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Helen Quinn

(recorded in 2004)

Helen Quinn concentrates her research on theoretical particle physics with a focus on phenomenology of the weak interactions; she also teaches extensively and is involved in outreach activities to encourage interest in the field of physics. Her work with colleague Robert Peccei resulted in what is now known as the Peccei-Quinn symmetry. Quinn started her college career at the University of Melbourne, Australia, under a full scholarship to study meteorology. Two years into her degree, she moved to the United States and joined the physics department of Stanford University. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Deutsche Elektronen-Synchrotron in Hamburg, Germany, she taught high school physics and then joined the staff and faculty of Harvard University. A few years later, she returned to Stanford to join the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. She has been there since 1977.

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Track 1: From Meteorology to Physics
When Quinn entered graduate school, there were only two other women in her class in the physics program at Stanford University. Both of the others dropped out. She discusses her undergraduate and graduate studies and why she chose physics, as well as how she began working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center just as it was starting up. (9 minutes)

Track 2: The Charm Quark
Up until 1974, there was no proof that a fourth quark, sometimes called the charm quark, existed. However, Quinn and her colleagues did extensive work on understanding its behavior. Quinn now uses her background in researching “impossible” ideas in developing experimental programs, from the early phases to the realization of how various experiments should be conducted. (10 minutes)

Track 3: Westward Bound
After Quinn and her husband both completed postdoctoral fellowships in Hamburg, Germany, they moved to Boston so her husband could teach at Tufts University. She taught high school physics for a little while, but later was hired at Harvard to do research. When her husband left physics and got a job in California, they moved West and she returned to SLAC, where she has worked since. (10 minutes)

Track 4: Strings and Things
In creating an equation that represented the balance between matter and antimatter, Quinn realized that the weak and strong interactions between particles account for some of the uncertainties in the equations. This balance was based on the laws of conservation, and resulted in her work with colleague Robert Peccei on their Peccei-Quinn symmetry theory. (11 minutes)

Track 5: Searching for Cosmic Balance
The behavior of quarks and other particles can all be explained by mathematical equations. However, somewhere in the history of the universe, matter and antimatter got out of balance. Quinn discusses her work combining particle physics with cosmology, working towards understanding how the universe evolved. (10 minutes)

Track 6: "That's Why There Are So Few Women in Physics!"
Quinn discusses the role of women in contemporary physics, comparing it to when she first started studying physics. She also explains some of her ideas on how to demystify physics and inspire interest and innovative educational methods for teaching the subject. (9 minutes)


Last Updated: 06-27-2006

The audio files linked above are part of the National Academy of Sciences InterViews series. Opinions and statements included in these audio files are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy of Sciences.

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