, Julius Stieglitz, Arthur Thomas, Harold Clayton Urey, George Walden, Chaim Weizmann, E. C. Worden, Theodore Zucker, Dick Zuemer; Alpha Chi Sigma Fraternity, American Chemical Society, Commercial Solvents Co., E. I. duPont de Nemours & Company, Inc., Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule at Zurich, Johns Hopkins University, Manhattan Project, Petroleum Research Fund, Rohm and Haas Co., United States President's Science Advisory Committee, Universal Oil Production Corporation, University of California at Los Angeles, University of Illinois, and University of Wisconsin.