Science—Moral and ethical aspects

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview dates
March 2, 4, 8, 2021
Video conference

In this interview with Kate Kirby, recently retired and now CEO Emerita of the American Physical Society, Kirby surveys the many challenges in leading APS during the pandemic, and she recounts her early childhood in Washington DC and then Chicago. She describes her early interests in science and her decision to attend Harvard-Radcliffe for her undergraduate education. Kirby discusses her gravitation toward physics after her initial intent to be pre-med, and she explains her decision to pursue thesis research in chemical physics at Chicago under the direction of Juergen Hinze before returning to Harvard for her postdoctoral research at the Harvard College Observatory which soon merged with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. She explains her decision to take a full time federal position at the Observatory and she describes her merging interests of chemical and atmospheric physics. Kirby narrates the steady advances in leadership positions she took on at the Observatory, and she describes her increasing involvement in APS activities. She explains the circumstances of becoming Executive Officer of APS in 2009 and she describes the central issue of corporate reform. Kirby describes the process of taking a broad view of the entirety of physics research from this vantage point and the value she places in growing APS membership. She discusses her emphasis on diversity and inclusivity in physics, particularly after the events of 2020, and she narrates her considerations about when to step down from leadership. At the end of the interview, Kirby considers some of the key challenges and opportunities as APS charts its future, she specifies science and ethics and a key area for APS to focus on, and she reflects on the gains women in physics have made over the course of her career.