Sean M. Carroll
Research Professor of Physics
By David Zierler
January 4, 2021
In this interview, David Zierler, then Oral Historian for the American Institute of Physics (AIP), interviews Sean Carroll, Research Professor of Physics at Caltech, External Professor at the Santa Fe Institute, and founder of preposterousuniverse.com and the Mindscape podcast.
Carroll recounts his childhood in suburban Pennsylvania and how he became interested in theoretical physics as a ten-year-old. He explains the factors that led to his undergraduate education at Villanova, and his graduate work at Harvard, where he specialized in astronomy under the direction of George Field. Carroll explains how his wide-ranging interests informed his thesis research, and he describes his postgraduate work at MIT and UC Santa Barbara. He describes the fundamental importance of the discovery of the accelerating universe, and the circumstances of his hire at the University of Chicago. Carroll provides his perspective on why he did not achieve tenure there, and why his subsequent position at Caltech offered him the pleasure of collaborating with top-flight faculty members and graduate students, while allowing the flexibility to pursue his wide-ranging interests as a public intellectual involved in debates on philosophy, religion, and politics; as a writer of popular science books; and as an innovator in the realm of creating science content online. Carroll conveys the various push and pull factors that keep him busy in both the worlds of academic theoretical physics and public discourse. At the end of the interview, Carroll shares that he will move on from Caltech in two years and that he is open to working on new challenges both as a physicist and as a public intellectual.