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Emily Carter

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Emily A. Carter

Emily Carter

Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment and Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and Applied and Computational Mathematics, Princeton University; Senior Strategic Advisor and Associate Lab Director for Applied Materials and Sustainability Sciences, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

By David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project

June 28, 2023

DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Wednesday, June 28th, 2023. I am delighted to be here with Professor Emily A. Carter. Emily, it is wonderful to be with you. Thank you so much for joining me.

EMILY CARTER: Oh, it's my pleasure.

ZIERLER: To start, would you please tell me your titles and institutional affiliations? I put an "s" on both, because I know you're at more than one place.

CARTER: For some reason, for a very long time, I've had way too many titles. People like to make jokes about how long my titles are. It's not my fault; let me just say that. I just get split into lots of different pieces. Currently, I am the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment, and Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, and Applied and Computational Mathematics—phew! —at Princeton University.

ZIERLER: You're not done yet!

CARTER: That's hat number one! Then, hat number two, which is actually taking up most of my time right now, because of the time sensitivity of the work, I am on the executive management team for the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, and my title there is Senior Strategic Advisor and Associate Laboratory Director for Applied Materials and Sustainability Sciences.

ZIERLER: So much to unpack there. Let's start first with the name. Tell me about Gerhard Andlinger, if you met him, what he represents for your research and for Princeton generally.

CARTER: Great question. I really loved Gerry Andlinger. I first met him in 2008 when he made an extraordinary gift to Princeton—actually, I met him before the gift was announced. There was a retreat on campus about energy and the environment that the president of Princeton, Shirley Tilghman, put together. He was there. I was invited because I had started working in the area of sustainable energy research; maybe for other reasons as well, I don't know, but I was invited. Shortly after that retreat, at which he spoke, and to which I also contributed, there was this announcement of a $100 million gift to Princeton, one of the largest gifts Princeton had ever received at that point, and it was to establish a Center for Energy and the Environment. So, it bears his name. I worked very closely with him, because, to cut to the chase, two years later, I became the founding director of the Andlinger Center. There's a story behind how that happened. We can talk about it if you want. As a result, he was the chair of the executive committee for the Andlinger Center for the entire time that I was founding director, which was six years, as we built the Center, literally [laughs]—bricks and mortar, and activities, and people. So, I knew him very well. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago.

I have to tell one more story about him. After we had the grand opening of the Andlinger Center building and I had been leading it for six years, after that point—and then I'll stop because I'm sure you have many other questions—but in my sixth year as the Andlinger Center director, the dean of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton had announced he was stepping down. They did a national search, and I was urged to throw my hat in the ring to potentially become the next dean of Engineering, and I ended up being selected by the president of Princeton at the time, Chris Eisgruber, to be the next dean of Engineering. I remember after I was asked and I agreed to do it, I must have called Gerry Andlinger. Either I called him, or he called me; I can't remember which. Actually, I think he called me when it was announced. Unfortunately, it went to voicemail. So somewhere, I have a voicemail where he said, "You broke my heart." I just felt terrible. Because we had a really great relationship, and I think he thought I would run the Center forever. But, he got over it. [laughs] I said, "Don't worry. I still will make sure that the Andlinger Center thrives in my new role. Because the new Center director will report to me as dean of Engineering. And it will always be a very important part of Princeton University."

ZIERLER: I've come to appreciate, in higher education, when there are these enormously generous philanthropic gifts, there's a mix of the person wanting to capitalize on research that has already taken place at the university, and there's an opportunity to really break into new fields of research that weren't possible. I wonder, for the Andlinger Center, if you could narrate that mixture, how that happened at Princeton.

CARTER: That's a really fascinating question, because in fact, I remember having a conversation with Shirley Tilghman, the president of Princeton at the time, when she was urging me to—I'll step back for a second and say that after the gift, the dean of Engineering, Vince Poor at the time, established two committees, one committee to work with architects to define a program and to start to design a building, and the other one was to do an international search for the founding director. Vince Poor asked me to serve on both committees, and of course I said yes. At the first meeting of the committee to search for the director, half the committee said, "We don't need to have this committee. It's obvious who should be the director. Emily should be the director." [laughs] I said, "No." I said, "I think this is an opportunity for us to go outside and get another great scholar to add to our ranks. We don't get that opportunity that often, to hire at the senior level." That's something that happens at universities; you don't hire as often at the senior level at most universities. I said, "Frankly, I don't want to be doing administrative work right now. I have too many research ideas in the sustainability space that I want to pursue." So, I didn't agree to be a candidate. We searched for a year. We ended up not hiring anyone.

About a year into the search, the president of Princeton and I were at another one of these presidential retreats, and we were on a bus together and sat next to one another, and she said, "You know, a lot of people think you should be the director, and you should do this." I then felt…things were very different after a year. I had gotten a huge number of my ideas funded so I had grant support for quite some time through the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation for my ideas. I thought, "Maybe I can do this." So, I agreed to be a candidate. The reason I bring it up is because in the same conversation, Shirley Tilghman said to me, "This is a very important area of research. You recognize its importance. We have a lot of good work going on, on the environment at Princeton, but we really don't have much going on in the area of energy." I sort of nodded my head—"Yeah, okay." Well, we were both wrong! Because when I became the director— jumping ahead: in the second year of the search, I stepped off the committee and I agreed to be a candidate. I ended up being chosen and I became the founding director in 2010.

The very first thing that I did as director—because I just think that the only way activities grow and thrive at universities is if the faculty are behind it. So, what you have to do is understand, what are faculty interested in? What are the faculty's strengths? So, I spent a lot of time, as soon as I was appointed, going around to every department I could think of that might have some presence in this area of energy, and the environment as it relates to energy, and talked to them about my vision, and started to do a taxonomy of faculty who had projects in this area. It was over 100 faculty, on campus, that were working already in this area; it just was not visible. The president didn't know it; I didn't know it. I bring this up because you said, "Was this a case of the Center coming together now to then recruit lots of people?" Well, yes, there were faculty lines. There were positions available to recruit new talent, which is always important, too. But the fact is, there was already a really good set of people working on campus, but there hadn't been a hub to bring those folks together. So, one of the things that I did in the first year, along with—also really important to hire great people, and so I hired a fabulous associate director as my very first hire, to help me execute, Laura Strickler. The two of us worked really hard along with an assistant, and with help from other people in the School of Engineering, including the person who is sitting right next to me, Maureen Novozinsky [laughs], to put together a website that made visible all of these research themes, and the talent behind the research themes. Because I felt that if you had a place where you could go to, where you could search easily the talent and activities—a lot of the energy centers were starting around that time and they often just had an alphabetical list of faculty. There was no way to navigate such a list in any useful way. I instead divided up our online research directory into different areas—people working on solar, people working on fuels, just different areas of research. Then you could search, easily, who is working on photovoltaics? Who is working on wind? Et cetera, like that. What that did is it not only helped create a community in which faculty could find each other easily, but also the outside, potential external partners, could see that we had all this talent already to work with. Then we also hired a lot of fantastic, mostly junior faculty, that were joint between the Andlinger Center and other departments on campus.

ZIERLER: Given your personal closeness to Andlinger, and being part of the origin story of the Center, and your home department of course being the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, just an administrative question—is the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering the anchor point for the Center? Or is the Center truly interdisciplinary and it's represented by a wide range of departments across the University?

CARTER: The Center is truly interdisciplinary. It is heavily engineering-focused in the sense that there is—we were really focused—we did strategic planning, as one is wont to do when you start something new, and came up with a mission statement, which is still the mission statement today, which is to find the solutions for our energy and environmental future, not surprisingly. But the emphasis on solutions, and solutions tend to come from—at least the technological solutions—come from engineers. Societal solutions will come from other parts of campus. So, it lives within the engineering school and within the org structure, it's a separate entity. The School of Engineering, when I was dean, I was overseeing ten different units. There are six academic departments and four interdisciplinary institutes, and the Andlinger Center is one of them. It reaches out to the sciences. It reaches out to the social sciences, to the policy school, to architecture, as well as the School of Engineering.

ZIERLER: Would you say that the Center is more broadly representative of Princeton's desire to be more applied and socially responsive in research to societal benefit?

CARTER: That's not a recent phenomenon. It's in its informal motto, which is "Princeton in the nation's service, and in the service of all nations," which then, when Sonia Sotomayor, who is a Princeton alum, became a Supreme Court Justice, she came and she gave a talk at Princeton, right as she was about to ascend to the Supreme Court, and she said, "I think we should change the informal motto to be, ‘Princeton in the nation's service, and in the service of humanity.'" So now that has become the informal motto. But the point is, there has always been a sense of responsibility —and I think that's something that I found—it's what I really love about Princeton. I love many things about Princeton, but one of the things I really love about it is that there's a genuine sense that we have a responsibility to give back to society, to use our talent to give back to society. We try to inculcate that in our students. Because being here is a privilege, and an honor, and we have resources here—intellectual resources, monetary resources—that allow us to do things that not that many institutions can do.

ZIERLER: Moving over to the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and your leadership role there, what aspects of your appointment are a sign of your administrative acumen—all of the administrative higher education roles that you've had—and where is there a real point of convergence in the research that you are interested in these days?

CARTER: You ask great questions! What I can tell you is that when Joe Biden was elected president, the provost of Princeton approached the director of the DOE Lab, the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, that Princeton manages, and said, "How can we take advantage of Joe Biden's focus on climate change mitigation? She said—this was Deborah Prentice at the time—said, "Who on campus, what faculty member can help you really create more bridges to Princeton University, and broaden the research portfolio of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab?"—which is the national lab for fusion energy, mostly magnetic confinement fusion energy and plasma science. But it has been focused largely on this one mission of fusion, which is still quite a ways off. So, here's Biden saying, "Let's get to a number of solutions faster than that. What can we do?" The point is that the director of the Lab, who knew me well, said, "I think we have to try to get Emily back." The director of the Lab approached me first, and I also talked to the provost about it, about whether I would be interested in coming back to design programs in sustainability science, build out programs, using the strengths of the Laboratory, so thinking about leveraging the strengths of the Laboratory and the strengths of Princeton University, to do what I had done in many ways to build the Andlinger Center, but in a different context, namely a national lab, to build out the programs that are needed today to accelerate our trajectory to a circular carbon economy, really, a zero to negative carbon emission economy and civilization.

It is the kind of research that I have been working in and doing for more than 15 years. I know how to build programs. I like to do that. It's something I really enjoy. I will state for the record that I was approached by the Biden administration transition team right after he was elected about potentially coming to Washington to take a high-level job at the Department of Energy. This was in January of 2021. I was eyes-deep in my leadership role at UCLA, which we haven't talked about yet, as executive vice chancellor and provost, and dealing with COVID along with everything else. I talked to them because I care so much about this issue, and asked them, "When would you want me to come?" They said, "As soon as possible." I said, "You mean like January 21st, the day after he's inaugurated?" They said, "Well, if we can get the paperwork done that fast." I said, "Uh, no. [laughs]" I said, "I can't do that. There's no way I can abandon UCLA at the height of the pandemic. I have things I have to do here first." I said, "Maybe later in the administrative time period, maybe there will be a time when I could do this."

I declined that opportunity, but it got me thinking. It made me realize that what I really care about the most is making a difference in terms of getting the world onto a sustainable path. So, I decided later that spring that I wanted to pursue this idea and started talking with the administration here, and ultimately decided in the late summer of 2021 that I would move back, and I've been doing this now for a year and a half, since the beginning of 2022. What am I doing? I am building out programs that are meant to—what they envisioned was taking advantage of Biden's focus in this area, thinking about the strengths of the Lab and Princeton, and building a broader portfolio. So, I'm largely in charge of diversifying the research portfolio of the lab into sustainability science—although plasma science as it relates to microelectronics and quantum information science were added to my portfolio as of January 1 of this year. Those latter two fields are not my passion, but I am sufficiently knowledgeable about them. I certainly have worked in—especially the microelectronics piece of it, I worked in that area a long time ago. So, I can help with those topics as well. I was asked to take on that entire portfolio, so that's what I'm doing, and to build stronger bridges between Princeton and the DOE lab, as well as building bridges between us and other national labs. I currently serve and have served on the advisory boards of both Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and earlier, Stanford's SLAC National Lab. I've been a funded investigator at DOE for multiple decades, so I know the Department of Energy quite well, especially the Office of Science. So I was the right person to be engaged in this work. That was a long answer!

ZIERLER: The big announcement out of Livermore in December of last year, the breakthrough announcement on fusion energy, obviously all the attention was on Livermore; that's where it took place. But when you read between the lines and you look at how generous the scientists and the engineers there are in emphasizing that this is a national endeavor, does PPPL play a role in this breakthrough announcement?

CARTER: Yes, PPPL did some—it was involved in that breakthrough. I will say it's important to recognize that that approach is called inertial confinement fusion, and to the credit of the national lab director there, she was very clear—clearer than some other folks in DOE—that while it was really exciting to be able to focus these 200 lasers, which they had been trying to do for decades, on a very small pellet, and have the pellet implode and fuse deuterium and tritium, isotopes of hydrogen, and to get more energy out than they put in from the lasers, that in fact, the amount of energy that you had to take from the electricity grid to power the lasers was 100 times greater than the amount of energy that the lasers then transferred to the pellet. So, even though it's true that two megajoules went in from the lasers and they got three megajoules out—which is great; it's proof of principle that you get more energy out—it's totally impractical, because you really had to use 200 megajoules off the grid to get 3 megajoules out. And it wasn't out, right? It wasn't controlled energy that led to electricity production. But it's a very important step, and she was really good about pointing out that if you just look at the energy of the reaction, it produced more energy out, but it's not practical. What will be practical someday, in my opinion, is magnetic confinement fusion. This was a really important physics experiment, and very important to demonstrate; but it's not the silver bullet.

ZIERLER: The evergreen joke about fusion energy being 40 years around the corner kind of still applies, as far as you're concerned?

CARTER: No, I don't think it's 40 years out. I think it's much sooner than that. What has happened is a bunch of money—and there's two things that have happened in the last few years. One is that some private philanthropists have decided that they are enamored of fusion and have put a bunch of money into startups. There's something like 60 startups out there worldwide. And, the DOE has come around to saying, this is a good thing and Biden has bought into this. The administration has announced a "bold decadal vision" for commercial fusion. There's no way it's happening in 10 years, in my opinion. Some startups are making promises like that, which I think is really dangerous, just because there will be blowback when it doesn't happen. I hope I'm wrong, okay? I just don't think I will be wrong, unfortunately. Because there's still too many aspects of, how do we actually control the plasma, and all the issues about the materials of the actual container, that have not really been worked out. On the other hand, it is still great that there are companies, and there's private investment, as I do believe that it will accelerate progress. So there's now this public-private partnership program that the DOE is running. They just recently made announcements of about $50 million in grants.

The thing about PPPL is that it is involved with—I think there are eight companies, and we already have signed agreements to work with five of them, and two others, we are doing collaborative research with. But the point is they're coming to PPPL because we have the expertise to work through the science and technology problems. In fact, so much so that they poach our personnel. So, it's an interesting time. As we know, certainly in the private sector, there's a real urgency. They have to deliver. That, I think is great. I think it has focused the attention more than ever before, and that's really great. It's really unfair, I think, to be saying, "Oh, fusion is the technology of the future and always will be." That's the other way of saying it. Kind of like what people used to say about gallium arsenide, that it was the semiconductor of the future and it always will be. The problem in the case of fusion is that you're trying to do something which is unbelievably hard. You're trying to have a sun on Earth that you control. And it's a sun that is not taking up as much room as the Sun. But you're trying to do what the Sun is doing, here on Earth. That is the hardest engineering problem we've ever tried. So of course it's going to take a very long time.

Plus, it actually hasn't been funded at a very decent level. I'll give you an example. In the middle 1990s, I participated in something called the Defense Science Study Group. It was run through the Institute for Defense Analyses and DARPA. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded this—still funds, I think—program, for mid-career scientists, very early mid-career, typically people who have just become full professors. They pick a group of 15 scientists and engineers across the United States to come together and get exposed to military challenges, science and engineering challenges that we might help them with, while at the same time letting us have some great fun. I caught the wire on an aircraft carrier. We got to see a stealth bomber. The reason I bring it up—this sounds like it has nothing to do with anything, but—the stealth bomber at the time cost $2.1 billion, each one of them. The fusion budget, at the time, was—in units of stealth bomber— 25% of one stealth bomber, per year.

ZIERLER: The whole thing?

CARTER: Yeah! For the U.S. fusion budget, it was about $400 million, something like that. That was 20 years ago, almost. No, longer than that; almost 30 years ago. There's a great plot that someone sent to me showing dollars versus year for fusion, and it showed what investment would be needed essentially to get to fusion at, say, 2035, and it also showed a level that was called "fusion never" and the U.S. budget was always under "fusion never." There wasn't sufficient investment—there wasn't the right investment. And, look, the scientists also were focused on very fundamental things for a long time, and that was okay for a long time until we started realizing the world was warming, and then everybody had to get serious. I think now there's a real understanding that the time is now for real focus, both in the private sector and in the public sector, and PPPL is absolutely at the center of it. They're the lead, the tip of the spear in terms of expertise that is needed, and also the honest broker. Because we're not promising to make a buck for anybody; our job is to do the enabling science that will lead to commercial fusion.

ZIERLER: Emily, given all of your responsibilities at the Lab, just a bandwidth question back on campus—are you able to teach? Do you interact with undergraduates? Do you have graduates and postdocs and an active lab right now?

CARTER: I have an active lab. I'm not teaching. I have to say that I loved teaching for many years, but once I was asked to build major programs, and fundraise for them, et. cetera, it really became very difficult. I was teaching when I first started as founding director of the Andlinger Center, and I actually started having physical health problems. It was just too much. There just was not enough of me to go around to be able to do that. Basically the executive committee of the Andlinger Center after the first year told the president, "You can't have her teach. She has to go out and raise money and do all these things and build this. You have to take her out of the classroom." So, I stopped teaching. Deans also don't teach. In my role as executive vice chancellor and provost at UCLA, I didn't teach. When I came back to Princeton, I thought I would teach, but then I realized that the effort to build the programs that I needed to build at the Lab, it's a full-time job. So I'm currently not teaching.

I do have a small research group. I have to say that up through my time as dean of engineering, sort of at each stage that I took on more and more administrative responsibility—I used to run a research group of about, steady state, 16 people. That was something I felt like I could manage. I loved working with graduate students. I loved taking graduate students from, I like to say, an intellectual lump of clay, and building a beautiful sculpture. That's one metaphor. The other metaphor is you have a baby bird, and you nurture them until they can fly on their own. That's a better metaphor. Because really, what I loved to do is to help them along their journey to become independent scientists so they could fly on their own. I trained 39 graduate students to PhDs over my career, in multiple disciplines. I had graduate students at Princeton from six different departments on campus. I had this wonderful group that—I loved the fact that- there was a mixture of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, because they could learn from each other new perspectives and skills. My research is very interdisciplinary, so it was really a great atmosphere. I loved working with grad students. Before I started doing this administration leadership work, I had a group of 14 grad students and two postdocs, because mostly I just loved working and training grad students. But then I had to build out the Andlinger center programs, building, and people. I just felt like it would be cheating graduate students to take them on because I would not have enough time to be with them, and I didn't like the idea of building a hierarchy where they didn't see me but they only saw a postdoc or something like that. So, what I did is I started taking fewer and fewer graduate students and took on more postdocs. Then when I became dean, I stopped taking grad students entirely. I said, "Okay, I'm just going to take on new postdocs and undergrads." I actually had graduate students up through 2019, until I went off to UCLA, because I still had grad students who were finishing up until that point. Then even at UCLA I jointly supervised, along with a project scientist that worked with me, who was my former postdoc who came with me to UCLA—he and I and another faculty member jointly supervised an undergrad and a graduate student in Chemical Engineering. At Princeton and PPPL now, I am continuing to work with postdocs and undergrads. If there's a joint graduate student that wants to work with us, I'm happy to do that. That's it. It's a much smaller group than I had before because I just don't have the bandwidth, with my current job and increasing amounts of external service as well.

ZIERLER: On the question of interdisciplinarity, looking at your research record, your publication list, all of your affiliations—it's all there. There's physics, chemistry, biology, math, computation, engineering, applied science, fundamental research. I really mean this; I don't know the answer—what do you consider—either intellectually, how you see the world, through your training—what is your home discipline, or what is the discipline that you see as the convergence point for all of the things that you've worked on?

CARTER: Physical chemistry, full stop. It's interesting you say biology; I don't think I've done anything in that area.

ZIERLER: There's biochemistry. There's biomolecular chemistry.

CARTER: Maybe one paper [laughs] or something, because some student was interested, but mostly not. That was a one-off. It's really interesting; I grew up loving mathematics, and just loving math, so it's interesting that when I came to Princeton, one of the—well, it's not a department; it is an interdepartmental program—that wanted to hire me was the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics. So interesting, because it felt like coming full circle. Because I loved math as a kid. When I got to Berkeley—I was an undergraduate at Berkeley—and I started my first quarter taking differential equations, and I totally aced it. I got one of only two A-pluses in the class of 350 kids. I took the usual courses—linear algebra, vector calculus, and on and on. But I got to the upper division courses very quickly, like as a sophomore, and they became very abstract, and I didn't like it. I just thought, "No. This doesn't appeal to me. I don't see the application." Even then, I was thinking a bit about applications.

So, set that aside for a second. At Berkeley, I took—I had learned in high school that I really liked chemistry, and I liked it more than physics. Physics was fine, and I did fine in it, but I liked the richness of chemistry. I thought, "This is really amazing, the different kinds of things you can do, in terms of chemistry." It just fascinated me. I majored in chemistry at Berkeley, and at Berkeley there's a real emphasis on physical chemistry. It has a history that goes back a long way in physical chemistry, so there's a lot of physical chemistry courses that are required. I loved them. Just to cut to the chase, the thing that's so great about physical chemistry is—by the name, it's a mixture of physics and chemistry. It's the physics behind chemistry. It's understanding chemistry through physical principles. Well, what underlies physics is mathematics. Physical chemistry is this wonderful mixture of physics, chemistry, and math. That just sets you up so beautifully to be an interdisciplinary engineer, in fact, because the underpinnings of most of engineering is mathematics and physics. If you do things that relate to chemical conversion and chemical engineering, then it builds on chemistry. Or, in materials science, that also relates to chemistry. I work in the chemical engineering, materials science space mostly right now. Back in the early 2000s, I was working on things that were very related to, and that's why Princeton came to recruit me then in, the area of mechanics of materials and high-temperature aerospace materials. These were things that interested the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. But the underpinning is physical chemistry for me.

ZIERLER: Your interest in sustainability, is that a more recent phenomenon, or can you see at least intellectually that this traces right back to when you first got interested in physical chemistry?

CARTER: I have to say I was ignorant about sustainability for a long time. I was just living my life and having fun as a scientist and educator. This is not to say – I mean I was interested in solving important problems. As I mentioned, at the beginning of my career I started working on etching and growth of silicon, and did some of the first atomic-scale, realistic simulations to understand chemical mechanisms associated with those processes. That was very fundamental work but on an applied subject. I did a lot of research like that, looking at corrosion of steel, protective coatings for metals for turbine blades. That was another area that was of interest for aircraft engines and things like that. But none of that had to do directly with energy and the environment (turbine blades indirectly do, I admit). Then my worldview changed in 2007—and again, I say this is what's so interesting about Princeton, is I think it just exposes you to, gives you a heightened awareness of this sense of responsibility to society. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just come out with their latest report, in 2007. That was nearly 20 years into me being a professor. When I read in that report that at the 95% confidence level, climate scientists had concluded that fossil fuel burning was causing global warming, I felt like I just woke up. That's when I switched over all of my research. I said, "Okay, nothing else matters. I'm going to work on sustainable energy technologies." Now, more recently, because I think a lot of the sustainable energy, while there's more to do, that's less important than dealing with carbon mitigation at this point. We've got to get CO2 out of the atmosphere and out of the oceans and potentially using the CO2 to create chemicals, fuels, and materials, and not just storing it underground. Those are the research problems I'm focusing on now.

ZIERLER: One last thematic question before we go to chronology—this is obviously something that you've thought a lot about—as a girl interested in math and science, in your education, what has changed, when we look at where we are in June 2023 or women in math and science and engineering? What has changed, for the better hopefully, and where are there still problems? Where is there still real fundamental work to be done?

CARTER: I just think society changes really slowly. There are these disruptive events that happen that can change things, and governments do respond to those with different policies. We've seen that with the #MeToo movement. We've seen that with the response to the George Floyd murder. But I still come back to people's attitudes. There are still things that happen that are surprising to me in terms of people's attitudes toward—well, one of the things that I think has happened lately is that people think, "Oh, the women in science problem is solved." And it's not solved. If it was solved, we would be at parity in terms of who is choosing—at least I believe we'd be at parity in terms of who is choosing - to join the scientific community and stay in the scientific community. And we're not there. We're a long way from there.

ZIERLER: Parity is just simply defined as half of the population and being representative of that?

CARTER: I can say that I certainly have experienced, and I've tried to do my part to overcome and help other people overcome and to speak out about, prejudice. I've experienced definitely everything from people saying, "What are you doing here? You're a girl. Why are you studying that? You're a girl," to sexual harassment, to people just being tremendously disrespectful, saying things that I just have to believe they wouldn't if I had been a male. Just assuming that because you're a female, that you're not as smart as the male in the room. I used to take great pleasure out of walking up to a group of (typically all) males, at some conference—this was early on; now I mostly can't walk up to such a group and have them not know who I am, so I can't be incognito—but back then, when I was a grad student or a postdoc or a young faculty member, I'd go to conferences and people wouldn't necessarily know who I was. I could see that they were just looking at me and just making an assumption that I probably wouldn't have anything to add to the conversation. Then just seeing the change in expression when intelligent things were coming out of the mouth of this woman, right? I took great pleasure in seeing the change in their faces.

ZIERLER: Being on the receiving end of that, the flip side, being a leader in higher education, being an executive administrator in academia, how has that changed your perception and your ability to be an agent of change for the better?

CARTER: I have to say that for me, becoming dean of Engineering was really a pivotal moment, where I realized, oh, I actually have the ability to make some changes that could really help. Because engineering, like physics, has been notoriously underrepresented in terms of women and minorities, in terms of population of people in those fields. I think on both women and minorities, the issue is societal, and it starts very early. I was very fortunate to have supportive parents; not every kid has that. Just to give another example—I'm a mom, and one of the things I vowed is that I would make sure to answer any question my son would ask me—because I really feel that kids are born scientists, because they're just—curious. They just want to know how the world works. I figured, any question that my son asked me, I was never going to say, "Oh, don't ask that question." I was going to find out the answer if I didn't know the answer. But the point is, not every kid has that experience. My son had an experience in elementary school where a teacher told him he was asking too many questions. I couldn't believe it. In high school and college, it's like pulling teeth to get kids to ask questions. So if you have a kid asking questions, you should rejoice!

The other problem is that, as we know, there's real inequities in the level of quality of education across the United States. As a result, especially people from lower socioeconomic means end up through no fault of their own living in a zip code where they go to a high school that doesn't offer physics, doesn't offer calculus. Well, they're a leg behind. It doesn't mean they can't be a scientist or engineer for sure, but it just makes it harder. So, there's all these problems. When I became dean, there had already been—we had started having discussions—there had been a retreat where much of the faculty came together to talk about, "What should we be doing as the next tranche in terms of the trajectory of the School of Engineering, both in terms of research and in education?"

There were faculty, certainly including myself, who were passionate about the idea that we would design a set of courses that would be taught in the freshman year that students could opt into, to take instead of the regular math and physics courses, aimed to increase their interest in engineering. We were seeing a lot of kids who came in declaring engineering majors leaving after their first year, having only had core math and science courses. They would get discouraged. Of course, if you're getting all these messages from your friends and your parents and TV that you don't belong, what are you doing taking those courses—and if they're hard for you, because you were underprepared, because you didn't have access to good education to prepare you in high school, then you start to doubt yourself and you drop out. You go become a French major. Nothing wrong with being a French major, but if you really wanted to build bridges or invent the next solar cell, and you gave up because you said, "Physics is really hard. I'm not used to getting B's, and I got a B- on my midterm, and I'm going to drop out"—I wanted to stop that, and so did many of the faculty at Princeton.

What we did—and I championed this—was to organize a group of courses that students could have as an alternative, that emphasized what is engineering, and taught mathematics and physics through the lens of engineering examples, so that when those kids got to feel overly challenged by multivariable calculus, at the same time they were being inspired by the fact that they could go help villages in Africa clean up their water. There have been studies that show that women, for sure, and I would venture to say underrepresented minorities may also feel this way—at least people from low socioeconomic means, I would say—feel that they want to help society. They want to help it get better. And, there are studies which have shown that if you focus on the fact that engineering is really science in service of society— I love that phrase, and I can't claim credit for it, because the first time I heard it was when Princeton's previous dean, Vince Poor, used it, and I'm sure he probably wasn't the first either—but anyway, I love that phrase. Science in service of society; that's what engineering is all about. That really appeals to women. So we emphasized that. We also emphasized teamwork; engineers work in teams, generally speaking. We emphasized design, so the creativity aspect of engineering. Those are all things that definitely appeal to women. I think that people from lower socioeconomic means, often who are underrepresented minorities, they also have a real strong sense of wanting to go back to their own communities and make them better. They have this real strong drive for that. We instituted these courses, and I can tell you that in the first year, we retained 70% of the women, which was—I think that's the right number—a simply extraordinary improvement. Prior to the start of these courses, women and underrepresented minorities were disproportionately dropping out of the Engineering program before they had ever had an engineering course. Other than computer science. They would have one computer science course, but they had never had an engineering course other than that. We flipped that. We cut the attrition rate in half by instituting these courses. That's something which felt really good to me, that we started that program. Other programs as well, but that's one that I think addressed a really key pain point.

ZIERLER: Emphasizing the role of parents, that's a perfect segue to go back and establish some family history. Let's start first with your dad. Tell me about him, where he came from, his areas of expertise, what his work was.

CARTER: My dad was born and raised in Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York City. He came from a very poor family. His father actually died of stomach cancer when he was 13. It was during the Great Depression. My father was the only boy, and at that time the boy became the central person to help the family, and so he actually dropped out of high school and had to go to night school. I think he went to Brooklyn Tech night school, something like that. I'm really sad I can't remember that right now, but I think that's right. Then he went to CCNY, and he majored in electrical engineering. Then he met my mother. I think it was while he was a student there, or he might have actually already graduated and was working as an electric engineer. I think he may have already been working. They got married in 1943, and they—I have to get this story straight—he went to CCNY. My mother went to Brooklyn College. She majored in sociology. She was four years younger than him, so there was a gap in age. I think he was working, after he finished his degree. When she graduated, she wanted to get a master's degree in social work, and she got into the University of Chicago, and he agreed to follow her, and he worked as an engineer. Then at the same time he applied to the Physics PhD program at Stanford, and he got in, and he went after she got her master's degree. But the fun part for Techers is that my dad worked for Enrico Fermi at Chicago as an engineer, and he told me a couple of really nice stories about that.

ZIERLER: Did he participate, whether he knew it or not, in the Manhattan Project?

CARTER: He did. Actually, as a student, when he was living in New York, he worked at Columbia, and Columbia was part of the Manhattan Project, and he didn't know that he was working on the Manhattan Project at the time. I don't know what he did exactly but he definitely worked on the Manhattan Project.

ZIERLER: Then did the family move out to California?

CARTER: Yeah. What happened is my dad got into Stanford for grad school. My mother came and actually worked at the Veterans Administration as a psychiatric social worker there while he was getting his PhD. He got his PhD and—

ZIERLER: In physics or engineering?

CARTER: Actually in physics.

ZIERLER: Why the switch to physics?

CARTER: I don't know. It's funny, because I never asked him that question. I don't know.

ZIERLER: Do you know what year he arrived at Stanford?

CARTER: I know that my mother got her degree in 1946. They must have arrived in 1947, something like that. He got his degree pretty quickly. Yeah, I think he arrived in 1946 or 1947. Because I know that when he finished, he got an academic job actually at NYU, and so he started as an assistant professor at NYU, I think in physics. I don't know if it was physics or electrical engineering, but I assume physics. Didn't stay there very long. That was in 1951. He didn't stay there very long because the pay was apparently terrible, and he couldn't support his growing family. My oldest brother was born, then. So, he decided to work in industry. He got a job at General Dynamics, at Convair, and he worked on radar design for them. He did that for a few years. My other brother was born in 1954, in San Diego, because General Dynamics was in San Diego. Then I think my father was drawn—he just decided he wanted to go back to academia, and decided that he really loved teaching, and he got a job at San Jose State University, and started there in 1955. It was actually kind of a beautiful thing—he taught there until 1988, he retired, and that was the year I started as an assistant professor at UCLA. It was like he handed the baton to me. [laughs]

ZIERLER: Now let's switch to your mom. You mentioned her work was at the Veterans Administration.

CARTER: Yeah. My mom was amazing. She was fantastic, in many ways—well, both of them were role models for me, in the sense that my father really instilled in me this very strong sense of values around ethics and morals and honesty and rigor, and the importance of science, et cetera. My mother, on the other hand—they were very different people. My mother was a person who, boy, just an incredibly empathetic individual. Super empathetic. Also just an unbelievable memory. She could remember the names of everyone she met, their relatives, multiple different connections, and what they did for a living, and where they grew up, and just all sorts of details. Which of course as a social worker that's a really useful skill. I think she loved her job. She did take some time off when I was little. I was born in California in 1960. I was an accident. [laughs] It used to drive my mom crazy, because I would say—because apparently there was a birth control failure [laughs]. She said, "Look, if I had wanted to, I could have done something about it. But I didn't. You're here." [laughs]

ZIERLER: [laughs]

CARTER: Anyway, we used to joke about that.

ZIERLER: You're a product of public schools throughout?

CARTER: I am. My parents were middle class. My dad was working at a state university. My mother didn't work all the time. She never worked full-time. She worked—

ZIERLER: By the time of high school, were you firmly on a math and science track when you were starting to think about colleges?

CARTER: I would say that, as I said, I loved math. I thought I was going to major in math, actually, for a long time. I liked other subjects, but definitely math. What happened was, at that time—it's different now; they teach things earlier, which is good, because at that time, there was a lot of time spent on—I don't even remember the subjects, with respect to what we did in middle school with math, but they certainly could have started people in algebra earlier. At the time, it was normal to take algebra as a freshman in high school. Well, after a day of being in algebra as a freshman, a day or two, it was clear I was so bored that they took me out of algebra and put me in what was the nominal sophomore course which was geometry. So I spent a year writing proofs. I took algebra instead the following summer—I did a year's worth of algebra in six weeks at the local junior college, which was fabulous, to have that option. I loved it. I loved I could do the whole year of work in six weeks. I had a great teacher. He was a fantastic teacher whom I also ended up taking calculus from. Because at that time, high school math was algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and then pre-calc in your senior year. That's the way they taught it at the public high school I was at. I instead did geometry, trig, pre-calc, and then my senior year, I actually didn't have any courses left to take at the high school, but my parents didn't want me to graduate early. I was already young, because of my birthday, and if I graduated after three years, I would have been two years younger than everybody in college, and they were worried that that would set me up socially for not a good experience. So, I took one nominal course each semester at my high school, and the rest of the time I took courses at the local junior college, which was great. I took freshman physics, and I took calculus there, and I took it from the same guy that taught me algebra and it was just lovely. I had a great time. That was what I did with math.

During that time in high school, there was some like Earth science class I think you took as a ninth grader, and then normally you'd take biology in your sophomore year. I had heard—because again, it was a public high school where they didn't have the best teachers. There were some good teachers but not very many. My best teacher, in fact, was my ninth grade English teacher. It's the reason I'm an excellent writer. She was fantastic. We had one essay per week we had to write, and every week she would grade very meticulously those essays. The following week, if it wasn't done right, we had to rewrite the previous week's essay and write a new one. So it was very rigorous. It was just a terrific experience. But I had heard in my freshman year that the biology class was taught by the gym teacher, and that the gym teacher was let's just say not the sharpest tool in the shed, and that people felt like they didn't learn anything. So, I decided to take physics instead, which was completely revolutionary at the time, because normally physics was taken as a senior. I took it, and actually there was one other girl in that class. The rest were boys. The teacher was very nice to us, a male teacher. The boys didn't know what to do with us because they were seniors, and we were sophomores. She was a sophomore too, I think, or maybe a junior. I don't remember. Anyway, we did that.

Then, because I thought I was going to be a math major, I told my parents, "I'm going to keep taking math, but I think I'm done with science. I took physics, and I took Earth science. I'm not going to take any more science until I get to college." My dad said, "No, no, no. You have to take chemistry. Everybody should take chemistry." Which I think is really wonderful, because there are a lot of physicists in the world who—and maybe this is because he was an electrical engineer and probably had to know about materials; I don't know, never thought about that before—but a lot of physicists think, "Eh, you don't need to know chemistry." Many of them never had chemistry. Depends on where you went to school, whether it was required. My dad said, "You have to take chemistry." I took chemistry as a junior, and I loved it. I absolutely loved it. I was a TA for the chemistry teacher the following year. That really convinced me I wanted to be a chemist or a chemical engineer. So, that's what I was thinking about. It took that moment.

I will say, and it's worth mentioning, that when I was trying to decide , after I took physics, whether I was going to take any more science, the high school guidance counselor, who was also not the sharpest tool in the shed, said to me, "You don't need to—why are you taking more math? Why are you taking more science? You don't need to. You're a girl." I was—I just couldn't believe it. That was probably the first time that I experienced directly somebody saying that because of your identity, you shouldn't pursue something. I went home and I told my mom about it, and my mom, bless her heart, she went down and just gave this guy hell and said, "You don't tell my daughter not to take math and science. She can take whatever she wants." She really stood up for me. She was a really strong, lovely woman. So I did.

ZIERLER: Between geography, family economics, your own interests, where did you apply to college, and did that represent everywhere you wanted to apply to college?

CARTER: I was a middle-class kid. At that time, there was not aggressive financial aid for people of lower socioeconomic status. My parents just said, "You can't apply to private universities." Even though I had straight A's. They said, "We're not going to pay for it." I should say one thing. I will say that—I don't know how to reconcile this, because I want—one of the things that one should do is honor your parents, and I try to honor my parents—but my oldest brother, okay, they let him apply to Caltech. That was a private school. And actually he went to Caltech. He was an undergraduate at Caltech. He didn't stay. He didn't like it. It was before women were allowed, so it was in the 1960s. What's interesting, actually—a note—is that his freshman roommate was Steve Koonin—

ZIERLER: Oh! [laughs]

CARTER: —who you probably know of—

ZIERLER: Of course!

CARTER: —for various reasons. Steve Koonin and I have met in my various capacities at various times, and I think he always thinks of me as my oldest brother's younger sister—

ZIERLER: [laughs]

CARTER: —rather than anything else.

ZIERLER: Would you have applied to Caltech if you could have?

CARTER: No, I didn't want to go to Caltech. I wanted to go to Harvard. That's the place that I really wanted to go to. A couple of high achievers at my high school were applying there, and they went. I had a better record than they did. My parents said, "No. We can't afford it." Now, I don't know, maybe Caltech did have scholarships, and Harvard didn't. Maybe they also changed their mind because they felt like the money was wasted because my brother didn't finish. I don't know. I just know that they told me, "No."

ZIERLER: Lucky for you as a California resident, you had Berkeley.

CARTER: Exactly. What happened was, I only applied to three places. I applied to Berkeley, and to Davis, because you could apply to different UCs. I could have applied to more, but those were the only two I was thinking about. And, I applied to Michigan State University because my counselor told me that they had four-year scholarships for people like me, a full ride. And I did, I got the full ride, but I decided I didn't want to go to Michigan State. I went and visited Davis and I visited Berkeley. Actually, while we were visiting Berkeley, my father recognized Joel Hildebrand, whom you probably know of, and we said hello to him. That's not what sealed the deal at all. I went to listen to some lectures. Also, I knew I was interested in chemistry, and I learned that Berkeley had the number one chemistry department in the world. So, it all worked out great. I made lifelong friends there. I loved Berkeley. It turned out to be fine. I just would have preferred to have been allowed to make the choice.

ZIERLER: What year did you arrive at Berkeley?

CARTER: 1978.

ZIERLER: The sixties, the Vietnam era, did you feel any vestiges of that in the late 1970s, or that was all ancient history by then?

CARTER: Not really. Telegraph Avenue was not a great place to walk around. Actually, I think this was after Reagan as governor had closed most of the state mental hospitals, and so there were a lot of mentally ill people that were on the street on Telegraph Avenue at that point. That's not to do with the war, but it was sort of the feeling of the area. So I didn't hang out on Telegraph Avenue or at People's Park. But those protests weren't happening then, no.

ZIERLER: Did you settle on chemistry or even physical chemistry pretty early on as an undergraduate?

CARTER: Oh, that's interesting, yeah. Even back then I was really thinking engineering. I didn't know that much about what an engineer was, but I had this sense that, oh, that sounds like it could be really interesting. I think in winter quarter of my freshman year I took Chemical Engineering 40. I still remember the title. It was a survey of chemical engineering. I found it unbelievably boring. They talked about copper strip mining and freeze-drying coffee as examples of what chemical engineers could do. I just thought, "If that's what chemical engineering is"—I mean, it's too bad, right? But I thought, no, I don't want to do that. I was enjoying my honors freshman chemistry class immensely and I just decided—and that was taught by a physical chemist, and it was all physical chemistry, because that's what he did, Alex Pines. I loved it. I thought, "Oh, I'm going to continue with this." Berkeley is a really heavily physical chemistry centered chemistry department, or at least it was, at that point. That's how I got interested. I loved my physical chemistry classes, especially the ones from John Winn, who was an assistant professor then, and he taught me thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. He was just a fabulous teacher.

ZIERLER: Did you hang out at Berkeley Lab at all as an undergrad?

CARTER: Yeah! That was interesting, too. The first summer, I went home, worked as a waitress to raise money. Then the second summer I worked at Lawrence Berkeley Lab. First taste of research, nothing earth-shattering. I was making samples that I would take NMR spectra of, lanthanide complexes. I worked for a guy named Norm Edelstein, who was an expert in lanthanide chemistry. Learned about the theory of NMR and how to interpret spectra. That was the only summer I worked at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, actually. It's actually kind of, again, fun, that full circle. I'm now on the advisory board for Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

ZIERLER: Do you have a specific memory of settling on graduate school, of not pursuing a job in industry after undergrad?

CARTER: Yeah. I think I knew really early on. I took graduate courses certainly during my senior year, and I took most of the graduate courses in the area that I was particularly interested in then, which was organometallic chemistry, a kind of inorganic chemistry. I was interested in physical chemistry, but also its application to this area of organometallic chemistry, and I had done some research in that area. I took graduate courses in physical organic chemistry and organometallic chemistry from the giants in the field at the time, Andy Streitwieser and Clayton Heathcock and Bob Bergman and Ken Raymond. I beat out all the graduate students [laughs] in terms of the grades. I was at the top. I worked in Bob Bergman's lab. I was his first undergraduate researcher at Berkeley. I also worked in Andy Streitwieser's lab. I knew I enjoyed research, and I enjoyed reading the literature, and so I knew I wanted to go to grad school. I applied to Caltech and to MIT and to the University of Wisconsin Madison. Again, got into all three.

ZIERLER: Why did Caltech win out?

CARTER: Caltech won out because, well, I visited there first. That's not why they won out. But, I went there, and usually for grad students they prepare a day where you meet with professors, and you meet with students. I met with Bill Goddard, who ended up being my PhD advisor. I am a person who always does my homework, so I had read articles by all of the professors I had meetings with—I had read a bunch of articles. I mean, how did I decide on Caltech and MIT and Wisconsin? It was because I had read papers by the faculty there and I decided those areas of research were the ones I was the most interested in. Now, back to Bill Goddard: I had read a bunch of his papers. We had a conversation as part of the day, early on. He asked me about the research that I had been doing as an undergrad, and he told me about his research. I was really blown away, first of all, by how far ahead he was compared to other people in his field in terms of applying quantum mechanics to very interesting, complex chemistry problems. I was already predisposed to think, "I think this is who I want to work with." But, at the end of that day, Bill Goddard came around and somehow found me, and said, "When are you going back?" I said, "I'm going back tonight." He said, "No, you're not." He said, "We're not done talking." He asked his secretary at the time, Adria McMillan, who was just a lovely human being, who kept his group together—because he's a study in entropy. Anyway, she changed my flight that was due to leave Friday night, and she extended my stay at the Athenaeum, and I ended up coming in on Saturday. Bill worked every day, so he was working this Saturday too. He sat with me and we talked science for six hours. I've done it with others since then, but up to that point I had never done that. I was just—I couldn't believe it. I have to say, I haven't done that with my students. I don't have time for that. But he did. It was amazing. At the end of that marathon session, I just said, "Forget it." I cancelled my—I had already booked the flight to MIT, and I called them and I said, "Sorry, I've decided to go to Caltech, so I hope you can do something with the ticket."

ZIERLER: I take it in those six hours it was much more wide-ranging than his research at the time.

CARTER: It was about his research. It was about my research. It was about what I would want to do. The other thing was, again it was kind of like when I finished high school, I finished all the courses in high school by the end of my junior year; the same thing happened in college. I was able to graduate not a whole year early, but I was able to graduate a term early. I said, "I would like to, if it's okay with you, come for the spring quarter, and work with you, and try it out. I'm not guaranteeing you that I'm going to stay in your group, but I'd like to try working with you." Actually I came in and I took a course that actually—I did this a lot through high school and college, which is to take things out of order. So I took the third term of a three-quarter course sequence that he was teaching. I took it at that time. Anyway, it was fine. I said, "I've already got plans to go to Europe after I graduate from Berkeley." I wanted to go travel through Europe for a couple of months. "I'm willing to stay spring quarter up until"—I don't know, it was the end of June or something—"and then I'm going to go to Europe." He said, "Where are you going?" I said, "I'm going to start"—actually, gosh, it's so interesting, I don't remember, I think—anyway, I ended up starting in Amsterdam. I said, "I'm starting in Amsterdam and then I'm going to make my way all the way to Greece." He said, "Oh, you're going to Amsterdam!" He said, "You could visit while you're there Shell Research and Development. I work with people there, and they might be really interested in your ideas about catalysis. I hadn't even started grad school yet! I mean, the guy had such chutzpah! It was amazing. If I think about this, it just blows my mind. He contacted them, and they set up a schedule for me. I gave a talk on the research that I had started with Bill Goddard, and also the work I had done as an undergraduate, and talked to them all day about catalysis. It was incredible! Then, I went on my merry way, and then I came back, and I told him that I would join his group.

ZIERLER: From those six hours, did you essentially map out your grad school plan at that point?

CARTER: Oh, no, not really. I talked about the fact that I wanted to work on certain kinds of catalysis problems. Yes, at least the so-called homogeneous catalysis part, I would say I think I came in with some of the ideas myself, if I remember correctly. But then Shell actually came with a heterogeneous catalysis problem that they were interested in, and they funded that whole side of my research, actually. He got a grant from Shell that supported my work.

ZIERLER: What was the balance between theory and experiment in Goddard's group?

CARTER: Oh, he's only theory, and I'm only theory.

ZIERLER: There's no laboratory work?

CARTER: No, no. It was developing essentially computer simulation methods based on quantum mechanics, and then applying those to interesting problems.

ZIERLER: This is going to sound probably like a long time ago, but what were computers like when you were at Caltech?

CARTER: Let's start a step back at Berkeley, with Andy Streitwieser; I used punch cards. They had a CDC 7600 up at LBL. You had to go there to feed your deck of cards in, to run jobs. There was I think one terminal that you could type on. I felt like it was like going through a tunnel in Alice in Wonderland going from Berkeley to Caltech, because at Caltech, by the time I got there, everybody had a terminal, a VT100; it might have been a DEC terminal or something like that. You didn't have to use punch cards. You could create electronic files and use those as input. And he had a VAX-11/780, which was a DEC machine. That was a big deal, at the time.

ZIERLER: Of course Berkeley is a very different place than Caltech in more ways than one. Just on an interpersonal level, what were your experiences like at Caltech?

CARTER: I did have some good friends, graduate students—a couple of male graduate students but one female graduate student who is still my friend, to this day. In fact, she lives on the East Coast, so we see each other a few times a year, because she's not that far from me now. She worked in Harry Gray's group. Mary Selman. So, I had some friends in grad school. At least one really good friend in Goddard's group. And in Chemistry basically, I had several friends. The Chemistry Department was not particularly hospitable to female grad students at the time. Coming in, I think my incoming class had 25% females, 12 out of 48, and as far as I recall only three of us finished. A lot of people just really couldn't stand the environment. I found that the faculty in general were very friendly, very nice; would never intervene, though, if there was some weird thing happening. Generally wouldn't intervene. The male graduate students, I don't know if it was lack of a sense of confidence that they felt that they needed to put the female graduate students down, but they definitely said things that I wish they hadn't said. They would call us parasites, or airheads. There was just no reason for it. I survived because I just said, "You know what? You're just—you're wrong. I am going to just—actions speak louder than words, and I'm just going to work my tail off." That's how I survived.

ZIERLER: Were there faculty members or members of the administration that you would have considered allies? Could you go to any senior people and complain, ask for help? Or was that not your style even if you could?

CARTER: I felt I could go to Bill Goddard and talk to him about it. I never went to anybody else in the administration. I wasn't aware at the time if there was like an ombuds office or that kind of support system like there is today. It's very different.

ZIERLER: Tell me about developing your thesis topic.

CARTER: That's interesting, because at Caltech, at least in Chemistry—I don't know if it's different in different departments—you would put together a candidacy report. This was in your second year. You would also put together propositions. These are propositions for ideas that basically show your ability to develop a research idea. You may or may not pursue it, frankly, but you needed to do that. I had come in with some ideas about wanting to understand the physical driving forces for the chemistry behind organometallic catalysis, so that was already what I wanted to do. Then Bill Goddard offered me this other project having to do with heterogeneous catalysis that occurs on silver. I proposed that I would work on those projects.

ZIERLER: Was Goddard's group exclusively focused on fundamental research, or were people talking about applications at all?

CARTER: Well, yeah, these were applications. But maybe by applications you mean translation into industry?

ZIERLER: Exactly.

CARTER: At the time, he was not—well, okay, he was certainly—Shell funded the research that I did, so he was doing some research that was industry-related. He was not nearly as involved with industry as he became after I graduated, actually. After I graduated, he started this whole materials simulation center that was largely funded by industry, and so he had a lot of contact with industry. He also had started spinning out his own companies.

ZIERLER: From that initial six hours, what was his style like as a mentor? Would you talk to him for long periods of time? Was he really involved in developing your research?

CARTER: The thing that was great about Bill is that he would just make himself available whenever you wanted to talk to him. One of the things that he was famous for is basically not sleeping very much. He would drink a gallon of coffee a day, which is crazy, but he did. I don't know why he still has a stomach, but he does. What I used to tease him about is I would go in to talk to him about some result I had that I wanted to share with him and get his feedback on, and I would turn around and he would be sleeping. I would say, "Bill! This is not that boring! Wake up!" [laughs] But the thing I loved about working with Bill, and it's something that I tried to carry with me when I started my own group and pass on, and I think many of my students and postdocs who have started their own groups have taken, is that it is so much more powerful to engage people in a positive way, with positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement. He always did this. He was like Andy Streitwieser was, this person with just a tremendous joy in the love of science. That's not to say that you just are happy about everything, but just tremendous joy. And rigor. Absolutely. It's really important to understand that you can do fantastic, rigorous, excellent science, and it doesn't have to be that you get there through tearing other people down. There are certain segments of the scientific research community that think that the only way you get to real rigor is to tear other people down, through negative reinforcement. I never liked that. I had that with one of the experiences I had as an undergraduate, and it didn't appeal to me. Bill was just a fountain of positive reinforcement.

ZIERLER: Looking back, what would you say your contributions were or main conclusions were, for your thesis research?

CARTER: One of the things I did with Bill is to try out different expansions of electronic wave functions—this is really hard-core quantum mechanics—and showed that you could, in a very elegant way, get by with quite compact wave functions to describe chemical reactions, more generally, energy differences, such as electronic excitation energies between lower-lying electronic states, and higher-lying electronic states, as well as chemical bond-breaking. I'm very proud of that. That work laid the foreground for other ideas that people have used since. It was a different generation. Bill didn't share his code easily and it wasn't particularly user-friendly. So, those papers, not just mine but others, are not as well cited as people that shared code, and people built on a code base. But I know that it laid the groundwork for a lot of conceptual ideas that came afterward.

ZIERLER: What was his reasoning in being proprietary in that regard?

CARTER: It's just what people did, then. His peers weren't sharing code, either. That's just what people did.

ZIERLER: Besides Bill, who else was on your thesis committee?

CARTER: Rudy Marcus was the chair of my thesis committee. I think Jack Beauchamp was on it. Honestly I can't remember who else.

ZIERLER: Anything memorable from the oral defense?

CARTER: I remember Rudy asked me a question that—you remember the things that you don't do well, right? So he asked me a question, he was burrowing in on something having to do with vibrational modes of a nitrogen molecule on a surface, I think. Somehow I didn't answer that as well as he would have liked. I remember that. [laughs] That was at my candidacy exam. I think my thesis defense and the proposition defenses all went great.

ZIERLER: What were your prospects at that point? What were you considering? Was it postdocs and faculty appointments?

CARTER: That was interesting. In those days certainly the normal thing to do was to just go do a postdoc, and then do that for at least a year or two, and then apply for jobs as a faculty member, or in industry, or at a national lab. That was the typical trajectory. What happened for me was that in my fifth year—and I was trying to finish my PhD in five years; that was pretty typical—in the beginning of my fifth year, it turned out that UCLA advertised an assistant professor job in theoretical chemistry, my field. In those days, there would be just a few positions across the whole nation. I had family constraints that essentially I needed to stay in Los Angeles. I was married at the time, and I was married to somebody who was employed in L.A., and so it was really necessary for me to try to find a position in the L.A. area.

Bill was so funny, because he used to use big fat Sharpies, to write things. The Caltech Chemistry Department was great. They put out, every week, a list of jobs, of available jobs, on a piece of paper that I guess they sent out—I think they sent it out to all the grad students, postdocs, and faculty. But I didn't look at it, because I was planning to do a postdoc. And Bill put—he was too busy to write me a note, okay, so he takes his red Sharpie, puts an arrow next to this job, and puts EAC, my initials, next to it, and places it on my desk. So when I came in that day, it was there. I knew it was from Bill because I recognized his handwriting, and who else would do that? I went to him, and I said, "Bill, what are you doing? I can't apply for this job. I haven't even written my thesis yet. I haven't done a postdoc." He said, "Emily, you have personal constraints of why you need to stay in L.A. I know that. How often do you think a job is going to come up in L.A. that's at a good place, for you to have an opportunity to solve your two-body problem?" I said, "Okay, fine, I'll apply." So, I applied for that. At the same time, I applied to a couple people for postdocs. I had at that time already half a dozen or so first-author papers, so I had a serious resume already at that point, and I knew I was going to write up a bunch more papers. So, I knew I was going to be a—not a laughable candidate, and certainly had stories to tell in a seminar. So I applied. You had to write a proposal. Actually I think I used some of my proposition ideas, or actually I guess because that preceded it, I think I wrote the proposals, and then also used those ideas for my propositions. I had to write three propositions at the end, in my fifth year. I'm not sure of the order. Doesn't matter. So, I applied, and I was interviewed. I found out later that they also interviewed eight other people, eight postdocs, one of whom was female. I ended up getting the job. Hadn't even gotten my [laughs]—hadn't filed my thesis yet.

While I was being interviewed, one of the most distinguished physical chemists there asked me—Dick Bernstein—he said, "Do you want to do a postdoc?" I said, "Yeah, I absolutely want to do a postdoc. I think it's really important to diversify my expertise." Actually I was doing something which at the time was very unusual. Nowadays, it's very usual but it wasn't then. At that point, parts of theoretical physical chemistry were siloed. You were either a quantum chemist, a person working on quantum mechanics, or you were a statistical mechanician, or you were a person that worked on dynamics, but people didn't mix those. Now people mix them. I knew that I thought I wanted to learn one of those other parts of the triad, as a postdoc. I applied to two different people, and I ended up deciding to go work with Casey Hynes at Colorado. Love the way he thinks. Super insightful individual. Learned a lot of statistical mechanics. I was so lucky, because not only did I learn statistical mechanics research from him, but at the same time, he had visiting him a giant in the field of dynamics, of molecular dynamics simulations, Giovanni Ciccotti, from the University of Rome, La Sapenzia; he was a professor of physics there. He came on sabbatical to work with Casey. Casey was caught up with teaching and lots of other things, so Giovanni and I ended up working together, every day, and I learned just a tremendous amount from him. So I learned more parts of the triad than I expected to, in ten months. But coming back to the job, the fact was that I told Bernstein that, "Yeah, I want to go do this postdoc, and so I'm hoping that you'll let me take a leave of absence for year." So they let me take a year's unpaid leave of absence so that I could go do this postdoc, which I ended up doing for 10 months. Actually, I moonlighted on the side and wrote a bunch of proposals and ended up getting a bunch of proposals funded, so I walked in the door with a lot of funding, which was great.

ZIERLER: Was that a good 10 months in Boulder?

CARTER: It was great, in many ways, yes. Ironically, here I applied for this job at UCLA because I was married, and then my husband and I split up. So, I went to Boulder going through a divorce, and I ended up meeting the love of my life there, who was also going through a divorce at the same time, Bruce Koel; he and I have been married now for 29 years. That was a huge thing, in addition to the work that I did with Casey and Giovanni, which led to—actually one of those papers that I wrote with them, is my third most highly cited paper. It was a very important rare event sampling method that we developed together.

ZIERLER: The postdoc was really important for you to come in with a well-formed research agenda when you joined the faculty a UCLA?

CARTER: Yeah, because I knew that what I wanted to do was combine statistical mechanics and dynamics and quantum chemistry together to look holistically at a whole rich variety of problems, mostly problems related to problems at interfaces, surface chemistry, so catalysis and microelectronics, coming back full circle to what we talked about a little bit—I worked on etching and growth of silicon and things like that. I wanted to essentially derive the forces that atoms feel as they move through different chemical reactions and how they respond to external perturbations. I wanted to derive those from quantum mechanics and I wanted to then follow their time evolution. I needed to have the skill set to do that, so it was very important to have that extra training. It is what I proposed in my first research proposals to the Air Force and to the Navy and to the National Science Foundation among others, and they all got funded, so it was great.

ZIERLER: Is physical chemistry its own department at UCLA?

CARTER: No. The Chemistry Department there is large. At the time, it was about 45 faculty, something like that. It was actually the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Maybe a third of the faculty were biochemists, maybe even over a third, and then the rest were organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. So, less than a quarter of the Department was physical chemistry.

ZIERLER: How many women were on the faculty at the Department when you joined?

CARTER: When I joined, I believe I was the third woman hired. I was the first female physical chemist hired.

ZIERLER: What was the culture of tenure? What were your promotion prospects based on what you were hearing?

CARTER: It was interesting, because part of the reason that—this goes back to shortly before I got to UCLA. When I went off to my postdoc, I had the job in hand. While I was at Boulder on my postdoc, I had a visit from a professor from Berkeley, and he was delivering a message; his message was, "We would like you to come to Berkeley as an assistant professor." That was the number one department, right? But I had already accepted this job at UCLA, and I felt that it would just be—again, this harkens back to my experience from my upbringing—it would be unethical and immoral at some level. I already signed a contract. I was going to UCLA. But that was hard. I had to say "no" to my alma mater, also to a place that happened to be the best. But part of what I really felt about UCLA, which I thought was an advantage over Berkeley was that, at the time, Berkeley was not tenuring assistant professors. They were acting like Harvard, which was notorious for not doing so. And they also—I saw it; I witnessed it as an undergraduate—I said, "You don't treat your assistant professors very well. At all." I hadn't started yet, but I had the impression, and it proved to be true, that the assistant professors at UCLA were treated better, and that prospects for tenure were pretty good. I thought that sounds better to me.

Actually I was off to the races, because I had all these grants that I had written over my postdoc time. In fact, it was funny because I remember Bill Gelbart warned me. He was one of my senior colleagues in physical chemistry at UCLA. He said, "Emily, make sure you just enjoy the postdoc, because it'll be the last time"—and he was right—"the last time you won't have to be multitasking all the time." He said, "Don't spend time writing proposals." Well, I ignored him. I wrote a lot of proposals and I got them funded. That was fantastic, because then I didn't have to spend a lot of time writing proposals when I first got there. Instead, I was recruiting grad students and postdocs and was really able to get going very fast. Was still finishing up writing papers from my postdoc, but I also was starting to produce quite quickly with my group. Even after two years, UCLA faculty said, "You're doing so well. If you want to come up for tenure in your third year, we'd put you up for tenure." That freaked me out a little bit, because I thought—no. I said, "I have a body of work—I know what I want to get done, and I'm not there yet." I was wise beyond my years, frankly, because no one pointed out to me—and I always point out to assistant professors now—I say, "Don't ask to come up for early tenure until you have a body of work that you are going to be proud of for the rest of your life. Because people who are asked to write letters about you are going to remember what they learned about you then, and that will be their determination about how they think about you for the rest of your career." So I waited one more year [laughs], and then in my fourth year I went up for tenure. I had, at that point, 20-odd papers from my group. But it wasn't the number that mattered. I had accomplished new things that I thought were paradigm-shifting enough that I should be able to get tenure.

ZIERLER: In that extra year, what made the difference? What gave you that sense of completeness that wasn't there after year three?

CARTER: I don't remember the details. I just think there were certain things that I wanted to get out the door, published, that I felt would show, "She is really onto a path that other people haven't taken, and is learning things that other people haven't learned." Or changing the way people think about this area. Because that's what I think you should do to get tenure.

ZIERLER: As you were getting really good at funding sources, building up your group, what were the kinds of things that graduate students, potential graduate students, postdocs, were interested in that would have attracted them to your group?

CARTER: I think the thing that was also good is that I had a very clear sense of a set of applied projects, even back then, of things that I wanted to work on, and that I wanted to develop the supporting simulation tools to be able to study them. That's something I credit Bill Goddard with, in that Bill really was focused, eyes on the prize, what are we trying to learn, what are we trying to do better, to design, to optimize, and to build tools that allow you to do that. That's very different than a lot of the people that were in my field at the time. People were either just developing methods—"I'm going to develop a tool set because I'm interested in the tool set"—never mind whether anybody is going to use it. Or, people were just doing applications with existing tool sets. The problem with that is that then you're limited to whatever the existing tool sets are. I offered the possibility to students and postdocs of being able to learn both how to develop methods but also how to apply them to important problems. That's something which a lot of people in my field weren't doing at the time.

ZIERLER: You mentioned in Bill's group, of course, it was a purely theoretical environment. Did you replicate that, or were there any experimental aspects of your research group?

CARTER: No, I didn't. I have to say, I used to joke that I thought that experimentalists who dabble in theory should have to get a quantum mechanics license, like a driver's license, before they start using the codes. Because I've seen them use them badly. I know that if I went into a laboratory—because I wasn't trained, except for the undergraduate experiences that I had—I wasn't sufficiently trained to do experiments, and I didn't have the, I don't know, the arrogance to think I could just make that happen.

ZIERLER: We talked about punch cards as an undergraduate. In the 1990s, what were some of the computational advances that were really important for you and your group?

CARTER: In terms of hardware or in terms of algorithms?


CARTER: There were great changes in the 1990s in the amount of memory that existed on chips. Boy, was it expensive when I first started. I remember spending just an unbelievable amount of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars, on I think tens of megabytes. Just unbelievable, right? Just ridiculous. It was just very expensive, then. So, huge transformations in memory on chip that allowed you to then do—and of course advances in the speeds of the chips—that allowed you to just look at much more complex features as you're solving the quantum mechanical equations. Then, developing algorithms. A lot of the work that I've done has not just been on applications but has been on developing reduced scaling—so essentially much more inexpensive—methods for treating molecules and materials.

ZIERLER: In the late 1990s, tell me about the California NanoSystems Institute and if you were part of its founding or that predated you.

CARTER: I was part of the founding group. I was asked to help design the building, another one of those buildings—there was more than one building that I helped design that I never occupied. And I helped talk about what were the programs, especially in the area of simulations, in terms of research simulations. I was involved in that as well.

ZIERLER: What was the big mission of the Institute? What was it set to accomplish?

CARTER: There was a huge push in the whole area of nanotechnology, the fact that you could control the size and shape of things down at the nanometer scale, the billionth of a meter scale. We learned that once you're down at that scale, properties are different. They're not the same as macroscopic properties, so they allow you to do just a whole variety of different actions—everything from computing operations to chemical conversions to light absorption. All sorts of different things.

ZIERLER: At the turn of the century with the tech boom in Silicon Valley, did you see any of that in Los Angeles? Did you get involved at all?

CARTER: In terms of what?

ZIERLER: Nanotechnology, applications, startups, those kinds of things. Did you serve as an advisor or consultant?

CARTER: I did not get involved in startups. I did not feel like I had the bandwidth. I was asked if I would be interested in starting a company, and I just did not feel that I had the bandwidth. I was really heads-down, doing research and teaching and mentoring. That was my gig then.

ZIERLER: There's a title change in 2002 at UCLA. You go from Professor of Physical Chemistry to Professor of Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering.


ZIERLER: Substantively, what does that suggest in terms of some changing directions in your research?

CARTER: That just gave me access to potentially Materials Science students to work with me, and to just have closer connections to the Materials Science Department. My research had moved more and more into materials. In fact, in many ways, I felt that I fit better in—even though I'm grounded in physical chemistry, it was the start of the transition into engineering for me.

ZIERLER: Why? Why the growing interest in materials science? Was this part of the greater interest in applications?


ZIERLER: What kinds of applications?

CARTER: Initially, I was doing a lot of work, as I said, that related to etching and growth of silicon. The first work I was doing at UCLA was related to that. It was also related to—there's a whole physical chemistry effort in the area of clusters of atoms and trying to understand the interesting behavior in the gas phase. Did a lot of work for the Navy on that. The silicon work was funded by the Air Force. Then, actually, the thing actually I love about my Air Force program manager—Mike Berman; he's still my program manager after all these years, really just an amazing guy—he would come to me, and he'd sort of nudge me. He'd say, "Emily, do you think you might, for a renewal, work on something else? What other ideas are you interested in?" I'd say to him, "Mike, I am not done. I need one more renewal on this." So he let me work on essentially the etching and growth of silicon-based materials up until the point that I said, "I'm done. I've done everything I want to do here. I don't have any more questions." I said, "Let's talk about what kinds of things are the Air Force interested in, that I could be helpful on?" He said, "Go find out about thermal barrier coatings." I didn't know anything about them. He said, "It's a materials science problem."

I went and talked with a Materials Science faculty member, Bruce Dunn—really lovely guy at UCLA—who just told me, "Okay, here's where you should look in the literature." Back then it wasn't so easy to search the literature. I feel like a frigging dinosaur! But it's the way it is. There were a bunch of journals that I had never heard of, gas turbine technology journals, where people were publishing papers about these thermal barrier coatings. It was an incredibly interesting problem! It involved metal alloys. It involved ceramics. It involved interfaces. It involved diffusion. It involved fracture. It involved shear. It involved just a whole bunch of things having to do with mechanics, and chemistry, and materials science. I thought it was fascinating. Around the mid 1990s I started working on it, and I worked on it until 2011. Again, at some point he said, "Okay, are you thinking about doing something else?" [laughs] Basically, I said, "No, there's just so much more to do." It was so fantastic to have that freedom.

I have to say, I loved the fact that I was contacted by a Pratt & Whitney engineer—oh, forgetting his name; it'll come to me—who had worked on these thermal barrier coatings. His name was Bill—oh, this is terrible—anyway I remember his email address. That's terrible, but anyway, I'll remember it. He was a giant in this field of trying to understand how to make these thermal barrier coatings last longer and work at higher temperatures. They protect engine blades, turbine engine blades, that are made out of a nickel alloy, such that they can operate above the melting temperature of the metal alloy. If you think about that, that's astonishing, right? So, this guy, Bill—can't remember his last name! it's terrible! I'm having a senior moment—anyway, Bill—god, what is his last name? I'm sorry. It just bugs me that I can't remember his last name right now. Anyway, Bill contacted me and said, "I'm really interested in your work. I read some of your papers." He said, "You're really on to something here." He kind of directed me. He said, "We really don't understand what hafnium does. We really doesn't understand what platinum does." Et cetera. He would just kind of give me clues, right? He had been working on this empirically for 40 years. He told me my work was the most insightful work that he had ever read in the field, and that it was landmark. That I had basically explained and been able to explain and be able to talk about and actually have some patents related to how to improve these coatings. It's not like I solved the energy problem, but I provided understanding that solved—longstanding mysteries in the field.

ZIERLER: Now, big moment of a transition in your career—of course in 2004, you move over to Princeton. The increasing interest in materials science, was that part of this move? Did you get a call out of nowhere? How did all of that come together?

CARTER: That was interesting. I served on the Theory Division Review Committee for Los Alamos National Lab from 2000 to 2005. On that committee was a professor from Princeton named David Srolovitz, who was in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the time. I got a call in 2002 from him, or 2001—I don't remember which—saying, "Emily, we'd really like to invite you out to give a talk, give a seminar, in my department, in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering." I said, "Sure. Fine." Because I had been working on these aerospace materials, and I had also been working on mechanical properties of materials and developing actually so-called multiscale models that couple quantum mechanics to continuum mechanics—we developed some of the first models for coupling the quantum mechanical scale to solid continuum mechanics models, on-the-fly, with feedback. I developed them jointly with a professor at Caltech in GALCIT, in the aeronautics school, Michael Ortiz. I worked closely with Michael Ortiz and later actually had funding that came from Caltech to work on it.

It didn't surprise me to be asked by a mechanical or an aerospace engineering department to come talk to them, because of these areas of research that overlapped those disciplines, so that was fine. But then he said, "We'd like you stay two days." I thought that was really weird, because normally you go to a place, and if it's a regular seminar, you're just going for a day, and that's it. I said, "I don't understand. Why do I need to stay two days?" Because at the time, I had a small child, and I was trying not to be away very long. Then he starts laughing, and he says, "Okay, I have to confess. We have an appointments committee in our department, and they're constantly scoping, looking to see if there are people that we might be interested in hiring." He said, "Unbeknownst to me, because I'm not on the committee, they came up with your name, and they got your CV off the web, and they decided that they'd really like to have you come potentially interview for a job. Then, the problem was that they all polled each other and realized that none of them had ever met you, and so they came to me"—because he was a materials scientist—"and said, ‘Do you know her, could you call her?'" He said, "Sure, I know her. We serve on this committee together." That was the start of the journey. I came, and I thought, "Who knows? Just go." I had been feeling intellectually isolated at UCLA, actually, so I was open to the idea.

ZIERLER: In the Chemistry Department?

CARTER: Yeah. Because even though I was a physical chemist, the problems that I care about, the people in the Chemistry Department didn't care about. They cared about molecules. I really was fully engaged with the solid state. I was feeling more and more dissatisfied intellectually there, just because I didn't really fit in the department so well anymore. I fit in in terms of teaching, which I didn't fit in so well here, actually, at Princeton. But anyway, so I came and I visited, and I went home and—anyway, they ended up making me an offer, and I decided to come. I remember that the summer after when I was getting ready to move, I went to a bunch of conferences, and they were all chemistry conferences, and the chemists were coming up to me and saying, "Are you nuts? What are you doing, going to a mechanical and aerospace engineering department? How does that work, for what you do?" I said, "Okay, I'll deconvolute it for you." In a chemistry department, there's biochemistry, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physical chemistry, and sometimes analytical chemistry. I fit into physical chemistry. So at most, maybe I interact with the inorganic chemists a little bit, but mostly I'm interacting with the physical chemists. So that's 25% of the department that I have intellectual overlap with. In Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton, it consists of materials science, applied physics, combustion, fluid dynamics, and dynamics and control. The last two areas I don't overlap with, but the other three, I do active research. So 60% of that department, I have intellectual overlap with, versus 25% in a chemistry department. So to me—

ZIERLER: There was no analog at UCLA if you wanted to switch departments?

CARTER: That's a good question. That never came up. I did care a little bit about rankings, and the Chemistry Department at UCLA was ranked higher than the engineering departments, and Chemistry got better students than the engineers did, at that time anyway. Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton was a better choice.

ZIERLER: How did your research change just by virtue of changing universities, changing departments? Was it a big impact immediately?

CARTER: Instantaneously. But the fact is that by being exposed—the thing I love about this place being fairly small, like Caltech, but bigger, is that it's so easy to interact across disciplines here. It's not just a sales job that people use a lot about, "Oh, we're so interdisciplinary." No, it really is true here. The whole ecosystem is built to be interdisciplinary. With joint appointments, just like the word salad that is my title. People do have real joint appointments. That means they teach in two different places or more. It means they serve on committees with different people. As I mentioned before, I have had graduate students from six different departments work with and earn PhDs with me. That never happened at UCLA. I had one Physics student and one Math student the whole time I was there (16 years), and the rest were from Chemistry. Which is okay, because Chemistry was a good department. Actually, that's not true; I had two Applied Math students, but only one of them finished.

ZIERLER: As you were explaining, in gaming out how much intellectual overlap there was for you in Chemistry at UCLA versus how much there would be for you in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Princeton, did that play out basically according to plan, just in terms of how much leeway you had to interact and collaborate with your colleagues?

CARTER: One hundred percent. That, plus the fact that—again, I started to say—I immediately was asked to be an associated faculty in Chemical Engineering, in Chemistry, in the Materials Institute. So I ended up with way too many affiliations, but all good. Students just came out of the woodwork. I wasn't searching for them. I didn't have an affiliation with Physics or Electrical Engineering, but they didn't care. They let their students get PhDs with me. I was jointly appointed with Applied Math, and had official appointments, associated faculty status, with Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Then of course I had Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

ZIERLER: Coming from California, coming from a large public university to Princeton, were there any research or cultural quirks that became apparent when you got your bearings at Princeton?

CARTER: Not quirks. I just think it's the opposite of quirks. It's terrific. Because it's small, people pair up across disciplines really easily. For example, I'm just so thrilled—there's a lovely professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering—she's a geoengineer—who approached me this year about being part of a team to put in a proposal to do simultaneous geological carbon management and clean hydrogen production. I had never thought about it before, and it's so exciting. That kind of teaming just happens here naturally and frequently. Because the place is small, we all know each other's skill sets in a way, so we can reach out and form these teams that are just—we do things that we wouldn't do otherwise. That has just happened over and over again here, which I really love.

ZIERLER: Not so much switching fields, but at this stage in your career, as you were explaining you came to UCLA, you already had great success with proposals and funding, did you have the same experience coming to Princeton? Did you have a good idea of what funding agencies you could work with, what kinds of proposals would be most likely to succeed?

CARTER: I had an established set of research grants. In fact, it was a hassle to move them, but I did. I moved most of them. Then I applied for new funding, as opportunities came up. It was funny, I remember—I had forgotten about this—oh, I remember his name! Bill Goward. I just—we became friends. And, it turns out he's a Princeton alum, so he would read about me in the alumni magazine. Bill Goward. Lovely human being. Intellectually curious. I had to write an inaugural article after I was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and I wrote it as a review article with a student and a postdoc of mine, on all the work we had done on these thermal barrier coatings. In the—I think I remember this correctly—I acknowledged him, in the acknowledgements, because he stimulated research directions and research questions. I wouldn't have known of these issues with him, because he was there in Pratt & Whitney seeing these issues on real turbine blades. It was fantastic.

ZIERLER: At this stage in your career, did you have to learn a new landscape of grants and proposals?

CARTER: No. Oh, I know what I was going to say to you. When I first moved to Princeton, and I was moving from chemistry to mechanical and aerospace engineering, I worried that my program managers, who largely were funding me through chemistry within their organization—although ONR was funding me through physics—

ZIERLER: Office of Naval Research?

CARTER: Yeah, Office of Naval Research. I worried, would they not fund me anymore, because I was now in this weird—to them possibly weird—department? I called all of my program managers and I said, "I'm planning to move. I hope you don't care. I'm not going to change my stripes. I'm going to continue to do the same kind of work I'm doing for you, but I'm going to be in Mechanical And Aerospace Engineering. Do you care?" It was so interesting, because I didn't know at the time—in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering here, there are lots of people who have Air Force funding, of course, because it's aerospace. So that was zero problem. NSF didn't care. Engineers here have NSF funding. Engineering faculty, also because of energy generation and combustion, they have DOE funding. So, no, the program managers didn't care at all. It was a pain moving the grants over, all the paperwork, but I moved everything.

ZIERLER: Did you have a sense when you joined the faculty at Princeton that sooner or later you would take on increasing administrative responsibilities, or that only dawned on you in real time?

CARTER: I did not intend to do administrative work. I just loved training students, and I loved teaching, and doing my research. I just loved being a faculty member. I was asked multiple times potentially to be department chair both at UCLA and at Princeton. I didn't want to do it. The Chemistry Department at Princeton, even though I wasn't in their department, asked me if I would become their chair. I said, "No! I'm not even in your department! You've got to take care of this yourself. But I'm happy to help you." I spent a lot of time helping the Chemistry Department get better, here. But, no, I didn't want to be their department chair. I didn't actually feel it would be right for me to be department chair of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, because I wasn't trained in MAE, so it just didn't feel—I could have done it, but I didn't—

ZIERLER: You thought you were safe, is what you were saying?

CARTER: Yeah. I told you the story already about the Andlinger Center, and that changed everything for me, because I realized it was something I cared deeply about. The fact that Princeton got this big donation and the fact that I had already developed a tremendous love for Princeton, I felt like I had to make sure that Princeton didn't fail. I wanted to help them not fail.

ZIERLER: The stakes were quite big, given the nature of the gift, is what you're saying.

CARTER: Yeah. And then, I did it, and I found I was able to balance all the research—during the time I was Andlinger director, at one point I had nine grants, and 18 people working in my group. That's pretty insane, but I was balancing all of that. I was managing. I managed by shifting, as I think I said before, the demographics. I started, instead of taking two or three grad students a year which was my norm, I took one student a year and one postdoc a year, basically, to change to ending up to a ratio of about one to one, postdoc and student. I would assign a postdoc to a student so that on a day-to-day basis they had somebody to talk to, in addition to talking with me once a week. That worked.

ZIERLER: What kind of interface did you have with industry as founding director of the Andlinger Center?

CARTER: One of the early actions I did was to bring on a deputy director, Lynn Loo, who followed me actually as the next director. After I became dean of Engineering, I asked her if she would become the next director. We agreed when she started as deputy direction that we needed to start a corporate affiliates program. She ran with it. She did an excellent job of bringing on the local utility, PSE&G. I had asked he PSE&G president—who was a physicist actually, which is amazing to me, that a physicist is the CEO of the utility; I think that's lovely—Ralph Izzo—he was on my advisory board for the Center. We interfaced with them. They were very forward-looking with respect to investing in solar early on and thinking hard about energy efficiency. He especially was a huge champion of energy efficiency, really a thought leader, really a great guy. Then we also brought on ExxonMobil, in a big way, as a partner. And other companies.

ZIERLER: I wonder if the timing you saw as particularly beneficial in terms of students and their increasing interest in environmental and energy issues.

CARTER: You know what's interesting is when we first started, I think students were interested, but not as much as they are now. Now, everybody is freaked out, by air quality, wildfires, droughts, floods. People are realizing climate change is here. When we started, there was still lots of people who were in the climate change denier camp. I used to talk about it in a different way. I'd say, "You know what? I don't care if you don't believe in climate change. You should think about this as an energy security issue, too." The United States needs to have—at that point, things were very different in terms of—this was before hydrofracking was big. That really changed the landscape a lot—hydrofracking—and the horizontal drilling that we were able to do to both increase our natural gas resource as well as our oil reserves. Basically at that time we were still very beholden to the Middle East for oil in a way that we aren't anymore. I would say to people, "Fine. You don't want to think about this as a climate change issue? Fine. But you should care about energy security for the United States. It affects our economy. It affects our national security. And you should care about that." So, there are many reasons that people could care about it. There still are people—actually just this last set of Princeton Reunions, one of the most infamous climate change deniers on the faculty here spoke—t I wasn't on campus at the time—while I gave a talk at Princeton Reunions this year about what I'm doing at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab in terms of building out a sustainability science portfolio beyond fusion. But Will Happer, an emeritus physics faculty member her, and a climate change denier, he gave an entire talk about how there's no problem. So, there are still people who are running around thinking that we're fine. But the students today definitely get it.

ZIERLER: In building up the Andlinger Center, there's a huge opportunity for faculty recruitment. What did you learn about best practices, the most successful strategy, in bringing the best to Princeton?

CARTER: Actually it's really interesting. I think it's the value proposition. I know that some of the assistant professors that I hired, at least two of them only applied to us, because they loved the vision of the Andlinger Center. They were terrific. Both of them have gotten tenure. One of them is already a full professor. I'm very proud of the work we've done at the Andlinger Center. It's unlike almost I think any other center like this. About the same time, Stanford started the Precourt Center. I actually gave a talk at the same time Lynn Orr gave a talk—during the Obama administration, he was Undersecretary of Energy for a while. He was the founding director of the Precourt Institute. I learned from faculty there that unlike what we did at Princeton, it's basically a shell for money. It just funnels money. There's no activities really associated with it or anything. Ours is real bricks and mortar—not just the building, but I set out to build a community, and we did. We built a community that interacts with one another through research dollars, through seeding research, through seminars, through teaching, developing courses, developing multidisciplinary minors, through the corporate affiliates program, just a whole host of activities. And hiring joint faculty.

ZIERLER: Does any faculty have their primary appointment in the Center, or it's all with a department and then they were attracted because of the Center?

CARTER: There's no primary. There's half and half, and this was done specifically to recognize two things. One is that if you live in a department sometimes you get siloed, and energy and environment are both interdisciplinary fields, so you really do need the Center to have that cross-fertilization of disciplines. At the same time, when you think about bringing somebody up for tenure, it's important, very important, that there's a home department with a discipline that essentially provides the rigorous analysis of, is this person expert in their discipline, as well as in their cross-disciplinary research. That's why we split the appointments. One of the things I had to do is to explain to all of the assistant professors who were worried about being judged by two different groups, is how that was going to work, and how could they be successful at tenure. While recruiting them, I'd say, "Look, we've set up a process where there's only one committee. There are not two committees. There's not a committee in your home department and a separate committee in the Andlinger Center. This committee has representation both from Andlinger and the home department. They together come up with a consensus recommendation about tenure. They deliver that consensus message both to the home department and to the Andlinger Center." You don't end up with the mischief which I've seen for example at MIT, where one department says, "We want to tenure them," and the other place doesn't. Then what do you do?

ZIERLER: Either generically or if there's a specific example that comes to mind, just the idea of the Center offering an opportunity—as you say it's bricks and mortar, you're building a real opportunity—what's an example of the Center bringing two professors together and encouraging a collaboration that might not exist otherwise?

CARTER: We had these in our annual reports. There was a fantastic case of, without ever talking to me, the first four assistant professors I hired got together and came up with a project to work on together. I can't remember the details, but it was green cement, solar, and storage, all built into one project. It would have never happened otherwise.

ZIERLER: Is there a startup culture or an entrepreneurial culture that the Center encourages, where there are ideas that can be translated into the marketplace?

CARTER: Absolutely. Definitely.

ZIERLER: In 2016—it's sort of a push and pull question—when the dean opportunity comes up, were you ready to step down? Would you have stayed on longer had the dean opportunity not come up?

CARTER: I had been reappointed, so in principle I could have stayed on. I have to say, I really love building things. I love being in this trajectory (shows steeply rising slope of her hand), not this trajectory (shows horizontal hand). Not horizontal. I'm not a person that just wants to make sure the trains arrive on time. That's not interesting to me. I really had come to the conclusion that after I got the building opened—and I had hired the first eight faculty; I had hired all the staff. I shouldn't say "I"—I with lots of help from lots of people and lots of collaborations. But, I had accomplished almost everything that I had set as goals in our strategic plan, except for outreach internationally. That, I hadn't accomplished, but I thought, "I can leave something for the next person to do." [laughs] So, I felt like it was time. It was time to do something else. I would have stayed on, and I would have continued, but then the dean of Engineering announced he was stepping down. He announced that I guess in the spring of 2015. They did a national search, and my name was nominated. I thought, "This is a good time." I thought I could bring my energy and my creativity and leadership skills to a broader platform. I had been on the Engineering-wide—the schoolwide task force that had been put together, the overarching task force for the strategic plan for the school that was being done. The vice dean of Engineering at the time, Jeremy Kasdin, had been tasked with leading that strategic planning effort. He did a great job. I was on the overarching committee for it. I thought, "This is a great time; there's going to be a great blueprint to move the school forward in new areas." I threw my hat in the ring, and I interviewed, and I think they obviously interviewed other people, but I was offered the job and I took it.

ZIERLER: As you say, liking to build—did you see the deanship as a building opportunity in some ways?

CARTER: It was. That was in fact a big part of what recruited me to the job, that the president said, "You'll have the opportunity to really rebuild literally physically the entire School of Engineering in a 10-year time." That's what he said first, to get me in the door. Then he said, "Well, we'll be lucky to get it done in 10 years." I said, "Yeah, but we're going to try, right?" He said, "Yeah, but we'll be lucky," back-pedaling a bit. But that was the goal. Unfortunately, shortly after I became dean, a year or two in, it became clear it was going to be a lot longer, and that we weren't going to have new buildings for a long time. That was frustrating. I also felt I had made the case that we should grow at a certain rate, based on the huge demand from students. I got some traction, in that I got a commitment to grow the school by 50%, but over a very long period of time. The faculty were just dying, coping with the numbers of students, just a huge interest in engineering. Which was great, but we didn't have enough personnel. I was frustrated that I couldn't get a commitment to grow faster. That's part of why, when UCLA came and asked me if I could consider thinking about the executive vice chancellor and provost role, I agreed to interview for it. I had pushed away everybody else, because I was very happy at Princeton. But I thought, UCLA was the place that grew me, as a faculty member, and it wouldn't be fair to not at least talk to them. I talked to them, and then I got excited by it. I really liked the chancellor there. Ultimately I saw that there was an opportunity for greater impact if I went there, at least that's what I hoped.

The impact that I was hoping for had to do with the fact that UCLA had recently started a program they called the Sustainable L.A. Grand Challenge. I wanted to widen its vision and ambition to beyond sustainability to resilience, because it was clear to me that climate change was here, and that we needed to be thinking about that issue. I had raised money as dean at Princeton for something the faculty really wanted to work on, which was sustainable cities. Not just sustainable, but sustainable, resilient, smart cities. I realized, what better place to do that than L.A., this place that is so multicultural. If we could use L.A. as kind of a test bed for social and technological interventions that we could try out, first by engaging anthropologists, demographers, to help us understand different immigrant communities in Los Angeles and different cultures in Los Angeles, what were their struggles, what were their problems associated with climate change and just city problems all together, that maybe technology or social interventions could be helpful with. I just thought we could galvanize the university and the talent at the university to try this out. If we came up with actually successful interventions, we could try to export those around the world and have a tremendous effect that way. That was my vision of what I really wanted to do, aside from the day job of running UCLA. Right before COVID hit, I had a meeting with L.A.'s mayor at the time, Eric Garcetti, I and the leadership of the Sustainable L.A. Grand Challenge. I had gotten the Sustainable L.A. leadership, the new leadership that we put in place, to buy into this idea of this expanded, really ambitious view. Eric Garcetti was all in. He loved the vision. He said, "Bring Caltech in. Bring USC in. Let's do this together." Then COVID hit. And—we didn't go further with it.

ZIERLER: Are you dual hatted at UCLA? Is executive vice chancellor and provost two separate jobs?

CARTER: It means that the operations side and the academic side both roll up to me. Everything rolls up to me. The chancellor also has the operations side dual reporting to him, but the chancellor is mostly outward facing, deals with the Office of the President, the ten-campus system, and with local regions, and with the state. The executive vice chancellor and provost is really dealing with running the innards of the university. It's a huge job.

ZIERLER: I wonder where it happens, maybe as dean at Princeton, or as executive vice chancellor and provost at UCLA—not the words, but really the culture of diversity and inclusivity, when did people really start to talk about building this into the system of higher education? When does that happen?

CARTER: When I became dean, one of the first things I did was to reallocate resources and create an associate dean for diversity and inclusion. I saw in my listening tour that I did, before I stepped in as dean, that there was a lot of unhappiness, a lot of sense of isolation, among women faculty, among faculty from underrepresented groups, from students and staff. I wanted there to be a resource in the school, a full-time person, working on this. The strategic plan had mentioned such a person, but they thought that it should be a faculty member and should be a half-time position. I thought, "No. We need a full-time position, somebody who is an expert. A faculty member isn't going to be an expert." And let them help faculty in working on these issues. So, it was already an issue before I went to UCLA. One of the things I was really impressed with at UCLA is it was front and center at UCLA. People cared very deeply about it. It went on steroids after the George Floyd murder. People really wanted change—and we had a lot of very intense conversations within the UCLA community. I felt very strongly that it was not enough to just issue some voice of sympathy, that it was critical to take this moment and accelerate change. That's the way I felt about every crisis we face—that the best thing to do is to use the crisis to accelerate change, and to accelerate change by coming up with concrete promises of things that you're going to do, and you follow through on them. I was really proud that we worked with all the deans, the 19 deans that reported to me [laughs], and all the ten vice chancellors, and the vice provosts, and came up with some really concrete, important things that were going to transform life for underrepresented groups. I'm really proud of what we did.

ZIERLER: When COVID hit, there are certain things obviously that are outside of your control—mandates for closure from the county, from the city, from the state. What was in your control? What were the decision points that really stopped at your desk in terms of how UCLA would respond to COVID?

CARTER: We worked really closely—my vice chancellor for administration and other people—I put together a task force that was headed by our dean of Public Health. That's the great thing about being at a place with a fantastic health system, and medical school, is that we had the experts in infectious diseases, so we could get the best advice possible. Things were changing all the time—the word out of the CDC—but we worked super closely with the L.A. Department of Public Health, hand in hand. They had a group that worked with higher ed, and another group that worked with secondary schools, et cetera, trying to decide what to do. We had a task force, and subgroups from the task force, that would come up with recommendations that would come up to me, and would make decisions about what classes would be held in person, what would be held potentially outside, what would be held remotely, what we could do to support the faculty to handle dealing with Zoom. Just a zillion things. Because we were also having to interface with the whole ten campuses, trying to be consistent but recognizing that every place was in a different place in terms of COVID infection. We were constantly in meetings from 7:00 a.m. to making decisions at midnight.

ZIERLER: Is there anything from remote learning, the forced experiment that we all went through in higher education, that is worth keeping post-pandemic?

CARTER: Definitely, in the sense that there seem to be certain people that feel much more comfortable asking questions by Zoom. It just feels less intimidating somehow. Everybody is more or less more equal. I think that in some cases, holding lectures by Zoom is not a bad thing, frankly, or at least offering that as an opportunity for some.

ZIERLER: Coming back to UCLA after having started your professional career as a professor, did that give you a unique perspective? Do you think you used that to your advantage?

CARTER: I had relationships. I left on good terms with people, so I definitely had some existing relationships. There were lots of people who were very happy I came back. Then there were a lot of people that didn't know me. In terms of the faculty perspective, I remembered what it was like, but it had been 15 years since I came back, so it was a long time. It was very different running the university versus being a faculty member. I knew that there were lots of people that didn't know me, and so one of the first things I did was to set up town halls. I went around, I did 20 town halls before COVID hit, in person. I asked the deans to host me, the deans and the vice chancellors. I was going to do more, because as I said, there were 29 of those—actually more, counting the vice provosts—so I could have been at it for even longer. I asked them to set up these town halls where I would come. I said, "I don't want just the faculty. I want you to invite the staff. I want the staff to know that I really value staff." Because they make the university run. I had town halls with all academic units, and several of the operations units, the administrative units, and then COVID hit and I stopped. I didn't have time.

But what I did is I was there for an hour, I spoke for 15, 20 minutes, introducing myself, my values, my aspirations for UCLA. Then I said, "I want to hear from you. I'm here to listen." I had my Assistant Provost there taking notes. "What are your thoughts about what I said? What are your thoughts about things I should be working on? Things that aren't working well at UCLA? What is working well?" I got a lot of feedback, which was really helpful. We collated it all to try to think about what kinds of things we should set in motion. I'm very proud of all the work I got done. I really changed the place. The chancellor said he brought me in to make change, and I certainly worked at it. It's not easy, because as you know, people are adverse to change if they're happy with the way things are. But other people were very happy with things I was getting done. Formed a group called the Busting Bureaucracy Working Group, because there was a huge amount of bureaucracy at UCLA, and faculty were thrilled I did that and were happy to volunteer to serve on it. I can't claim credit for the name; the name came from my vice chancellor for Finance. He was fantastic, Gregg Goldman. Someone came up to me at one of these town halls and said, "I have worked here for 30 years. I have never met the executive vice chancellor." He said, "I just want to thank you for taking the time to come and meet with us, talk to us." I think it was really important that I did that. It helped people at least get a sense a bit of who was at the top and what my priorities were.

ZIERLER: The decision to return to Princeton in 2022, how much of that was about seeing UCLA through at least most of the COVID crisis, getting it to a place of stability?

CARTER: That was huge for me. That's why I stayed as long as I did—Princeton was great. They said, "We just want you back. We want you to do this work, if you want to do it. You can come back whenever you want." I had planned initially to come back in December of 2021. I thought, "We'll get the place reopened, we'll get basically through the quarter, and there will be a period of transition"—where the vice chancellor of academic personnel, Mike Levine, was working with me to come up to speed, because he was going to be the interim EVC and Provost. I then ended up staying until the full end of 2021, just because there was work that needed to be done. Then I started at the beginning of 2022 back at Princeton, working on that which matters to me most.

ZIERLER: To clarify, when you went to UCLA, did you see it as a short-term proposition, or you could have stayed for longer?

CARTER: No, I expected to stay longer.

ZIERLER: Coming back to Princeton, what had changed about your portfolio? Did you come back essentially as a civilian? Were you coming back as a professor?

CARTER: Initially, basically the provost said, "Come back. You need to land. I want you to define the job. You know what to do. We'll define the job after you get back." That's what she said. So, yes, I landed as a civilian, along with I had a title at PPPL of just Senior Strategic Advisor, initially. I started immediately working on PPPL things, the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.

ZIERLER: That was part of it for you, coming back? PPPL would be part of your rejoining Princeton?

CARTER: That was crucial to me, yeah. I didn't want to just come back to just be a faculty member. I really wanted to continue—I have been told I'm an excellent leader, and I feel that, and I think it would be a waste of my talent to just go back to being a faculty member. And I like doing it. I like helping other people. That was one of the things I should have mentioned, that before I started on this administrative leadership journey, and when Shirley Tilghman was trying to convince me to throw my hat in the ring for the founding director of the Andlinger Center, she said, "You should not become an administrative leader unless you enjoy enabling the success of others." I have never forgotten that. I always felt that way about my students—that I loved teaching, and I loved bringing them along, as I said, and seeing their success. I loved that. What I realized was that this allowed me to do it on a larger scale. For me, being a faculty member—I had already sort of drunk the Kool-Aid of doing it on a larger scale, so I wanted to continue doing that. Ultimately it was just clear that the work that needed to be done in terms of diversification of the Lab was going to be really a full-time effort. Initially when I came back I thought I would also be teaching, but I'm not doing that right now, because there's just too much to do to build out these programs.

ZIERLER: You certainly don't have to divulge any personal considerations, but, executive vice chancellor and provost, many would think that the next step would be chancellor or the president of a university. Did you look in the mirror and say, "That's one step I don't want to take"? Was that part of your decision-making?

CARTER: Yeah, you can ask that question. I have to say that I found that there was a large part of the job at UCLA that involved political decisions that I didn't like. I realized that—and I had long talks with the chancellor. He was really very sad that I decided to leave. We really enjoyed working together. He said he felt like he finally had a thought partner. He really wanted me to stay. But he said, "If you're not enjoying the job, and you really want to go do this other thing, then do it." I said, "I don't enjoy the politics. I don't enjoy it." I didn't realize the extent to which politics would play such a big role in these jobs. I have just seen what higher ed—yeah, he expected me to become the next chancellor. That's what he expected. I think that would have been a logical progression. I have certainly been asked to throw my hat in the ring for presidencies, for quite some time. I did it once. I was a finalist for one job—I won't say which one—at a very good place. In the end when I was told I didn't get the job, it was amazing how my body reacted.

My body reacted—I relaxed. I was relieved. Unconsciously, my body at least knew that I really don't like the politics of such jobs. Right now, so much of what I saw the chancellor doing—I told the chancellor, "I'm seeing what you're doing, and I don't want your job. Because the way that you're treated"—the way that he was treated, the kinds of things that he had to do and manage, it would have just eaten me alive. I just said, "I can't let it go. I can't let it go that there is so much politics that I don't agree with," and that you have to just say, "It's politics." You end up spending so much of your time on things that to me are so unimportant, compared to—the role of executive vice chancellor and provost, if I had gone there and done what I thought I was going to do, which is spend all my time advancing the core mission of the university—research, teaching, and service to society—I might not have left. Although I'm really excited about the work I'm doing here. I might not have left. But I was spending so much time on things that were so distasteful that—it's just part of the job of being provost. If you talk to people honestly about what they end up doing as provost, they spend a lot of time with lawyers. Not very fun. Nothing against lawyers—

ZIERLER: [laughs]

CARTER: —but dealing with lawsuits and stuff, it's just not fun. It becomes political. It becomes you do these things because you just feel like you have to, to get out of this. And, ugh, that was very distasteful to me. I saw other presidents basically lose their job because of getting caught in a controversy over the culture wars. I didn't want to spend my time doing that. I feel like I have a finite amount of time and energy, and I want to make sure that everything I am doing is impactful. To be wasting time in discussions about whether or not the university should be taking a position on the latest aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not how I want to spend my time. Many presidents are doing that. Basically once I made that decision at UCLA that I had decided I didn't want to take that path, I just said no to every opportunity that people have been putting in front of me. There are a lot of them, but I finally I think have gotten—all the search firms know that I'm not interested now.

ZIERLER: [laughs] Emily, to bring our conversation really full circle, all the way back to the beginning, when we started, when the Biden administration asked you to consider joining the DOE, did you look at joining PPPL as really the perfect solution, that if there was that interest in service, in really being impactful at the government level, is PPPL, as a national laboratory, does it really square that circle in terms of being a mixture of government, and Department of Energy, and academia? Was that just perfect for you in that regard?

CARTER: It's one of the sectors I haven't worked in before. I thought, "Hey, this is a need. I love Princeton. This is something Princeton needs. It's something the nation needs, the world needs. I want to try it." I want to see if I can really change, transform, this DOE national lab to have a fully diversified portfolio in other areas of sustainability. And, we'll see! It's a work in progress. I've only been at it for a year and a half. But it feels good. It is really interesting, because certainly for many years, people said, "Oh, you're going to be a university president someday." I thought, "Oh, I don't know, maybe, okay." But again, after watching the chancellor and what he was doing on a daily basis, I thought, "No. That's not what I want to do." I know I'm a good leader, and so I want to make sure I use those leadership skills. This is the way I am doing it. I have to tell you that in the time I've been back, I've been asked to throw my hat in the ring for three national lab director jobs, elsewhere. "I just got back! Leave me alone! Please!" So, I don't know. I'm actually still thinking, "Well, okay, what is my next chapter?" I don't know. I'm going to do this and try to make it as successful as I can. But as I said, I like doing this for now; if at some point I don't like it, I will consider other opportunities. I'm not a steady state person.

ZIERLER: When you came back and you were assured that you could figure out exactly what your role would be, at this point, end of June 2023, are you still in defining mode, or have you pretty much figured out what it is that you're doing back at Princeton?

CARTER: I have definitely figured out what I'm doing. I can just tell you very briefly that when I first came back, I did the same thing—went and talked to a lot of people, talked and listened, mostly listened. And hypothesized. I had already hypothesized before I came back, "Here's the skill set at this national lab. What might be interesting to work on?" I changed, actually, what I ended up thinking we should work on. We've launched an initiative in what I refer to as electromanufacturing. Because a huge part of the remaining issues that really haven't been tackled—because if you think about it, we know now how to get carbon-free electricity. We know how to do that. Carbon-free fuels is a separate issue, still needs work, or at least low-carbon fuels. But what we haven't done a good job with is managing our carbon emissions. If we think about carbon emissions coming from something other than the electricity sector, or the fuel sector, a huge—30% of all carbon emissions come from industry, from manufacturing. If we can decarbonize industry by essentially taking off the fossil fuels that drive almost all industrial processes, and instead replacing it with electricity—carbon-emission-free electricity—that would be a huge service to society. The plasma part of it is—the idea was to start a whole initiative that uses electricity instead of fossil fuels to either create heat through resistive heating, or use plasma, so electricity going through a gas to create an ionized gas that offers up all sorts of other tunable—knobs to tune in terms of how they get used in industry—or straight electricity through electrolysis, and use this as the means to create chemicals, fuels, materials, et cetera. We have started this initiative. We have spent the past year writing lots and lots of proposals to different parts of DOE. We'll see what gets funded.

The other thing that I recognized is that the skill set could be applied to a very different area that I also believe desperately needs to be worked on. Plasmas are turbulent fluids. They're turbulent, charged gases. We are the world's experts in modeling those and measuring them through in-situ diagnostics. So, we have a unique skill set—and also a skill set in building big reactors, in the fusion world. There's a whole other area that I think is really critical that the U.S. has shied away from studying, because of concerns about the moral hazard that if we figured out how to do it, we might actually let fossil fuel companies off the hook. It is something that is called solar geoengineering, or solar radiation management is the buzzword of the time. What it's about is understanding—we know from volcanic eruptions that aerosols spewed into the atmosphere, sulfate aerosols, actually cool the entire Earth for multiple years by more than a degree. They do that by reflecting sunlight in the stratosphere. People are thinking about, "Maybe we should inject into the stratosphere some kind of aerosol to cool the Earth for a while, to lessen the effects of climate change." People are worried that if we figure out how to do it properly that we'll still continue to burn fossil fuels. My answer to them is, "Uh-uh. We've got to cut out the fossil fuels no matter what, because the Earth is warming, and we may not be able to pull enough CO2 out of the atmosphere fast enough to avoid a tipping point in the climate." So we may be forced to do this, and by god, we better understand the science behind it, before we go out and just experiment. What we're proposing to do is to study the science of aerosols under different conditions, in the laboratory, as well as model them, but to essentially look at aerosols, changing temperature, pressure, humidity, type of aerosol. We've started a partnership with the Simons Foundation on this already, and hope to convince DOE to sponsor our planned work in this field. I have engaged them but they don't have a leader at the top of the organization that will make the decision. So, we don't know yet. Those are the two initiatives.

ZIERLER: It sounds like you're on a mission, and this is the perfect place for you to execute it.

CARTER: I think so! Yeah. I'm excited.

ZIERLER: Now that we've worked right up to the present, for the last part of our talk, I'd like to ask just a few retrospective questions about your career, and then we'll end looking to the future. Because you never expected or desired to go into administrative leadership, is that sort of always the best sign of a future leader in academia? In other words, nobody should aspire to this? You should just have the skills and you find yourself in that position? Is that what you've learned over the course of your career?

CARTER: Well, that describes me. I certainly was never looking for it. I didn't become an administrative leader until I was almost 50. I don't know that there's a correct recipe. I do think that having a scholar as a leader who is humble enough to be able to learn good management skills along the way is the best type of leader for a university. Because I think you need people in all leadership roles—not just the president or the chancellor or the executive vice chancellor or provost—but all the dean positions, these need to be people that faculty and students are inspired by as scholars, because that first and foremost is our job.

ZIERLER: In keeping an active research group, even if it's not as big as it would otherwise be, is that your way of keeping active in the literature, of seeing where the field is going? Is that one of the things that is useful for you?

CARTER: It's useful. It's not why I do it. I do it because I love it, and because it keeps me—I love it. That's all I can say. And I don't want to give it up. I have a much smaller group now. I only work with a few postdoctoral fellows, and that's it. And a couple of undergrads. That's okay. I've published more than 450 papers. I don't need another research result. I work at this because I enjoy it, and I'd rather work with a few really high-quality people than have an army working for me.

ZIERLER: In that formative lesson you learned about leadership and about its purpose really being to lift up others to make future leaders, what are the metrics that you've learned? How do you define when you've created a leader? What does that look like as a composite in all your experience?

CARTER: That's a great question. I'm going to toot my own horn for a second here and just say that when I decided to leave UCLA, the chancellor said, "You need to have an individual conversation with each of the vice chancellors." So I did. I have to say, it won't show up on my resume, but I was so touched that basically all of them in their own way said that I had made them a better leader. That just means so much to me. I think the way I did that is I let them—lead. I backed them up. I was there as a consultant but I didn't undermine them. I didn't try to compete with them. There's all sorts of ways to be a bad leader, right? The most important way to be a leader is to recruit, cultivate, and allow people to be creative, to come up with their own ideas, to teach and mentor them to being able to be good at giving opportunities to others, learning how to delegate. There's a whole variety of skills. Being a good listener is super important.

ZIERLER: Reflecting on your graduate education at Caltech, what has stayed with you? How did that influence the way you see the world or at least higher education?

CARTER: That's a really interesting question. I just think that the great thing about my graduate time at Caltech is just being able to pursue whatever interested me. It's that simple.

ZIERLER: In the sustainability space, you've had so much interface and experience looking at government operations, academic operations, private industry. What have you learned about academia in terms of what it can do best that should be done on a campus, that shouldn't be done in a government situation or at a corporation?

CARTER: I just think high-risk, high-payoff research, and training the next generation. That's what should be done.

ZIERLER: Finally, looking to the future, because you're so laser-focused right now on climate change—it's real, it's an emergency, it's before us—for you personally, and in your ongoing efforts as a leader for others, what do you want to accomplish for as long as you want to remain active?

CARTER: Right now I want to set in place programs that will certainly outlast me. That's the way I felt about the Andlinger Center. I thought, "This is a place I'm building for centuries. It will be here for centuries." I wanted to set in place those also as dean, as executive vice chancellor and provost. For me it's about setting up really robust programs and values that outlast my time.

ZIERLER: This has been an epic, amazing conversation. I want to thank you so much for spending this time with me. It's really fantastic. It is a great historical record for the science, for the engineering, and of course for Caltech. I want to thank you so much.

CARTER: Oh, thank you, David. You have been a fantastic interviewer! Really rich questions.