Southern University and A & M College

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
video conference

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Stephen McGuire, James and Ruth Smith Endowed Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at Southern University and A&M College. McGuire recounts his family’s heritage in Louisiana and his upbringing in New Orleans, which was completely segregated during his childhood. He describes his early interests in physics and how NASA and the space race captured his boyhood imagination. McGuire describes his undergraduate education at Southern, where he was given a full scholarship and where he pursued a degree in physics. He explains his decision to enter graduate school at the University of Rochester where he focused on experimental nuclear physics and was supported by the NSF on the Nuclear Structure Research Laboratory. He discusses the import of the Cold War on nuclear physics during his graduate school years, and his work with the Fulbright Group, named after Harry Fulbright, who worked on the Manhattan Project. McGuire explains his decision to transfer from Rochester to the Applied and Engineering Physics Program at Cornell for his Ph.D. and where he studied under David Delano Clark, who was the director of the Ward Laboratory of Nuclear Engineering. He discusses his postdoctoral work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where he joined the High Flux Isotope Reactor group, and his subsequent work as a professor at Alabama A&M. He describes the satisfaction he felt teaching at a Historically Black University and how the proximity to the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center led to his collaborative work with NASA. McGuire explains his decision to move back to Cornell where he had a joint appointment in the nuclear reactor laboratory and the physics department. He discusses his subsequent move to Southern, where he became chair of the physics department, and he explains the origins of LIGO’s Observatory in Louisiana. McGuire explains Southern’s contributions to the LIGO collaboration, his specific research on reducing noise in the test mass mirror substrates and coatings, and he provides an overview of how the project has changed over his twenty years of involvement, and what we know about the universe as a result of LIGO. At the end of the interview, McGuire reflects on his efforts to make physics and STEM more inclusive of under-represented groups and why optimism in the future has and continues to serve him well as a citizen and as a scientist.