In the above photo, some of those who attended the Aspen Center for Physics' June 6, 2013 public lecture on The Physics of Cooking by David Weitz made ice cream after the lecture by tossing salt and ice and a bag of milk, cream and sugar until it solidified.


Nick and Maggie DeWolf Public Lectures

Winter 2015

Wednesdays - 5:30 pm

Wheeler Opera House

Before each lecture, plan to attend Physics Cafés, chats with physicists co-hosted with the Aspen Science Center, at 4:30 pm in the Wheeler Mezzanine

Lectures and Cafés are Free

View a 13-minute Video about the Aspen Center for Physics


  • January 7
    Nature's Smallest Rotary Engine: Why We Eat and Why We Breathe
    Kazuhiko Kinosita, Waseda University, Japan

    Each one of us is a heater of about 100 watts. We burn the food we ingest with the oxygen we inhale, though not in the literal sense, of course. We oxidize the food slowly to minimize heat production while synthesizing ATP (adenosine [ah den ah seen] tri-phosphate). We expend our body weight of ATP each day but you wouldn’t want to eat that much ATP which is not tasty! More than a billion times a billion of Nature’s Smallest Rotary Engines continuously rotate in our bodies, from head to foot, splitting and then re-synthesizing ATP. We eat and breathe to keep these rotary engines running!
    Watch the lecture.
  • January 14
    How Plants and Animals Survive Crashing Ocean Waves
    Mark Denny, Stanford University

    As ocean waves crash on rocky shores and coral reefs, they are accompanied by water velocities as high as 30 miles per second, among the highest in nature. One might suppose that the hydrodynamic forces imposed by these flows -- equivalent to those associated with supersonic flows in air -- would prohibit plants and animals from living in these extreme environments, but just the opposite is true. Next to tropical rain forests, life in wave-exposed habitats is the most diverse on the planet. Professor Denny will use limpets, acorn barnacles, seaweeds and other examples to highlight aspects of fluid dynamics seldom encountered in other habitats.
    Watch the preview.
    Watch the lecture.
  • January 21
    The Monster at the Heart of the Milky Way
    Andrea Ghez, University of California, Los Angeles

    Through the capture and analysis of two decades of high-resolution imaging, Dr. Ghez and her team have moved the case for a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy from a possibility to a certainty. Dr. Ghez’ work also explores the role that black holes play in the formation and evolution of galaxies. Several unexpected surprises have been revealed including the presence of massive young stars orbiting in close proximity of a black hole and a possible gas cloud headed straight for the black hole in our galaxy. The origin of these stars and putative gas cloud are a challenge to explain, but may provide key insight into the growth of the central black hole.
    Watch the preview.
    Watch the lecture.
  • January 28
  • Fundamental Physics in the 21st Century
    Nima Arkani–Hamed, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton

    Fundamental physics started the 20th century with the twin revolutions of relativity and quantum mechanics, and much of the second half of the century was devoted to the construction of a theoretical structure unifying these radical ideas. Yet storm clouds are gathering, which point towards a new set of revolutions on the horizon in the 21st century. Space–time is doomed––how can it emerge from more primitive building blocks? And how is our macroscopic universe compatible with violent microscopic quantum fluctuations that seem to make its existence wildly implausible? In this talk Arkani–Hamed will describe these deep theoretical mysteries, as well as the beginning of plans for a giant new particle accelerator, with energy seven times higher than the Large Hadron Collider, that will be necessary to make major progress on at least some of these questions in the coming decades.
    Watch the lecture.
  • February 4
    From the Physics of Adhesion to Organ Repair
    Ludwik Leibler, ESPCI Paris

    Adhesives and glues are typically made of polymers but Dr Leibler's group has introduced a new concept of adhesion with particle solutions. Using these solutions, a strong bond between two surfaces results from spreading a drop of the solution on one surface and pressing the other into it for a few seconds. The efficiency of the method, which is called nanobridging, applies for natural and synthetic hydrogels with various sorts of particles such as silica or iron oxide. The concept of nanobridging has been extended to biological tissues and the method can be used in vivo to close wounds even for soft organs such as liver and in hemorrhagic conditions. These particles can also be used for hemostasis after organ resection. In tests on animals, the approach has proved easy to apply, rapid and efficient in situations when conventional methods of suturing or stapling are traumatic or fail. Human application is in the development stage.
    Watch the preview.
    Watch the lecture.

  • February 18
    Quantum Matter, Spacetime, and Emergence
    Shamit Kachru, Stanford University

    The focus of this lecture is how, in studying matter interacting by the laws of quantum mechanics, "what you see" is often NOT "what you get." Given a certain simple set of elementary particles and fundamental interactions, the physics which emerges at long distance scales (where humans do experiments!) can be strikingly and importantly different from the input. We focus on a variety of examples, including: the emergent properties of electrons in metals; the emergence of the rich world of nuclear physics from very simple basic fundamental interactions; and finally, the emergence of space-time geometry itself from constituents which, in some sense, live in a different number of spatial dimensions. We close with a discussion of important frontiers which may hold even greater surprises.
    Watch the preview.
    Watch the lecture.

  • March 11
    Taking the Universe's Baby Picture
    David Spergel, Princeton University

    Observations of the microwave background, the left over heat from the big bang, are snapshots of the universe only three hundred thousand years after the big bang. These observations have answered many of the questions that have driven cosmology for the past few decades: How old is the universe? What is its size and shape? What is the composition of the universe? How do galaxy emerge? I will focus on results from WMAP, the European Space Agency’s Planck satellite and from other recent cosmological experiments and show how they have addressed these questions. The satellites measure the patterns generated by sound waves that were produced in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the big bang. These same sound waves produce a distinctive pattern in the large-scale distribution of galaxies. We have seen these patterns in galaxy surveys. The consistency between these measurements provides a test of general relativity and a measurement of the geometry of the universe.While there has been significant progress in the past decade, many key cosmological questions remain unanswered: What happened during the first moments of the big bang? What is the dark energy? What were the properties of the first stars? I will discuss how future observations may start to answer these new and deeper questions.
    Watch the preview..

  • March 25
    Quantum Crystals, Quantum Computing and Quantum Cognition
    Matthew Fisher, University of California Santa Barbara

    Quantum mechanics is down to earth - quite literally - since the electrons within the tiny crystals found in a handful of dirt manifest a dizzying world of quantum motion. Each crystal has it’s own unique choreography, with the electrons entangled in a myriad of quantum dances. Quantum entanglement also holds the promise of futuristic Quantum Computers - which might be comprised of electron and nuclear spins inside diamond, or of atoms confined in traps, or of small superconducting grains, among a plethora of suggested platforms. In this talk I will describe ongoing efforts to elucidate the mysteries of Quantum Crystals, to design and assemble Quantum Computers, before ruminating about “Quantum Cognition” - the proposal that our brains are capable of quantum processing.