University of California, Davis

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Location
Video conference
Abstract

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Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Teleconference
Abstract

In this interview, Andreas Albrecht, Distinguished Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Quantum Mathematics and Physics (QMAP) at the University of California, Davis, discusses his life and career. Albrecht describes the growth of the department since his arrival, his affiliation with QMAP, and the broader effort to integrate more mathematicians into the field of cosmology. He recounts his childhood in Ithaca as the son of two PhD scientists and family sabbatical visits to Santa Cruz and to the Soviet Union. Albrecht describes his budding interests in physics in high school, his undergraduate experience at Cornell and his early exposure to the ideas of Robert Dicke and Alan Guth. He discusses his graduate work at Penn and the circumstances that led him to become Paul Steinhardt’s mentee in cosmology. Albrecht conveys all of the excitement surrounding inflationary cosmology in the early-mid 1980s and the opportunity that led to his postdoctoral appointment with Steve Weinberg’s group at the University of Texas where he became interested in cosmic strings. He describes his subsequent postdoctoral appointment at Los Alamos where he worked with Wojciech Zurek and where his carpools with Geoffrey West proved to be a formative intellectual experience. Albrecht explains his decision to accept a staff position at Fermilab and the contemporary advances in cosmic strings scaling and why primordial nucleosynthesis was uniquely data-oriented relative to other fields in cosmology. He describes his subsequent faculty position at Imperial College in London and he emphasizes the productive and tight-knit cosmology community across the UK. Albrecht conveys the importance of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) experiments and how his ideas of equilibrium cosmology had changed over time and where the term “Boltzman Brains” originated. He describes how UC Davis was rapidly growing and how the opportunity to build a cosmology group was appealing to him. Albrecht explains the origins of his “arrow of time” concept and why this resonates with the broader public’s interests in the universe. He conveys the existential difficulty, and possible impossibility, of developing a credible theory of the beginning of the universe. Albrecht reflects on the spiritual dimensions of cosmological unknowability and the significance of the anthropic principle, and he discusses his efforts as department chair to enhance diversity in the field. At the end of the interview, Albrecht discusses his current work on decoherence and einselection, and he explains why avoiding prejudices in one’s scientific sensibilities is both singularly difficult and key to unlocking future discovery.    

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

Interview with Albert Schwarz, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics Emeritus at UC Davis. Schwarz discusses his current interests in pursuing a geometric approach to quantum theory, and he recounts his family origins in Russia and Eastern Europe and their travails under Stalin’s oppression. He describes his early interests in math and his education at the Ivanovo Pedagogical Institute under the guidance of Professor Efremovich, who guided him in the new field of geometric group theory. Schwarz discusses his graduate research at Moscow University, where he focused on the homology of the space of closed curves and on the topology of the space of Fredholm maps during his postgraduate work. He explains the impact of Polyakov’s and t’Hooft’s work on magnetic monopoles and gauge fields in the 1970s, and he describes his contributions to instanton research. Schwarz recounts his earliest exposure to string theory and his subsequent work on supergravity, and he explains the opportunities and considerations that allowed him to emigrate to the United States. He discusses his initial contacts with Ed Witten and his appointment at the Institute for Advanced Study and his job offer at Davis. Schwarz explains his interest in Batalin-Vilkovisky formalism and his appreciation of the value in relating non-commutative geometry to string theory and M-theory. He describes why a geometric approach to quantum theory de-emphasizes the differences between classical and quantum mechanics. At the end of the interview, Schwarz reflects on some of the life lessons he learned from the difficulties of his youth, how his background gives him a uniquely Russian approach to math and physics, and he explains a duality in string theory where it does not currently explain reality but that ultimately, the “right” physics will arise from it.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Robert Cahn, Senior Scientist Emeritus at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Cahn recounts his childhood in the San Francisco area, and he describes his early interests in math and science, and he describes his undergraduate experience at Harvard, where he was influenced by Dan Kleppner and Ed Purcell. Cahn describes his summer internship at SLAC, and his travel experiences in Europe after graduating. He describes his decision to pursue graduate work at Berkeley and he explains the political tumult that had convulsed the campus in the late 1960s. Cahn discusses his work with Dave Jackson on Regge theory and his postdoctoral work at SLAC, which was focused on quark research. Cahn describes his work at the University of Washington, where he collaborated with Lowell Brown, and he explains his decision to join the physics faculty at University of Michigan, where he collaborated on several projects with Gordy Kane and where he became interested in parity violation in atoms. Cahn explains his decision to move to UC Davis, and he describes the opportunity at LBL that presented itself shortly thereafter. Cahn describes the way LBL has been integrated with the physics department at Berkeley, and he discusses his tenure as Director of the Physics division. At the end of the interview, Cahn describes LBL’s increasing involvement in cosmology, the fundamental discoveries that have been made over the course of his career, and he considers some of the philosophical or metaphysical issues that arise in investigating how the universe works.

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews David Wineland, Philip H. Knight Distinguished Research Chair at the University of Oregon. Wineland recounts his childhood in Denver and then Sacramento, and he describes his early interests in math and engineering. He discusses his undergraduate education at University of California Davis and then Berkeley, where Frederick Byron played a formative role in his development as a scientist, and whom he followed to Harvard for graduate school. Wineland discusses working in Norman Ramsey’s lab, and the significance of Dan Kleppner’s demonstration of the hydrogen maser. He discusses his postdoctoral research at the University of Washington where he worked with Hans Dehmelt on making accurate measurements of the electron g-factor, and the opportunities that led to his career at NIST in Boulder. He describes the excellent research environment and instrumentation that made precision measurements for clocks feasible and the important of Shor’s algorithm for his work. Wineland explains the difference of accuracy and precision as those words apply to atomic clocks, and the societal benefits of achievement improvements in this field both for land- and space-based applications. He describes the day he learned that he would receive the Nobel Prize, the collaboration he enjoyed with Serge Haroche, and his post-Nobel work in quantum information. Wineland describes his reasons for moving to the University of Oregon. At the end of the interview, Wineland assesses the current and future prospects of true quantum computing and the societal benefits that this advance could confer, and ongoing developments that can further improve atomic clocks.