Interview with Allan Pierce, Professor Emeritus at Boston University and President of the Cape Cod Institute for Science and Engineering. Pierce recounts his childhood in Kansas and New Mexico, where his father worked on building aircraft during World War II. He remembers tinkering with a chemistry set as a child and building his own little radio. Pierce describes his undergraduate studies in physics at New Mexico State University and winning an NSF Fellowship to attend MIT for free for his graduate studies. Upon completing his PhD, Pierce recalls working for RAND Corporation on defense-related issues at the height of the Cold War, as well as his burgeoning interest in acoustics. Pierce describes his career trajectory that took him to Avco Space Systems Division, the Mechanical Engineering Department at MIT, and Georgia Tech. He recounts his research in a variety of fields such as helicopter noise, sonic booms, wind turbines, and underwater acoustics. Pierce talks about the genesis of his famed acoustics textbook and speaks in detail about several topics in the book, such as the wave theory of sound, plane waves, and room acoustics. Pierce describes moving to Penn State, then Boston University, and finally the formation of the Cape Code Institute. He also reflects on his time as Editor in Chief of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. The interview concludes with Pierce reflecting on his unique historical perspective and appreciation for acoustics, and how he has seen the ASA change over the years.
Interview with Peter Lyons, former Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy in the Department of Energy. Lyons describes his consulting work as an advisor to National Laboratories, for Jordan’s Atomic Energy Advisory Board, and as a Distinguished Energy Fellow at the Institute of Energy Economics of Japan. He recounts his childhood in Nevada, and he discusses his undergraduate education in physics at the University of Arizona. Lyons discusses the opportunities that led to his graduate research at Caltech where Charlie Barnes and Willy Fowler were formative influences for his work on stellar nucleosynthesis. He describes his postdoctoral appointment at Los Alamos to work on laser fusion and his work in the plasma group. Lyons explains the value of fiber optics for nuclear testing, and he describes his view of SDI when he was a program director at the Lab. He describes his work as Deputy Associate Director for Defense Research and Applications, and how the end of the Cold War was felt at the Lab and in particular for its work in securing the nuclear stockpile of the former Soviet Union. Lyons describes how the Lab adapted to post-Cold War research during his time as Deputy Associate Director for Energy and Environment, and how he became increasingly interested in civilian energy issues. He discusses how the Lab became more involved as a partner to major industrial projects, and he explains his decision to leave the Lab to work for Senator Pete Domenici as science advisor, where he was closely involved in legislation on a number of scientific projects. Lyons describes recent advances in civilian nuclear energy and why hydrogen will be a significant player in the energy future. He discusses his tenure at NRC Commissioner, and his appointment at the Department of Energy with the incoming Obama administration. Lyons explains the impact of the Fukushima disaster on broader discussions relating to civilian nuclear energy, and he explains his decision to retire and the satisfaction he has felt as many of the program he contributed to continue to grow. At the end of the interview, Lyons provides a broad view on where civilian nuclear energy is on the right track as part of a carbon neutral future, and where he sees opportunities for technical and administrative improvement.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Shirley Ann Jackson, President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Jackson recounts her family heritage and describes her upbringing in Washington DC and her early experiences attending segregated schools and visiting the Smithsonian museums. She considers some of the opportunities that came with being high school valedictorian, and she describes the circumstances leading to her undergraduate admission at MIT. Jackson discusses the discrimination she encountered during college and describes her experience amid campus protests against the Vietnam War. She describes her undergraduate thesis on tunneling density states in superconducting niobium-titanium alloys, and she explains why the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was central to her decision to remain at MIT for graduate school. Jackson describes her thesis research officially under the direction of Jim Young but in reality more with Roman Jackiw. She discusses her experience as a postdoctoral researcher Fermilab, where she continued her thesis research on one-particle inclusive reactions, and then CERN, where she worked as a fellow of the Ford Foundation, and from which she used as a home base to travel in Europe. Jackson describes her subsequent work at Bell Labs where she focused on the electronic and optical properties of layered materials. She explains her decision to join the faculty at Rutgers University and she describes the moment not long after when President Clinton asked her to become the Chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Jackson recounts the history and structure of the NRC and she shares her views on the role of nuclear power as an energy sources and as part of the solution for climate change. She describes the interplay between regulation and private industry from her vantage point of leading the NRC and the responsibility of ensuring safety in the civilian nuclear energy industry. Jackson discusses her work as a board member of the New York Stock Exchange, and she explains the circumstances that led to her being named President of RPI. She describes the process for establishing a mandate and a vision for the university as she assumed leadership. Jackson discusses her work in the Obama administration as a member of PCAST and the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and she explains why as president of a university it is important not to get caught up in the political controversies of any particular day. She shares her views on the importance of diversity and inclusivity in higher education and she describes how RPI has dealt with broader issues of racial justice in 2020. Jackson discusses her work on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus task force, and what she has learned from the pandemic. She describes why being awarded the National Medal of Science is so important to her personally and she reflects on her contributions in physics, and particularly on the properties of unique two-dimensional systems. At the end of the interview, Jackson describes her central focus on guiding RPI through the pandemic and championing environmental issues.