June 29, July 5, July 19, July 26, August 2, August 9, August 16, 2020
Series of seven interview sessions with Carver Mead, Gordon and Betty Moore Professor Emeritus at Caltech. Mead recounts his childhood in California, and he describes the impact of watching his father’s career in the electric power industry. He credits his schoolteachers for encouraging his early interests in math and science, and he explains why attending Caltech as an undergraduate was an easy choice for him because he felt immediately welcomed during his first visit. He describes what it was like to learn quantum mechanics from Linus Pauling, and he explains that his decision to major in electrical engineering stemmed from the fact that applied physics was shunned in the physics department because Murray Gell-Mann referred to it as “squalid state physics.” Mead describes his decision to stay at Caltech for graduate school, and he explains how he became interested in semiconductors and transistors and what would become the origins of “device physics” and how his dissertation research contributed to these developments. He describes his developing understanding that the future of electronics would be in low power, high-performance devices and why he would be best positioned to foster this future as a faculty member at Caltech. Mead describes his collaborations and interest in industry labs including IBM, RCA, and Bell, and he describes his initial and then longtime work with Gordon Moore. He discusses the value of RF transmitters in 1960s-era communications technology and the prospects of satellite telecommunications at the dawn of the space age. Mead describes the origins of VSLI technology, word processors, and microcomputers, and he describes his collaboration with Lynn Conway and the process that went into the classic textbook they coauthored. He describes his research using the human mind as a source of inspiration to push electronics and microprocessors to the next level, and he explains the value of bouncing ideas off of Feynman over lunch. Mead describes the singular potential of his student and collaborator Misha Mahowald, and the value of his work with Arnold Beckman. He discusses the several companies that were spun out of his research in electronics and biophysics, and he describes his work on cameras with Michihiro Yamaki and the learning curve associated with research culture in Japan. Mead offers his perspective on the need to update the debates between Einstein and Bohr in the wake of recent developments in physics, and he explains the intellectual origins of his text Collective Electrodynamics. He explains why scientific debates can take on philosophical or even religious dynamics, and he discusses the origins of G4V and how to think of gravitational attraction as an analogy to electromagnetic interaction. Relatedly, Mead describes his work with Kip Thorne and his involvement with the LIGO endeavor, and he explains why the line between science and engineering is fuzzier than is commonly understood. He explains the significance of the Shapiro Delay, he surmises that the mystery of Dark Energy is sourced in the fact that physics is approaching the problem in the wrong way, and he explains why physics has become hamstrung in its pursuit of mathematizing physical reality ahead of experimental guidance. Mead explains that his views are rooted in his ability to think in pictures, as opposed to abstract symbols, and that the field needs to be more welcoming and inclusive to those who may see math as a barrier to working in physics at a high level. At the end of the interview, Mead describes his interest in current challenges with electric grid infrastructure, he explains why he has championed the work of women in science throughout his career, and he strikes an optimistic note that science always has and will continue, to provide solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
Interview with John Preskill, Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech, and Director of the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech. Preskill describes the origins of IQIM as a research pivot from the initial excitement in the 1970s to move beyond Standard Model physics and to understand the origin of electroweak symmetry breaking. He emphasizes the importance of Shor’s algorithm and the significance of bringing Alexei Kitaev into the project. Preskill discusses the support he secured from the NSF and DARPA, and he recounts his childhood in Chicago and his captivation with the Space Race. He describes his undergraduate experience at Princeton and his relationship with Arthur Wightman and John Wheeler. Preskill explains his decision to pursue his thesis research at Harvard with the intention of working with Sidney Coleman, and he explains the circumstances that led to Steve Weinberg becoming his advisor. He discusses the earliest days of particle theorists applying their research to cosmological inquiry, his collaboration with Michael Peskin, and his interest in the connection of topology with particle physics. Preskill describes his research on magnetic monopoles, and the relevance of condensed matter theory for his interests. He explains the opportunities that led to his appointment to the Harvard Society of Fellows and his eventual faculty appointment at Harvard, his thesis work on technicolor, and the excitement surrounding inflation in the early 1980s. Preskill discusses the opportunities that led to his tenure at Caltech and why he started to think seriously about quantum information and questions relating to thermodynamic costs to computing. He explains the meaning of black hole information, the ideas at the foundation of Quantum Supremacy, and he narrates the famous story of the Thorne, Hawking, and Preskill bets. Preskill describes the advances in quantum research which compelled him to add “matter” to the original IQI project which was originally a purely theoretical endeavor. He discusses the fact that end uses for true quantum computing remain open questions, and he surveys IQIM’s developments over the past decade and the strategic partnerships he has pursued across academia, industry, and at the National Labs. Preskill surveys the potential value of quantum computing to help solve major cosmological mysteries, and why his recent students are captivated by machine learning. At the end of the interview, Preskill reflects on his intersecting interests and conveys optimism for future progress in understanding quantum gravity from laboratory experiments using quantum simulators and quantum gravity.
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.
In this interview, Steven Koonin, University Professor at New York University, recounts his childhood in Brooklyn and his education at Stuyvesant High School, which he credits for providing an excellent education in math and science. He explains his decision to pursue a degree in physics at Caltech, where Willie Fowler supervised him, and where he focused on nuclear physics. Koonin discusses his graduate work at MIT, where he studied under Art Kerman and focused on Hamiltonian variational principles for quantum many-body systems and on the study of nuclear motion. He explains the opportunity that led him back to Caltech for his first faculty position without going through a postdoctoral experience first. He describes his interest in then doing a postdoc in Copenhagen, where he had more opportunities to collaborate on theoretical nuclear physics than at Caltech. Koonin describes the pleasures of teaching quantum mechanics to undergraduates, he describes the impact of personal computing technology on his research in the mid-1980s, and he discusses his contributions in extrapolating nuclear reactions to get astrophysical rates. Koonin discusses his involvement in national security issues including the Strategic Defense Initiative as part of the JASON group, and his advisory work for the Department of Energy and DARPA. He describes his administrative accomplishments as vice president at provost at Caltech and the institutional advancements that he fostered in biology and high-performance computing. Koonin explains his position to take a position at BP as chief scientist where he had a mandate to push the company to pursue alternative energy resources, and he describes his decision to accept Steve Chu’s offer to run the Office of Science at DOE during the first Obama administration. Koonin describes his focus there on exascale computing and high-energy density science, and he discusses his long-range interest in climate science and some of the inherent challenges this field presents in both the scientific and political realms. He describes his decision to accept his current position at NYU, and at the end of the interview, Koonin describes his goals in founding the Center for Urban Science and Progress.
Early interest in physics. Education and career prior to joining JASON: two years in the Royal Air Force; switch from mathematics to physics after the war; enrollment at Cornell University in 1947; difference between American and British physics. Exposure to science policy (Federation of Atomic Scientists, Philip Morrison); U.S. citizen 1957. Motivation for joining JASON; JASON work vs. work in Arms Control and Disarmament Agency; work on active optics in JASON; technical tasks vs. policy advice; Oregon Trail; availability of JASON bibliography; public profile of JASON members; divisions within JASON; other science policy activities; reasons for leaving JASON. Also prominently mentioned are: Abraham S. Besicovich; Columbia University, General Atomic Company, Nike-X (Missile), United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and University of Birmingham.
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.
Laser work at Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory (AFCRL) (Rudolph Bradbury); early work on ruby lasers (Charles H. Townes, John Howard); Department of Defense (DOD) high-energy laser program; Steve Harris and Anthony DeMaria; optical masers and phased array lasers; CO2 laser at Avco-Everett; reform of service laboratories (Peter Schweitzer), 1960s; laser color centers and pump light attenuation (application to rangefinders); interaction with Office of Naval Research; spinoffs of laser research. Laser damage studies at AFCRL (q-switching); instigated by Peter Avizonis and Art Guenther; Raman light (R. K. Chang), development of Optical Parametric Oscillators; simulated Brillouin scattering (George Wolga); tunable laser work (Tony Siegman, Steve Harris); Avco Gas Dynamic Laser (GDL); Erlan Bliss and Dave Milam; Stickley replaced by Howard Schlossberg; dispersion of laser damage group; transfer of laser glass and damage experience to DOE—Livermore. Stickley moves to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); Glenn Sherwood, Maurice Sinnot, Ed Gerry, David Mann, Steve Lukasik; Laser Window Program; DARPA interdisciplinary materials science program; Chemical Laser Damage Program (J. A. Harrington). Joins the Department of Energy (DOE) and its laser fusion program; politics and recruitment; Lawrence Livermore Laboratory vs. Los Alamos National Laboratory; DOD vs. DOE laboratories. The Strategic Defense Initiative; Stickley moves to Battelle Memorial Institute.
In this interview E. A. Frieman discusses topics such as: being a member of JASON; Princeton University; John Wheeler; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Ken Watson; Keith Brueckner, Murph Goldberger; Francis Low; Geoff Chew; Lyman Spitzer; Charles Townes; Project Matterhorn; Edward Teller; Stanford Research Institute (SRI); Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); Herbert York; Dick Garwin; Department of Defense; Department of Energy; Stan Flatte; Strategic Defense Initiative.
In this interview, John Foster discusses the impact of the JASON Group. Topics discussed include: Foster's father, John Stuart Foster; Lawrence Livermore Laboratory; serving as Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E); Charlie Townes; Defense Science Board; Robert McNamara; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); Marvin "Murph" Goldberger; Institute for Defense Analyses.
In this interview Robert Doering discusses topics such as: his family background and childhood; his undergraduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); Philip Morrison; Jack Rapaport; nuclear physics; doing his graduate work at Michigan State University; Sherwood Haynes; quantum mechanics taught by Mort Gordon; Aaron Galonsky; working at the cyclotron laboratory; George Bertsch; teaching at the University of Virginia; low-energy heavy-ion collisions; switching to industrial physics research; beginning work at Texas Instruments (TI); working with semiconductors; Don Redwine; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA); George Heilmeier; Semiconductor Research Corporation; SEMATECH; Moore's Law; complementary metal oxide semiconductors (CMOS); Birch Bayh and Robert Dole; Morris Chang; research and development changes throughout his career.