Aspen Center for Physics

    2019 DeWolf Foundation
    FREE Physics Talks

    Wednesdays at the Wheeler Opera House

    5:30 to 6:30 PM Public Talks

    View a 13-minute Video about the Aspen Center for Physics
  • January 9, 2019
    The 2018 Nobel Lecture in Physics: Optical Tweezers and their Biological Applications
    Speaker: Arthur Ashkin, Bell Laboratories, emeritus
    The 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded "for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics" with one half to Arthur Ashkin "for the optical tweezers and their application to biological systems," the other half jointly to Gérard Mourou and Donna Strickland. Ashkin will deliver his Nobel Lecture at the Wheeler Opera House.

    Dr. Ashkin’s “tools made of light” have revolutionized laser physics. Extremely small objects and incredibly fast processes now appear in a new light. Not only physics, but also chemistry, biology and medicine have gained precision instruments for use in basic research and practical applications. Ashkin’s invention was fundamental to the establishment of the modern field of Single Molecule Biophysics.
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  • January 16, 2019
    Rise of the Machines: Deep Learning from Backgammon to Skynet
    Speaker: Paul Ginsparg, Cornell University
    Over the past seven years, there have been significant advances in applications of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and specifically deep learning, to a variety of familiar tasks. From image and speech recognition, self-driving cars, and machine translation, to beating the Go champion, it's been difficult to stay abreast of all the breathless reports of superhuman machine performance. There has as well been a recent surge in applications of machine learning ideas to research problems in the hard sciences and medicine.  I will endeavor to provide an outsider's overview of the ideas underlying these recent advances and their evolution over the past few decades, and project some prospects and pitfalls for the near future.
  • February 6, 2019
    Quantum Dances: Life, Love and Jealousy in the Quantum World
    Speaker: Ulrich Schollwoeck, University of Munich
  • For the last 50 years, most of modern technology has been based on quantum effects. We have only seen the tip of the iceberg but “quantum technology 2.0” is taking off right now. It is based on exploiting, for the first time, the phenomenon of entanglement which makes the quantum world so different from the world we experience every day.

    Now, we encounter “strongly correlated” quantum materials and systems every day. What are they and why are they important for us? We will discuss why understanding them is such an exciting challenge and how we rise to it by large-scale quantum simulations using digital computers and analog quantum devices. We discover a rich and intricate dynamics of particles which incessantly form and break fleeting associations with each other. And we are beginning to understand how all this may be deeply related to fundamental questions in cosmology. 
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  • February 13, 2019
    The Ultimate Collision: Neutron Stars Rattle Shine and Sparkle
    Speaker: Sanjay Reddy, University of Washington
  • Neutron stars are small, extremely dense objects. A teaspoon of neutron star stuff has 100 times the mass of the great pyramid of Giza. Theorists speculated about these extreme properties even before their discovery more than 50 years ago. They have remained mysterious and their role in the universe not fully appreciated until recently. On August 17, 2017, we observed gravitational waves from the collision of two neutron stars in a galaxy 130 million light years away. This event, called GW170817, transformed neutron stars from tiny curios to laboratories in which to study extreme physical processes.

    Predictions that neutron star collisions produce gamma-ray bursts, emit gravitational waves detectable out to cosmic distances, and synthesize heavy elements including gold and platinum have been largely confirmed by GW170817. With many more such observations expected, GW170817 marks the beginning of a new era in astrophysics with great potential for fundamental discoveries.
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  • March 6, 2019
    The First Galaxies: Exploring Cosmic Sunrise with Hubble and JWST
    Speaker: Garth Illingworth, UC Santa Cruz and Lick Observatory
    Ten years ago, we knew almost nothing about galaxies in the first billion years of the universe. Then in 2009, the new infrared camera on the Hubble space telescope began to reveal galaxies at earlier and earlier times. Since then, Hubble, and the Spitzer space telescope, have shown us galaxies back through 97% of all time. The recent remarkable discovery by Hubble and Spitzer of a galaxy just 400 million years after the Big Bang, was far beyond what we ever expected Hubble could do.  We have now glimpsed the time when the first galaxies burst into existence — the time of Cosmic Sunrise. These latest Hubble and Spitzer results suggest that the much more powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) may well reveal for us examples of the first galaxies.
    In this lecture, Garth will give his take on these new discoveries, and on JWST, the most challenging and ambitious astronomy mission ever undertaken. He will discuss how, after 15 years of astonishing progress with Hubble and Spitzer, JWST is poised to provide even more remarkable exploration of the realm of the very first galaxies at "Cosmic Sunrise”.
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  • March 13, 2019
    Entangled Butterflies: Chaos in the Quantum World
    Speaker: Brian Swingle, University of Maryland
  • The heart of the butterfly effect is the idea that small changes can have big effects: a butterfly flaps its wings and somewhere a day later, a hurricane forms. But depending on your perspective, the flap of a butterfly's wing isn't a small change at all. It amounts to moving countless tiny atoms by a huge amount relative to their size. What if we want to change just one atom and see what happens? Then we must enter the microscopic world and play by a new set of rules - the weird rules of quantum physics. This talk will explain how the butterfly effect works in the quantum world - a part of the science of quantum chaos - and what it is teaching us about everything from black holes to quantum computers. We'll even see how the quantum butterfly effect can be measured using entanglement and time travel, with several experiments having already taken place.
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  • March 20, 2019
    The Unity of Physics: From New Materials to Fundamental Laws of Nature
    Speaker: David Tong, University of Cambridge
    There is a wonderful unity to the laws of physics. Ideas and concepts developed in one area of physics often turn out to have application in totally different areas. This talk will describe some of these connections, from boiling water, to superconductors to the Higgs boson.
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  • March 27, 2019
    From Cosmological Observations to Fundamental Physics: Past, Present, and Future
    Speaker: Cora Dvorkin, Harvard University
  • Cosmological observations have provided us with answers to age-old questions, involving the age, geometry, and composition of the universe. However, there are profound questions that still remain unanswered. In this talk, I will describe ongoing efforts to shed light on open questions in fundamental physics using cosmological observations. I will explain how we can use measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background and the large-scale structure of the universe to reconstruct the detailed physics of the universe when it was a tiny fraction of a second old and to reveal intriguing puzzles about its composition and evolution.
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"I found the general atmosphere [at the Aspen Center for Physics] very stimulating. All practical matters were taken care of in a pragmatic and effective way, all time was available for discussions and self-study. The beautiful surroundings did not distract, but stimulated creative thinking. It is too bad that life cannot always be so simple and pleasant."