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.
In this interview Ximena Cid, associate professor and chair of the Physics Department at California State University Dominguez Hills, discusses her life and career. Cid recounts her childhood in Sacramento and she discusses her mother’s Chicana and Yaqui heritage and her father’s Mexican heritage and the spirit of civil rights organizing that permeated her family life. She explains her early interests in space, and the difficulties she experienced adjusting as an undergraduate at Berkeley because so many students had come from better funded, and less violent high schools. Cid highlights the faculty members who supported and encouraged her, and she describes meeting Ramon Lopez at a SACNAS conference, and how he became her graduate advisor at UT Arlington. She discusses her graduate research on magnetic sub-storms and the pedagogic implications visual spatial cognition. Cid describes her postdoctoral research with the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington where she further developed her interests in teaching methods and physics tutorials. She explains the opportunities leading to her faculty appointment at CSU and her work organizing the National Society for Indigenous Physicists. At the end of the interview, Cid discusses the importance of visibility in the field as a central tool for encouraging minority undergraduates to pursue studies in STEM, and she shares her perspective on how the field has grappled with structural racism and police violence over the last year.