National Institute of Standards and Technology (U.S.)

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Stephen Seltzer, retired from the National Institute of Standards and Technology where he was Leader of the Dosimetry Group in the Radiation Physics Division. Seltzer discusses his current interests in photoelectric cross sections and he explains why NIST supports research in radiation physics. He recounts his childhood in the Washington DC area, he describes his education at Virginia Tech and his first job at the National Bureau of Standards. Seltzer describes the advances in ionizing radiation at NIST during his junior years and the formative mentorship provided by Martin Berger and his pioneering work in radiation science and Monte Carlo calculations. He explains why Monte Carlo codes provide a solution to the Boltzmann Transport Equation and why electron transport research provides value to space exploration and how NIST contributed to proton therapies for cancer. Seltzer discusses his administrative service as leader of the Radiation Interactions and Dosimetry Group, and he explains his motivations to serve as a mentor to younger colleagues at NIST. At the end of the interview he reflects on the budgetary environment at NIST over his tenure and why young physicists should consider NIST as an excellent place to pursue a career. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Christopher Monroe, Gilhuly Family Distinguished Presidential Professor of Physics and Electrical Computer Engineering at Duke University. Monroe discusses his ongoing affiliation with the University of Maryland, and his position as chief scientist and co-founder of IonQ. He discusses the competition to achieve true quantum computing, and what it will look like without yet knowing what the applications will be. Monroe discusses his childhood in suburban Detroit and his decision to go to MIT for college, where he focused on systems engineering and electronic circuits. He explains his decision to pursue atomic physics at the University of Colorado to work under the direction of Carl Wieman on collecting cold atoms from a vapor cell, which he describes as a “zig zag” path to Bose condensation. Monroe discusses his postdoctoral research at NIST where he learned ion trap techniques from Dave Wineland and where he worked with Eric Cornell. He explains how he became interested in quantum computing from this research and why quantum computing’s gestation period is stretching into its third decade. Monroe explains his decision to join the faculty at the University of Michigan, where he focused on pulsed lasers for quantum control of atoms. He describes his interest to transfer to UMD partly to be closer to federal entities that were supporting quantum research and to become involved in the Joint Quantum Institute. Monroe explains the value of quantum computing to encryption and intelligence work, he describes the “architecture” of quantum computing, and he narrates the origins of IonQ and the nature of venture capitalism. He discusses China’s role in advancing quantum computing, and he describes preparations for IonQ to go public in the summer of 2021. At the end of the interview, Monroe discusses the focus of the Duke Quantum Center, and he asserts that no matter how impressive quantum computing can become, computer simulation can never replace observation of the natural world.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Robert Cava, Russell Wellman Moore Professor of Chemistry at Princeton. He describes his dual appointment in the Princeton Materials Institute and he reflects on the distinctions between being a solid state and not a condensed matter chemist. Cava recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and the opportunities that led to his undergraduate admission to MIT. He discusses his studies in materials science, and his decision to stay on for a PhD to study crystallography and the properties of sulfide materials under the direction of Bernie Wuensch. Cava describes some of the advances in ceramics that was important to him, and he discusses his work on sodium electrolytes at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. He explains his decision to join the Sold State Chemistry Research Department Bell Labs, and he describes some of the exciting developments in ceramic superconductors and why superconductivity is a window onto the complexity of solids. Cava discusses the significance of the YCBO collaboration, he describes the impact of the breakup of Bell Labs and his subsequent decision to transfer to Princeton. He explains some of the cultural shifts that allowed Princeton to become more involved in applied science, and he discusses what he learned about academic politics during his time as chair of the Department of Chemistry. Cava discusses his career-long search for new compounds and studying transition metal oxides, and he describes the many advances in thermoelectronics. At the end of the interview, Cava reflects on his scientific contributions, and he emphasizes the value in science of being a good listener.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Ana Maria Rey, Professor Adjoint at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and a fellow at NIST and JILA. Rey describes the nature of this tri-appointment, and she discusses some of the difficulties in keeping up her research during the pandemic. She recounts her childhood in Colombia and her early education in an all-girls school and her undergraduate education at the University of Los Andes in physics and the opportunities leading to her acceptance to the University of Maryland for graduate school. Rey describes joining Charles Clark’s group that was focused on modeling ultra-cold atoms, and she explains her initial work at NIST.  She explains her decision to take an initial postdoctoral position at NIST before joining ITAMP at Harvard, where she focused on developing improved models to study the behavior of atoms trapped in crystals of light. Rey describes the opportunities that led to her appointments in Colorado, and her subsequent interests in metrology, the quantum advantage, and trapping molecules. She explains how it felt to be named a MacArthur Fellow and why it is important for her to interact with experimentalists in the quest to build better atomic clocks. Rey explains her efforts to create dark matter detectors and how she hopes that her work on quantum matter will help bring about quantum computers.  She provides her perspective on how to advance diversity and inclusivity in the field, and she delineates her research interests as they pertain to basic science and applications. At the end of the interview, Rey conveys optimism that her research will make advances to the broader understanding of the quantum world.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with John Martinis, professor of physics at UC Santa Barbara. Martinis gave the interview from Australia, where he was consulting for Silicon Computing following his affiliation with Google’s efforts to build a quantum computer. He surveys the current state of play toward that goal, and explains what applications quantum computing can serve, and how the field is clarifying the technological requirements to achieve a quantum computer. Martinis recounts his childhood in Los Angeles, his early interests in computers, and his undergraduate experience at Berkeley where he gravitated toward experimental physics. He describes his interactions with John Clarke and his motivations to stay at Berkeley for graduate school, where he focused on SQUIDS and was captivated by Tony Leggett’s ideas on quantum tunneling. Martinis explains his interest in working with Michel Devoret at Saclay for his postdoctoral research, where there was much excitement over high Tc and YBCO materials. He describes his subsequent work at NIST and his decision to join the faculty at Santa Barbara around the time he became focused on quantum computing. Martinis narrates the technological challenges of building qubits and error correction, and he explains how he got involved with Google and joined his style with its research culture. He describes his role as chief scientist in the collaboration and why his vision and Google’s diverged. Martinis addresses the issue of “hype” in quantum computing. At the end of the interview, Martinis emphasizes the centrality of systems engineering to his research agenda, and he explains why quantum supremacy will demonstrate the need for quantum computing and the limitations of classical computing.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Norman Wagner, Unidel Robert L. Pigford Chair in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware. Wagner recounts his childhood in Pennsylvania and his undergraduate experience at Carnegie Mellon and his decision to study chemical engineering at Princeton. He discusses his graduate research at Los Alamos and Sandia and his postdoctoral research in Germany.  The bulk of the interview covers Wagner’s wide-ranging research agenda at the University of Delaware.  He discusses his strategic partnership with the NIST Center for Neutron Research, and the range of commercial endeavors that he has been involved in as a result of his research in soft matter physics. Wagner explains his work in biomedical engineering, and his collaboration with NASA on Mars-related research.  At the end of the interview, Wagner provides a broad-based explanation of rheology and its development as a distinct scientific field.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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This is an interview with Arati Prabhakar, founder and CEO of Actuate, a nonprofit organization that aims to accelerate American research and development systems. Prabhakar recounts her family’s Indian heritage, and her mother’s decision to immigrate to the United States on her own and pursue a degree in social work. She describes her childhood in Lubbock, Texas and describes being the only student with an Indian background in high school. Prabhakar discusses her undergraduate education at Texas Tech in Lubbock where she majored in electrical engineering, and she describes the opportunities leading to her graduate work in applied physics at Caltech where she worked with Tom McGill on developing quaternary materials. She explains that her interests in real-life problem solving led to a fellowship with the Office of Technology Assessment in Congress, which in turn led to her government service at DARPA. Prabhakar describes her initial work at DARPA on gallium arsenide technology, and she explains the impact of the end of the Cold War on DARPA and on her career. She explains the circumstances leading to her move to NIST to lead the Institute where she focused on building up the Advanced Technology Program and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Prabhakar discusses the personal and professional reasons she decided to move to California to work at Raychem in 1997 and then Interval Research, and then Venture Capital, where she worked on funding semiconductor research. She describes her interests in clean energy and how she came back to Washington to head DARPA where there was a major focus on clean energy and pandemic preparedness. Prabhakar explains how and why DARPA operates in the realm of biological research and how she navigated the existential paradox of a leading an agency built on nimbleness within the world’s largest bureaucracy. At the end of the interview, Prabhakar explains how her career in both the private and public sectors prepared her for her current interests in utilizing research and development to confront macrosocial challenges.

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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video conference
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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Richard Leapman, Senior Investigator in the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and Scientific Director of the intramural program. Leapman recounts his childhood in England and he describes his early and formative experience playing with an optical microscope. He describes his undergraduate work at Peterhouse College of Cambridge University and the influence of Aaron Klug in his physics education. Leapman explains his decision to remain at Cambridge for his Ph.D., and he describes his work in the Cavendish Laboratory and Klug's suggestion that he focus on inelastic scattering of electrons in electron microscopes to perform elemental microanalysis. He discusses his postdoctoral work at Oxford and the opportunity leading to his research at Cornell in the School of Applied Engineering Physics. Leapman explains his attraction to join the NIH upon learning that he would have access to an electron microscope and could work on electron energy-loss spectroscopy. He describes some of the biological implications of this work, including the ability to look at cells to detect elemental distributions inside subcellular organelles. Leapman discusses his many collaborations across the Institutes at the NIH and the development of NMR spectroscopy, and he describes the partnership between NIH and NIST that ensured his access to cutting-edge technology over the course of his career. He describes various aspects of his research that have direct clinical value to treating a variety of ailments, including asbestos exposure to coronavirus. Leapman describes his work at the chief of electron beam imaging and micro-spectroscopy and the numerous collaborations he has pursued beyond the NIH at both National Labs and university labs. He discusses some recent advances in his field, including new abilities to determine the 3D structure of proteins, and he explains his administrative duties as Scientific Director of the Institute. At the end of the interview, Leapman describes how the study of electrons has connected all of his research, and he discusses some of the challenges and opportunities he has confronted in his career as a physicist operating in a biologically-focused research environment.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
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video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Thomas H. Epps, III, the Thomas and Kipp Gutshall Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware. Epps describes his involvement and leadership in several research ventures in materials at Delaware and some of the challenges regarding lab work during the coronavirus pandemic. He recounts his childhood in Virginia and the influence of his parents, both of whom were university professors, and he discusses his early interests in math and sciences in high school which culminated in a formative project at NASA Langley. Epps describes his undergraduate research at MIT where he pursued a degree in chemical engineering and where he solidified his multidisciplinary approach to the field. He explains his decision to attend the University of Minnesota for graduate school, where he worked under the direction of Frank Bates on polymers and nanostructure membranes. Epps describes his choice not to enter industry after graduate school, and he explains his decision to conduct postdoctoral work with Mike Fasolka on polymer-thin films at NIST. He explains the circumstances leading to him joining the faculty at Delaware, and he describes his excitement at the prospect of serving on and creating many research endeavors across the university. Epps discusses his broad interests in biotechnology and fuel cells, and he describes Delaware’s leadership role in its partnership with the Department of Energy in pursuing sustainable energy sources. He describes what chemical engineers can contribute to Covid-19 research, and he reflects on the ways STEM has, and has not, become more inclusive and diverse over the course of his career. At the end of the interview, Epps describes the ranges of research endeavors in the material sciences that excite him most as he looks to the future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
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Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews David Wineland, Philip H. Knight Distinguished Research Chair at the University of Oregon. Wineland recounts his childhood in Denver and then Sacramento, and he describes his early interests in math and engineering. He discusses his undergraduate education at University of California Davis and then Berkeley, where Frederick Byron played a formative role in his development as a scientist, and whom he followed to Harvard for graduate school. Wineland discusses working in Norman Ramsey’s lab, and the significance of Dan Kleppner’s demonstration of the hydrogen maser. He discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Washington where he worked with Hans Dehmelt on making accurate measurements of the electron g-factor, and the opportunities that led to his career at NIST in Boulder. He describes the excellent research environment and instrumentation that made precision measurements for clocks feasible and the important of Shor’s algorithm for his work. Wineland explains the difference of accuracy and precision as those words apply to atomic clocks, and the societal benefits of achievement improvements in this field both for land- and space-based applications. He describes the day he learned that he would receive the Nobel Prize, the collaboration he enjoyed with Serge Haroche, and his post-Nobel work in quantum information. Wineland describes his reasons for moving to the University of Oregon. At the end of the interview, Wineland assesses the current and future prospects of true quantum computing and the societal benefits that this advance could confer, and ongoing developments that can further improve atomic clocks.