Weak interactions (Nuclear physics)

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Video conference

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Frank Wilczek, Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics at MIT. Wilczek recounts his family background and childhood in Queens, and he describes how his early curiosity would come to inform the many intellectual pursuits he would take on later in his career. He describes his undergraduate education at the University of Chicago, where he enrolled at the age of fifteen, and he discusses his early interest in applied and pure mathematics. Wilczek describes the key influence of Peter Freund at Chicago, and his decision to pursue graduate work at Princeton. He explains how David Gross became his advisor, and he describes his idea to apply the renormalization group to theories of the weak interaction. Wilczek describes his decision to join the Princeton physics faculty immediately after his graduate work, and his developing interest in cosmological issues, as well as his ongoing efforts to extend models of the weak interactions. Wilczek shares his ideas on a grand unified theory and what he sees as the ongoing value of particle physics to cosmological inquiry. He explains what is known and unknown in the early universe, and how his training in philosophy informs those questions. Wilczek conveys his excitement at the possibilities of computers to move science forward, and he narrates the growing interest in his research which led to the Nobel Prize in 2004. He discusses the ways he has used the platform conferred by this recognition as a vehicle for him to pursue other interests. Wilczek discusses his interest in time crystals, and he discusses the origins of the Wilczek Quantum Center in China, and he explains the collaborative work he is pursuing at Arizona State University in neurobiology and expanding human capacity for sensory perception. At the end of the discussion, Wilczek explains how the concept of beauty has always, and continues to inform his scientific pursuits.