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Oral History
Barry C. Barish Oral History Interview with Shirley K. Cohen

Resource available online.

Preface to the LIGO Series Interviews: The interview of Barry C. Barish (1998) was originally done as part of a series of 15 oral histories conducted by the Caltech Archives between 1996 and 2000 on the beginnings of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Many of those interviews have already been made available in print form with the designation “The LIGO Interviews: Series I.” A second series of interviews was planned to begin after LIGO became operational (August 2002); however, current plans are to undertake Series II after the observatory’s improved version, known as Advanced LIGO, begins operations, which is expected in 2014. Some of the LIGO Series I interviews (with the “Series I” designation dropped) have now been placed online within Caltech’s digital repository, CODA. All Caltech interviews that cover LIGO, either exclusively or in part, will be indexed and keyworded for LIGO to enable online discovery.

The original LIGO partnership was formed between Caltech and MIT. It was from the start the largest and most costly scientific project ever undertaken by Caltech. Today it has expanded into an international endeavor with partners in Europe, Japan, India, and Australia. As of this writing, 760 scientists from 11 countries are participating in the LSC—the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

ABSTRACT: Interview in five sessions, May-July 1998, with Barry C. Barish, Linde Professor of Physics emeritus and director of LIGO [Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory] 1994-2005.

Recalls undergraduate education, Berkeley; graduate work on Lawrence Radiation Laboratory cyclotron; postdoc work on bevatron. Meets Alvin Tollestrup, comes to Caltech as postdoc, 1963. At Brookhaven National Laboratory. At Stanford Linear Accelerator Center with Henry Kendall, Richard Taylor, and Jerome Friedman. With Frank Sciulli, proposes neutrino experiment for Fermilab; work on tau leptons at SLAC. Move to Cornell.

Discusses history of magnetic monopoles and his work on monopoles at Caltech in 1980s. Discusses history of SSC [Superconducting Super Collider]; problems with Standard Model of Particle Physics; Aspen conferences to plan SSC; selection of Texas site. Involvement of Samuel C. C. Ting. Devises SSC experiment, with W. J. Willis. SSC’s defeat in Congress (1993). Discusses his work in Italy on monopoles, in Gran Sasso tunnel. MACRO [Monopole Astrophysics Cosmic Ray Observatory] detector.

Discusses history of LIGO. Bar detector experiments of Joseph Weber. Initial meetings at Caltech. Hiring of Ronald W. P. Drever. Rochus E. (Robbie) Vogt as head, 1987. Disastrous technical review and project review, 1992-93. He takes project over from Vogt in February 1994. Discusses problems he encountered and lack of evolution between 1989 and 1994. Discusses LIGO’s technical difficulties and evolution of its organizational structure. LIGO Laboratory and LIGO (construction) Project. Establishment of LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

Comments on Caltech; disinclination to serve on committees, enjoyment of teaching. Recollections of Richard Feynman. Influence of Tollestrup and Taylor.


ID: 2001-00019
Barish, Barry C. (Barry Clark), 1936- (Physicist)

Creation May. 27, 1998 through Jul. 21, 1998

MEDIUM: Paper; FORMAT: Book; LENGTH: 66 pages; QUANTITY: 1

Topics: LIGO

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