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Philip Phillips

Physicist Philip W. Phillips was born in Scarborough, Tobago in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Phillips’ family migrated to the United States when he was ten years old. After graduating with his B.A. degree in chemistry and mathematics from Walla Walla College in 1979, Phillips enrolled in the University of Washington where he served as a graduate research assistant in theoretical chemistry and received his Ph.D. degree in theoretical physics in 1982. Upon graduation, Phillips was awarded a Miller Postdoctoral Fellowship to study at the University of California at Berkeley from 1981 to 1984.

Phillips then worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology until 1993 when he joined the faculty of the department of physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 1998, Phillips was appointed a Beckman Associate in the Center for Advanced Study. After being promoted to full professor and receiving tenure in 2004, Phillips went on to serve as the University Scholar and was named the Bliss Faculty Scholar in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As a theoretical condensed matter physicist, Phillips studies quantum phase transitions and strongly correlated electrons. In particular, he focused on novel metallic phases in two dimensions and high-temperature superconductivity. Phillips research has been published in academic journals such as Physics Review Letters and Europhysics Letters. In addition, he authored a graduate-level textbook titled, Advanced Solid State Physics (2002).

Phillips served as the American Physical Society (APS) general councilor from 2000 to 2002 and as executive councilor from 2002 to 2004. He also served on the APS Committee on Committees from 2002 to 2004. Phillips was appointed to serve on the nanotechnology panel for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in 1999. He also served on the “Frontiers of Science” organizing committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) from 1998 to 1999. He was honored as the Edward A. Bouchet Lecturer for the APS in 2000. Phillips was elected as a Fellow of the APS in 2002, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2012.

Phillip Phillips was interviewed byThe HistoryMakers on June 7, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.098

Sex

Male

Interview Date

6/7/2013

Last Name

Phillips

Maker Category
Middle Name

W

Occupation
Schools

Walla Walla College

University of Washington

A-Karrasel Primary Grade Center

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Philip

Birth City, State, Country

Scarborough

HM ID

PHI05

Favorite Season

Summer

Favorite Vacation Destination

Tobago

Favorite Quote

Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/28/1958

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Urbana-Champaign

Country

Tobago

Favorite Food

Curry

Short Description

Physicist Philip Phillips (1958 - )

Employment

University of California, Berkeley

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Philip Phillips' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Philip Phillips lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Philip Phillips describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Philip Phillips reflects upon the history of slavery in Tobago and its present effects

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Philip Phillips talks about his mother's parents

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Philip Phillips describes his mother's childhood in Tobago

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Philip Phillips talks about his grandmother's and mother's education

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Phillip Phillips describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Philip Phillips talks about his father's extended family

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Phillip Phillips talks about his father's education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Philip Phillips talks about his parents, siblings, and the family's moves to Trinidad and the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Philip Phillips describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Philip Phillips describes the sights, sound, and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Philip Phillips describes Tobago and how it has changed

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Philip Phillips talks about his family's move to the United States

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Philip Phillips talks about his father's affiliation with the Seventh Day Adventist Church

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Philip Phillips describes his family's move to Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Philip Phillips talks about the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Philip Phillips describes going to school in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Philip Phillips recalls the black leaders he learned about in his childhood

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Philip Phillips talks about the move to Walla Walla, Washington and living in a town with few minorities

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Philip Phillips describes his high school and his childhood friends in Walla Walla, Washington

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Philip Phillips talks about growing up in Walla Walla, Washington

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Philip Phillips talks about evolution, philosophy, and being raised as a Seventh Day Adventist

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Philip Phillips describes his grades in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Philip Phillips describes his years at Walla Walla College

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Philip Phillips talks about moving out of his parent's house

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Philip Phillips describes his decision to become a theoretical scientist

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Philip Phillips talks about the teachers that influenced him at the University of Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Philip Phillips talks about his doctoral dissertation and the decision to change fields

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Philip Phillips talks about receiving the Miller Fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Philip Phillips describes critical phenomena pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Philip Phillips describes critical phenomena pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Philip Phillips talks about his post-doctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Philip Phillips describes his work on Anderson localization

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Philip Phillips talks about being a chemistry professor and doing physics research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Philip Phillips describes his firing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his hiring at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Philip Phillips describes his research on Mottness pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Philip Phillips describes his research on Mottness pt. 2

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Philip Phillips talks about changing his research focus

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Philip Phillips talks about the physics program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Philip Phillips describes organizing the first scientific conference in Tobago

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Philip Phillips talks about his research and teaching

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Philip Phillips talks about his mentoring of graduate students

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Philip Phillips talks about first scientific conference in Tobago

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Philip Phillips talks about his honors and awards and the legacy of Edward A. Bouchet

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Philip Phillips reflects on his life's decisions

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Philip Phillips discusses religion

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Philip Phillips reflects on his legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Philip Phillips describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Philip Phillips talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Philip Phillips reflects on his life's decisions

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Philip Phillips talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$5

DAStory

6$6

DATitle
Philip Phillips describes his years at Walla Walla College
Philip Phillips talks about the physics program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois
Transcript
Okay, all right, so, you went to Walla Walla College. Were you living at home?$$And I lived at home.$$Okay, all right. All right--$$All four years.$$Okay.$$Except for the last two quarters. The last two quarters being from January until May. So except for five months, I lived at home.$$Well, so, what was your major in college?$$Math and chemistry.$$Okay, and so you were there in--were you involved in, it was the same basic racial makeup of, I mean was the college reflective of the racial makeup of Walla Walla basically too? Were you the only black student?$$There were some black students, very, very few. A smattering of students from the [United] States and some from the islands and Africa, I would say, yeah.$$Okay, all right. So, was college, did you, did you get--well, you had understanding in college, I guess, because you said you were learning things you should have learned in high school--$$Right.$$--in college. So did college turn you on to physics or--(simultaneous)--$$Yeah, I mean once I got to college, and I started taking--so I started college an English major. And then I decided, you know, 'cause I really wanted to write. That was my, that was a passion of mine. And, but I decided I wasn't talented enough to be a writer. Then I decided I'll be a math major. And, and then I--math didn't seem very hard. Basically, I was, I should have taken calculus in high school. I was not really performing at the level that I should have been performing at. And so when I got to college and was taking calculus, then I started the standard sequence of calculus in college, by the third quarter, I decided, you know, this is not very hard. And I'm going to drop it and go and do something else. So a very interesting story happened. I was on the way to the registrar's office to drop calculus, and I see a kid with a skateboard, and I decided I was going to drop calculus which was four units and replace it with Western's, History of Western Civilization 'cause I hadn't taken my general history requirement, and, and add, there was a physical education class that was required and add PE. And I was going to add a tennis course, and that would be four hours. On the way to drop, to the registrar's office, I see a kid on a skateboard. Skateboards were really a big thing back then. I asked the kid, can I borrow your skateboard and just, could I try it out? He goes, sure. So I hop on the skateboard, go careening around the corner, fall off, and I completely tear up my ankle. I have to be in a cast for eight weeks, which means I couldn't go through with my plan to go and drop calculus. It completely changed the course that I was on.$$So you actually had to take--you took calculus?$$I couldn't go through with my plan of replacing a four-unit course with a, with a class that required that I go, that I do some sort of exercise. So Western Civ[ilization] and tennis went out the window and I stuck with calculus. And had I not done that, I would probably not be here right now.$$(Laughter) So the kid with the skateboard--(simultaneous)--$$The kid with the skateboard completely, that was a very pivotal moment.$$You were a junior then, you said?$$No, no, no. I was a, that was the end of my freshman year.$$Okay, all right. All right, so 1970-what?$$I started college in '75 [1975].$$Seventy-five [1975]--$$So it was '76 [1976], Spring of '76 [1976].$$Okay.$$Yeah, so because of that I, I was on the standard math sequence that all of the serious science and engineering people were on, and so the next year, I took chemistry. And it seemed trivial. It seemed absolutely easy. There was--it was taught with a system behind it. And so then I, I decided I would major in chemistry. And, but I was sort of behind because I was taking general chemistry my second year in college. And I hadn't taken physics yet. So we're talking serious catch-up here. And so I take more chemistry classes during the summer and then the fall, I took physical chemistry. This is as a junior, and I decided I would take the engineering physics sequence, which is the calculus-based course. You know, this thing that you teach--I teach here to freshmen. I didn't take it until my junior year (laughter). And even that seemed easy, and it seemed more interesting than chemistry. So I thought, well, you know, maybe I really should be a physics major. So in the end, I ended up being a double major in math and chemistry, and I took several physics courses, independent study, because there were very few people majoring in physics. And so you had to arrange with the professors to go and take these courses. So I was taking the quantum mechanics course independent study, my senior year and taking advance math courses also independent study. So basically in a two-year period, I went from no physics, to taking advance physics courses. And so I almost had a physics major when I finished as well, but I didn't have time to do any of the labs or anything like that. So.$$Okay.$$It was a crash course, once I figured it out.$Now you were a Bliss Faculty Scholar in 2000--$$Um-hum.$$--right? And that meant that you were supported by--$$Yeah, I, my--some of my research was funded by the engineering college. It allowed me further travel and funds for students, things like that.$$Now, you were saying, you were referring earlier or made sort of a, in a general way, that the University of Illinois [at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois] has, is one of the top physics programs in the country, right?$$Um-hum, yeah. And in solid state physics. It traditionally was number one. It recently became number two, and it was supplanted by none other than MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts], which I don't understand because most people don't understand why. If MIT is number two, there are several places you might have thought were number One. The last one would have been MIT. But MIT has these publicity machinery that guarantees it stays somewhere close to the top.$$Now, there are some Nobel Laureates that came out of University of Illinois, right?$$Right, I mean the reason why Illinois was so strong and has been so strong in solid state is that John Bardeen built up the effort here. And John Bardeen, I mean the quarters, the engineering quarter is named after him. He was a semiconductor physicist at Bell Labs. But to say that is not to give him enough credit. He, he invented the transistor at Bell, was hired here, won the Nobel Prize for that. But the real problem he was trying to solve was always in the back of his mind, was superconductivity. And he solved that problem here. And the theoretical program was based on his effort. And so he hired many people, all of whom became top, international stars. And that's, that defined theoretical solid-state physics for the world. I mean this place defined that. And there was no place that was second to this place. And so from that nucleus, the whole effort sort of telescoped from there. And they've kept their focus on, the air--they've kept their focus on their strength. They haven't tried to say, oh, well, now, we're good at this, let's try to--no, they've said, "We are a department that is defined by solid state. That's what we do. The other areas will benefit if we keep, you know, our primacy in that field. See, and, then he won a second Nobel Prize for superconductivity, which is--and his solution was something that had applications in all areas of physics. Cosmology, particle physics, the Higgs mechanism is based on what is the, is intellectual essence of his solution to the superconductivity problem. So this is, this is a very serious place, you know, and, you really have to do things at a deep level here to get appreciated. And I like that. It's very different from MIT. MIT was--there's a large publicity machinery that, sort of the academic publicity complex, you know (laughter). There can be substance, but that's not necessarily what, how you become famous at MIT.$$Was there a physicist at MIT that you really looked up to as a--(simultaneous)--$$Yeah, at the time, yeah, Patrick Lee. I talk to him a lot. He helped me get hired here.