Philip Pincus is a Distinguished Professor of Materials, Physics, and Biomolecular Science at UC Santa Barbara. In this interview, he explains the origin of his nickname “Fyl,” he recounts his childhood in San Francisco, as well as his decision to study physics at Berkeley and his mentorship by Charlie Kittel. Pincus describes his thesis research on temperature dependence of anisotropy energy, and nuclear spin relaxation in magnetic materials. He describes his postdoctoral work at Saclay and his faculty appointment at UCLA, and he describes working with de Gennes and Alan Heeger. Pincus describes his contributions to dirty type II superconductors and the excitement surrounding early research on liquid crystals. He explains his decision to join the research lab at Exxon Mobil and he describes the basic science research culture there and his increasing focus on soft matter physics, which he continued to pursue at UC Santa Barbara in the Chemical Engineering Department. Pincus discusses his current interests in water and cohesive energy, and at the end of the interview, he reflects on the growth of soft matter physics out of his original interest in solid state physics, and he explains why condensed matter theorists might have something to offer dark matter research.
This is an interview with Venkatesh Narayanamurti, Benjamin Peirce Professor of Technology and Public Policy, Engineering and Applied Sciences Emeritus at Harvard. He recounts his childhood in India and he explains the origins of his nickname “Venky” by which everyone knows him, and he explains his transition from a career primarily rooted in lab work to his more current interests in science and national public policy. He describes the imperial British influence that pervaded his upbringing, and he discusses his education at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi. He explains the opportunities that lead to his graduate work at Cornell to study solid state physics with a focus on defects in crystals under the direction of Robert Pohl. Narayanamurti describes his brief return to India before he was recruited to work at Bell Labs where he ultimately rose to serve as Director of Solid-state Electronics and as head of the Semiconductor Electronics Research Department. He contextualizes his decision to join the faculty at UC Santa Barbara after working at Sandia National Lab against the backdrop of the impending breakup of Bell. He discusses his work at Dean building up the computer science, electrical engineering, and chemical engineering programs before he decided to come to Harvard where he was the founding Dean of the Engineering and Applied Sciences. He explains his interest in joining the Kennedy School as he became more interested in public policy. At the end of the interview, Narayanamurti conveys optimism that higher education in the United States will be equipped to study and offer key solutions to some of the key scientific and technological challenges of the future.
In this interview, Paul Hansma, research professor in the department of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara describes his childhood growing up in multiple places due to his father’s academic work at numerous colleges and his early interests as a tinkerer. Hansma recounts his experience at New College and the unique curriculum offered there, and he discusses his graduate work at Berkeley, where he worked with John Clarke and where he conducted research on electron tunneling. He explains the circumstances leading to his appointment of UC Santa Barbara where he initiated electron tunneling spectroscopy, and built pioneering microscropes. Hansma discusses his work on the atomic structure of bones and studying bone deterioration. At the end of the interview, Hansma discusses his research work in the neuroscience of chronic pain.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews David J. Pine, Silver Professor, professor of physics, and Chair of the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Department at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Pine explains the background of NYU’s takeover of Brooklyn Poly and where these changes fit within the overall expansion of soft matter physics in the U.S. He recounts his childhood as the son of a pastor and moving many times as his father preached for different congregations. He discusses his interests and talents in the sciences during high school, and he explains his decision to attend Wheaton College. Pine describes how he developed his interest in physics in college and he describes his research at Argonne. He discusses his decision to go to Cornell for his graduate work, where he studied under Bob Cotts and did research on hydrogen diffusion in metals. Pine recounts his postdoctoral research at Pitt, where he worked with Walter Goldberg on spinodal decomposition, and he describes his first faculty position at Haverford, where he built a lab from scratch focusing on the diffusive dynamics of shear fluids. He explains his decision to accept a position with Exxon Labs, which he describes as an excellent place for basic science, and he describes the factors leading to his appointment on the chemical engineering faculty at UCSB, where he focused his research on polymer solutions and colloidal suspension. Pine describes some of the exciting advances in physics that were happening at the Kavli Institute. He describes his collaborations with Paul Chaikin and the prospect of joining the faculty at NYU, where he has continued his research. At the end of the interview, Pine reflects on how he has tried to maximize the benefits of working at the nexus of several disciplines, and he explains why entropy has been a concept of central importance to all of his research.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Douglas Scalapino, Research Professor at UC Santa Barbara. Scalapino recounts his childhood in San Francisco and then Scarsdale, New York, he discusses the circumstances leading to his admission to Yale, and he describes how he settled on physics as an undergraduate after getting to know Professor Larry Biedenharn. Scalapino discusses his graduate research at Stanford, where he worked under the direction of Mitch Weissbluth conducting radiation chemistry using a small linear accelerator to see free radicals created by the electron beam. He describes his burgeoning interests in electronic spin resonance and magnetic resonance. Scalapino explains the circumstances leading to his decision to finish his thesis work with Ed Jaynes at Washington University while working for Kane Engineering. He discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania with Bob Schrieffer and Henry Primakoff. He discusses his work at Bell Labs, where he worked with Phil Anderson, and he describes his first faculty position at Penn. Scalapino describes how UCSB recruited him, and he explains how his hire was part of a broader effort to raise the stature of the physics department. He recounts the virtues of working in a small department, where opportunities were available to collaborate with Bob Sugar and Ray Sawyer on high-energy physics, and Jim Hartle on astrophysics and general relativity. Scalapino describes the origins of the Institute of Theoretical Physics and how the National Science Foundation came to support UCSB’s proposal. He reflects on how the ITP has benefited the department of physics over the years, and he provides an overview of his research agenda at UCSB, which includes his contributions to the quantum Monte Carlo project and high-Tc and unconventional superconductors. At the end of the interview, Scalapino discusses his current interests in the numerical simulation of quantum many body systems.
In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Sean M. Carroll, Research Professor of Physics at Caltech, External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and founder of preposterousuniverse.com and the Mindscape podcast. Carroll recounts his childhood in suburban Pennsylvania and how he became interested in theoretical physics as a ten-year-old. He explains the factors that led to his undergraduate education at Villanova, and his graduate work at Harvard, where he specialized in astronomy under the direction of George Field. Carroll explains how his wide-ranging interests informed his thesis research, and he describes his postgraduate work at MIT and UC Santa Barbara. He describes the fundamental importance of the discovery of the accelerating universe, and the circumstances of his hire at the University of Chicago. Carroll provides his perspective on why he did not achieve tenure there, and why his subsequent position at Caltech offered him the pleasure of collaborating with top-flight faculty members and graduate students, while allowing the flexibility to pursue his wide-ranging interests as a public intellectual involved in debates on philosophy, religion, and politics; as a writer of popular science books; and as an innovator in the realm of creating science content online. Carroll conveys the various push and pull factors that keep him busy in both the worlds of academic theoretical physics and public discourse. At the end of the interview, Carroll shares that he will move on from Caltech in two years and that he is open to working on new challenges both as a physicist and as a public intellectual.
Andrew Strominger, Gwill E. York Professor of Physics at Harvard, with affiliations at the Black Hole Initiative and the Center for the Fundamental Laws of Nature at Harvard, is interviewed by David Zierler. He recounts his childhood in Saint Louis, Madison, and then Boston, as his father, the prominent biochemist Jack Strominger, moved academic positions. Strominger discusses his undergraduate education at Harvard, where he started at age fifteen, and he describes his experience living on a commune in New Hampshire and hitchhiking to classes at Harvard during the week. He describes what he thinks string theory is, and is not, capable of describing as a representation of physics reality and the significance of the Calabi-Yau paper. He explains why the fact that the universe exist must be proof that there is some theory that can allow for gravity to be incorporated in the Standard Model, and he addresses criticisms that string theory deals in realms that are not scientifically testable. Strominger describes his graduate research at MIT where he began his work on quantum gravity, which he continued as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study and then at UC Santa Barbara, where he spent twelve years on the faculty. He discusses his long-term collaboration with Stephen Hawking, and he muses on the likelihood, in his view, that there are other universes even if there is no scientific way to confirm or disprove their existence. At the end of the interview, Strominger reflects on the unique importance of the concept of belief in science.