University of California, Santa Cruz

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
Abstract

This is an interview with Claire Max, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz, and Director of University of California Observatories. Max recounts her childhood in Manhattan, and she describes the formative influence of her father’s work in science on her blossoming academic interests. She describes her undergraduate education at Radcliffe where she pursued a degree in astronomy, and the opportunities leading to her graduate degree at Princeton where she studied pulsars under the direction of Francis Perkins. Max discusses her postdoctoral research at Berkeley working with Allan Kaufman and her subsequent work at Livermore Lab on laser plasma interactions, and where she did formative work developing laser guide stars for adaptive optics in astronomy. She describes her entrée into the JASON advisory group, and what it was like as the first woman to become a JASON. Max explains her decision to join the faculty at Santa Cruz, the opportunities leading to her directorship of the Observatory, and her interest in leading research in extrasolar planets. She reflects on some of the budgetary and administrative challenges she has faced at the Observatory, and she discusses some of the characteristics that her most successful graduate students have shared over the years. At the end of the interview, Max discusses the controversy over the Thirty Meter Telescope site in Hawaii, she explains why promoting diversity in the field is personally important to her, and why future advances in galaxy merger research are so promising.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Joel Primack, Distinguished Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Primack discusses what he has been able to do in his free time since his retirement, including writing papers, giving lectures, hosting meetings at UC Santa Cruz, leading international collaborations, and supervising research. He sees the new data coming from the Vera Rubin Observatory and the Gaia Survey as exciting developments in the realm of astrophysics, and he is looking forward to adding to this data when we begin receiving images from the James Webb Space Telescope. Primack discusses his work with various simulations that he has utilized to understand what may be occurring within galaxies, and the growing importance of astrobiology in these simulations. He takes us back into his early years in Montana, where his passion for science began to develop, and how his high school education and internships led him to Princeton University for his undergraduate career. While at Princeton, Primack took classes from John Wheeler, worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab under Bill Pickering, and participated in the Students for a Democratic Society, where his interest in the combination of politics and science began to grow. Primack discusses how important the communication between politicians and scientists is, and he saw this need for improved communication early on. He started the Congressional Science and Technology Fellowship program as a preliminary way to work on the relationship between government and science. He then recounts his experiences at Harvard University and his eventual move to Santa Cruz, where he continued working on dark matter and dark energy, among other things. He remarks on his relationship and work with Nancy Abrams, including the courses they taught and the books they wrote together. He ends the interview talking about his family, his recovery from cancer, and the people he’s looking forward to working with in the future.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, Sandra Faber, Professor Emerita in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, UC Santa Cruz and Astronomer Emerita at the University of California Observatories discusses her career and her involvement in various projects. Faber describes the relationship between these appointments, and she describes some of the benefits that remote work has allowed during the Covid-19 pandemic. She describes the DEIMOS spectrograph project as an outgrowth from her interest in galaxy formation and the centrality of steady state theory to this research. Faber discusses the importance of NSF support for her work, and she explains some of the cultural sensitivities in setting up a major telescope project in Hawaii. She explains the difference between ancient and more recent galaxy formation, and she explains how the next generation of spectrographs has surpassed what DEIMOS has been able to achieve. Faber discusses the famous optical flaw that threatened the viability of the Hubble Telescope and how this issue was resolved and the import of the CANDELS project. She explains the value of advanced computing for black hole quenching models, and she discusses her long-term collaboration with Chinese scientists and some of the political and international considerations inherent in these partnerships. Faber describes the origins of the Osterbrock Leadership Program and its value for fostering the careers of the next generation of scientists. At the end of the interview, Faber describes the meaning of “Cosmic Knowledge,” and she explains how this concept of humanity’s greater appreciation of our place in the universe can have ethically positive and long-lasting impacts beyond astronomy.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Charles Prescott, Professor Emeritus at SLAC. Prescott discusses his activities in physics since retiring in 2006, and he conveys his interest in the muon anomaly results from the g-2 experiment at Fermilab in light of his longstanding work in spin physics. He offers a wide perspective on the creation of the Standard Model and when the field began to search for new physics beyond it, and he recounts his childhood in Oklahoma. Prescott discusses his undergraduate education at Rice and his interests in physics, and he describes the opportunities that led to his graduate admission to Caltech, where Bob Walker advised his thesis research on the eta meson. Prescott conveys the importance of Steve Weinberg’s work on particle theory in the late 1960s, and he describes the circumstances that led him to SLAC after a brief appointment at UC Santa Cruz. He describes joining Group A, which was led by Dick Taylor, and how he organized the first parity violation experiment. He discusses the E95 and E122 experiments, and he describes early advances in understanding the nucleon sub-structure. Prescott explains his proposal to add polarized beams to the SLC and a new drift chamber for the SLD, and he discusses the origins of the DELCO collaboration. He describes his tenure as leader of Group A and then as Associate Director of the Research Division, and as chair of the International Spin Physics symposium. Prescott discusses his work on SLAC’s Enriched Xenon Observatory, and he prognosticates the poor political and budgetary prospects of future linear accelerators. At the end of the interview, Prescott reflects on receiving the Panofsky Prize, and he segments SLAC into its constituent historical eras as defined by the dominant experiments over the decades.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Michael Dine, Professor of Physics at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Dine conveys his provisional excitement over the g-2 muon anomaly experiment at Fermilab and he recounts his childhood in Cincinnati. Dine discusses his undergraduate education at Johns Hopkins, his developing interests in physics, and the opportunity that led to his graduate research at Yale. He describes working under the supervision of Tom Appelquist and trying to understand the force between heavy quarks within quantum chromodynamics. Dine describes his earliest exposure to string theory and his decision to take a postdoctoral appointment at SLAC, where he worked with Jonathan Saperstein on the next order calculation of the total electron-positron cross section. He discusses Lenny Susskind’s work on Technicolor and his subsequent appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study, his close collaboration with Willy Fischler, and the excitement surrounding supersymmetry at the time. Dine describes the impact made by Ed Witten when he arrived in Princeton and he discusses the origins of axion-dark matter research. He discusses his first faculty position at City College in New York and his reaction to the “string revolution” of 1984 and AdS/CFT a few years later. Dine explains his decision to move to UC Santa Cruz and his burgeoning interest in cosmology, he reflects on when his research focused to physics beyond the Standard Model, and he explains why it is possible to decouple the expectation that supersymmetry must be detected at the LHC. He explains why string theory is making strides toward experimental verifiability, and he reflects on the utility of being a theorist. At the end of the interview, Dine emphasizes his optimism about the axion as a dark matter candidate and why the field is moving steadily toward a greater understanding of physics at both the largest and smallest scales.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Abraham Seiden, Distinguished Professor Physics Emeritus at UC Santa Cruz. Seiden discusses his current interests in developing silicon detectors for the high luminosity LHC and sensors for the TRIUMF accelerator, and he surveys the current interplay between theory and experiment in particle physics more broadly. He recounts his birth in a displaced persons camp after World War II and his childhood in Brooklyn and then in California, and he explains his decision to go to Columbia for his undergraduate studies. Seiden describes his graduate research at Caltech and then UC Santa Cruz under the direction of Clemens Heusch to conduct research on deep inelastic muon scattering at SLAC. He discusses his subsequent research on the intersecting storage ring at CERN and he describes how the “November Revolution” at SLAC resonated at CERN. Seiden describes the opportunities that led to him joining the faculty at Santa Cruz and his involvement on the high PT photon experiment at Fermilab. He recounts his interest in Higgs research and the leadership of George Trilling and he explains the origins of the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics. Seiden discusses his advisory work for P5 and the broader state of play of particle physics in the United States and he describes the impact on CERN following the cancellation of the SSC. He discusses the import of the ATLAS upgrade, his involvement with LIGO, and his contributions to BaBar at SLAC. Seiden narrates the run-up and the impact of the Higgs discovery at CERN, and its impact on searching for physics beyond the Standard Model. He surmises how a particle physics approach will help to unlock the mystery of dark matter, and he explains his motivations to write an introductory textbook on particle physics. At the end of the interview, Seiden compares the opportunities in the field that were available to him as a graduate student as opposed to his own students, and he explains why working on the SSC was the most fun he’s had in the field, despite its ultimate fate.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Video conference
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Interview with Alan Dressler, Astronomer Emeritus at The Carnegie Institute for Science Observatories. He describes his current focus on the James Webb Telescope and he conveys concern for a "post-reality" political environment that has taken a grip on American politics. He recounts his upbringing in Cincinnati, and how his curiosity about how things worked naturally pulled him toward astronomical interests. Dressler discusses his undergraduate education at UC Berkeley and his decision to pursue a PhD in the newly created Department of Astronomy at UC Santa Cruz. He describes the importance of the Lick Observatory for his research under the direction of Joe Wampler, and how Jim Peebles gave this thesis project a "seal" of approval. Dressler describes the origins of the Dressler Relation in his study of the morphology of galaxies and the density of their environment, and he describes the opportunities leading to his postdoctoral appointment at Carnegie. He explains the history of the Caltech-Carnegie partnership in astronomy, and he describes working with Allan Sandage and Jim Gunn. Dressler emphasizes the revolutionary effect the Hubble Telescope imparted to the field, and he discusses his time as a Las Campanas fellow. He describes how his work on galaxy formation fed into larger questions about the origins of the universe and the broader philosophical implication of our understanding of Earth's place in the universe. Dressler explains the Great Attractor Model and the state of play in black hole research in the 1980s, and he describes why he did not need to "see" an image of black holes to be convinced of their existence. He narrates the origins of the Association of Universities for Research and Astronomy, and the drama surrounding the repair of the Hubble. Dressler describes presenting the HST & Beyond report to NASA administrator Dan Goldin, and he discusses the natural progression for his work on the NASA Origins program. He discusses his subsequent focus on the Magellan Telescope and the EOS Decadal Survey. At the end of the interview, Dressler reflects on the strides made in galaxy formation research over the course of his career, and he conveys pride in playing a role in science, for which he appreciated since youth as a field that offered limitless opportunities to improve the world. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Walter Massey, chairman of the board of the Giant Magellan Telescope organization. Massey describes his childhood in segregated Mississippi and his academic achievements that led to his admission to Morehouse College from the 10th grade. He describes his developing interest in physics during a formative summer program at Columbia, which convinced him that he could compete at high levels. Massey describes his graduate work at Washington University and how he came to be a student of Eugene Feenberg, who was working on correlated basis functions to many-body physics problems. He discusses his postdoctoral work at Argonne Laboratory and his interest in becoming involved in civil rights issues in the late 1960s, when he became a professor at the University of Illinois. Massey describes his subsequent tenure at Brown, where he focused on mixtures of helium-3 and helium 4 and on the problem of sound dispersion. He discusses the impact of an ACE fellowship which led to his work in the chancellor’s office at UC Santa Cruz, which in turn changed the course of his career trajectory toward policy. Massey describes his tenure at the University of Chicago, his directorship at Argonne, and how he worked through the existential challenge of nuclear energy following the Three Mile Island disaster. He explains his decision to accept an offer to head the National Science Foundation and how he grappled with creating a national science policy in a post-Cold War world. He discusses his work in support of the LIGO project and he explains his decision to lead Morehouse College after a brief appointment with the University of California. Massey reflects on his accomplishment at Morehouse, and he describes the ways the college had changed since his time there as a student. At the end of the interview, Massey discusses his work on the board of Bank of America and for the School of Art Institute of Chicago, and he discusses some of the ongoing challenges and areas of improvement to pursue in promoting diversity in the sciences. 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
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Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Core Faculty in Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of New Hampshire, and Research Affiliate in the Science and Technology Studies program at MIT. Prescod-Weinstein recounts her childhood in Los Angeles and her family heritage consisting of her mother from Barbados and her father who is Ashkenazi-Jewish. She discusses her family’s work in civil rights and activism and she explains how she became interested in science in high school. Prescod-Weinstein describes some of the cultural dislocations she felt as an undergraduate at Harvard, where she pursued undergraduate degrees in physics and astronomy and where Lene Hau played a formative role in her studies. She discusses her graduate career at UC Santa Cruz where she worked with Anthony Aguirre, and she explains how her interests in loop quantum gravity compelled to transfer to the University of Waterloo to work with Lee Smolin. Prescod-Weinstein explains how Niayesh Afshordi became her graduate advisor, which brought her interests more fully involved in cosmology and quantum gravity phenomenology. She discusses her postdoctoral work at NASA, where she learned a great deal about telescopes, and she describes her subsequent work as a MLK Fellow at MIT where she worked closely with Ed Bertschinger. Prescod-Weinstein describes her service work for the National Society of Black Physicists, and she discusses her increasing involvement in promoting diversity and inclusivity in STEM. She describes the opportunities leading to her appointment at UNH, and she explains some of the challenges and opportunities teaching in a largely white environment. Prescod-Weinstein describes her involvement in science communication beyond her academic specialty, and she surveys some of the major research endeavors in cosmology she is currently involved in, particularly in the search for dark matter. At the end of the interview, Prescod-Weinstein explains what the STEM community needs to do to further champion racial justice.