Interview with Herman B. White, physicist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. White recounts his childhood in Tuskegee, Alabama and growing up during segregation. He discusses his early interests in science and his decision to enroll at Earlham College in Indiana as an undergraduate. White then describes his time at Michigan State University as a graduate student, during which he also held a position as a resident research associate at Argonne National Laboratory. Dr. White talks about his transition from nuclear physics to particle physics upon completing his master’s degree at MSU. He discusses the events that led him to accept a position at Fermilab rather than immediately pursue a PhD. White was the first African-American scientist appointed at Fermilab, and he recounts his early years there being mentored by Raymond Stefanski. He then describes his research fellowship at Yale and his non-traditional path to getting a PhD in 1991 from Florida State University. White talks about returning to Fermilab to work on kaon physics, and his eventual involvement in the Tevatron experiment. Toward the end of the interview, White reflects on the changes and trends he has seen in the research being done at Fermilab over the years, as well as his involvement in the National Society of Black Physicists.
n this interview, Stephon Alexander discusses current research into quantum gravity and possible extensions to string theory; work to merge quantum mechanics and general relativity; research into the connection between music and cognitive science; experience as a jazz musician; intersections of philosophy and physics; experience as president of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP); challenges and stigmas associated with being a Black academic; growing up in both rural Trinidad and the Bronx; undergraduate experience at Haverford; graduate work at Brown; guidance from Robert Brandenberger into the field of quantum gravity, applying particle physics to astrophysics and cosmology; thesis research on solitons and topological defects and its role in string cosmology and theory; decision to take postdoc at Imperial College London focusing on M-theory and integrating string theory with cosmic inflation; influence of Alan Guth; work on D-brane driven inflation; experience in the underground London music scene; decision to go to SLAC in Stanford and work under Michael Peskin; loop quantum gravity; time as faculty at Penn State; the role and responsibility of the Black academic; recruitment by Brown University; intellectual influence of David Finkelstein; the process of becoming president of NSBP. Toward the end of the interview, Alexander reflects on his books, The Jazz of Physics and Fear of a Black Universe; being an outsider in the field of physics; and revisits his current work on quantum gravity. He emphasizes the importance of in-person collaboration and improvisation.
Interview with Ronald E. Mickens, Distinguished Fuller E. Callaway Professor Emeritus, Department of Physics, at Clark Atlanta University. Mickens recounts his childhood in segregated Virginia and how his entrepreneurial instincts and exposure to farm life fed into his budding interest in science. He explains the opportunities that led to his undergraduate education at Fisk University, where he majored in physics on the basis of his ability to combine his talents in math and chemistry. Mickens describes his formative summer research at Vanderbilt University on thermodynamics, and he explains the influence that his graduate advisor Wendell Holladay played in his life and his decision to continue at Vanderbilt for his graduate work. He discusses his involvement with the Civil Rights movement during his time in Nashville and how he dealt with the possibility of getting drafted for military service in Vietnam. Mickens describes his postdoctoral research in the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT, and he explains how events that can appear to be supernatural must be explicable within the single physical world. He describes his research at MIT as a time to expand on his thesis work on Regge poles, and he explains how his work with James Young connected him with his research at Los Alamos. Mickens describes his teaching and research record while he was a professor at Fisk, and he discusses his summer research at SLAC and his focus on the Pomeron and elastic scattering. He describes his many research visits to Europe and his work at CERN where he probed the theoretical underpinnings of high energy scattering. Mickens explains his fascination with Newtonian formulation equations and the utility of his visits to the summer Aspen Institute program. He describes some of the frictions he experienced with the administration at Fisk, his work at JILA, and the professional and personal considerations that compelled him to accept a professorship at Clark Atlanta and its transformation from Atlanta University. Mickens conveys the fundamental importance that geometry and numerical modeling has played in his career, and he contextualizes his academic achievements by emphasizing that everyone in his family has achieved a terminal degree. At the end of the interview, Mickens offers a history of the origins of the National Society of Black Physicists, and explains the significance of, and the lessons that should be learned, from Edward Bouchet’s life.
Interview with Demetrius Venable, Professor Emeritus at Howard University. Venable discusses the administrative distinctions between physics and astronomy at Howard, and he surveys some of the most interest projects currently in train at NASA. He recounts his upbringing in segregated small-town Virginia, the educational limitations this imposed, and his service in ROTC at Virginia State University. He discusses a formative intensive summer program at Columbia, and he describes the opportunities that led to his graduate admission at American University to work with Richard Kay on the effectiveness of circular polarization versus linear polarization in excited states in solid material. Venable describes his postdoctoral research at IBM, then taking a faculty position at St. Paul’s College, before taking a longer-term position at Hampton Institute. He discusses his early involvement with NASA’s remote sensing program, he describes his tenure as director of the dual degree engineering program and the collaborative opportunities he was able to pursue with Jefferson Lab. Venable recounts his increasing administrative responsibilities leading to becoming Provost at Hampton, and he discusses the growth of the NASA-supported Center for Optical Physics. He explains his decision to move to Howard, where he could be more fully involved in research for CSTEA and the LiDAR system, and his partnership with NOAA on climate modeling. Venable conveys his enjoyment at receiving NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, and he provides historical perspective on current and past calls to make STEM more diverse and inclusive. At the end of the interview, Venable explains his deep interest in physics education, and he expresses optimism in the long-term strength of Howard’s physics program.
Interview with Warren W. Buck, Chancellor Emeritus, Professor of Physics Emeritus at the University of Washington at Bothell, and Adjunct Professor of Physics and Special Advisor to the President for Equity in the 21st Century at William and Mary. Buck recounts his upbringing in segregated Washington DC, his early interests in science, and the opportunities that led to his admission to Lincoln University for his undergraduate degree before transferring to Morgan State. He discusses the racial strife and the civil rights movements of the late 1960s, his interest in physics as an undergraduate, and his decision to pursue a graduate degree at William and Mary. He explains his decision to leave after getting a master’s degree to teach at Bowie State and to be more involved in Black student organizing, and he describes his thesis research on deuteron theory under the direction of Franz Gross. Buck describes sailing in the Bahamas after graduate school and his appointments at Stony Brook and Los Alamos, and he explains his interests in nucleon-nucleon interactions. He describes a formative research year in Paris and his subsequent faculty position at Hampton University, his collaboration with Jefferson Lab, and his work introducing theoretical mesonic form factors. Buck discusses meeting Lillian McDermott and his recruitment to help build a new UW satellite campus at Bothell as chancellor. He surveys his accomplishments in that role and explains his decision to retire, and at the end of the interview, Buck discusses his interest in Buddhism and how Buddhist philosophy can be understood in the context of nuclear theory.
Interview with Philip Phillips, Professor of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Phillips recounts his early childhood in Tobago and the circumstances of his family’s move to Washington State. He conveys his bemusement at having no degree in physics, as his graduate work at the University of Washington was in chemistry, where he completed a PhD on fluorescence lifetimes in single molecules under the direction of Ernest Davidson, and where David Boulware provided the intellectual entrée to physics. Phillips explains the opportunities that allowed him to pursue postdoctoral work at Berkeley and learning RG from Orlando Alvarez. He describes his first faculty position in the chemistry department at MIT, some of the research challenges given that his primary interests were in physics, and his feeling that MIT was at the time not a very inclusive atmosphere. Phillips discusses his work on the random dimer model and the happenstance opportunity that led to his faculty appointment at Illinois. He explains getting involved with the National Society of Black Physicists and his efforts to make the department more diverse. Phillips describes the research that was recognized by the Edward Bouchet award and why Tony Leggett is among the few physicists who truly understands Mottness. He discusses advances in strongly coupled electron systems and he explains why he dislikes the term condensed matter and prefers solid-state. Phillips reflects on STEM’s response to the racial strife over the past year, and he discusses his current interests in pseudogaps. At the end of the interview, Phillips conveys his dream to solve the Hubbard model and to make advances in high-Tc research.
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.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Kandice Tanner, Stadtman Investigator at the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. Tanner recounts her upbringing in Trinidad and Tobago, and she shares that her mother "knew" she was going to be a physicist before Tanner herself decided on this career track. She describes how her abilities in math and science prompted her to go to the all-boys school for high school, and she discusses the factors and opportunities leading to her undergraduate studies at South Carolina State University. Tanner describes some of the cultural adjustments coming both to the United States and to attending a historically Black college, and she explains how an encounter at a conference of the National Society of Black Physicists led to her acceptance to the graduate physics program at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. She describes her research in biophysics under the direction of Enrico Gratton and she discusses her dissertation on the deconvolution of spectral photonics of a mammalian brain. Tanner discusses her postdoctoral work at University of California, Irvine where she worked with Bruce Tromberg on building a joint microscope that did optical tomography and two-photon microscopy. She describes her subsequent work at Berkeley in Mina Bissell's lab, which is where she developed her career interests in cancer research, and she discusses the formative effect of Ken Yamada's work. Tanner explains the attractions that led her to join the NCI, which offered unparalleled advantages of in vivo research. At the end of the interview, Tanner describes her current research on breast cancer and glioblastomas, and she explains why she wants to focus her research in the future on immunotherapies as among the most promising avenues in cancer treatment.