"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."

    Aspen Center for Physics

    2018 Heinz Pagels
    FREE Physics Talks

    Thursdays in Flug Forum at Aspen Center for Physics

    5:30 to 6:30 PM Public Talks

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


  • June 7, 2018
    Games that Microbes Play: Cooperation and Cheating in the Microscopic Realm
    Speaker: Jeff Gore, MIT

    Humans often have to engage in strategic decision-making, deciding whether to bluff in poker or shovel the sidewalk after a blizzard. Game theory, a branch of mathematics focused on analyzing interacting players, has provided significant insight into these situations. Perhaps surprisingly, game theory has also been tremendously influential in our understanding of animal behavior and evolution. Examples include alarm calls to protect the group from predators and the evolution of 50/50 sex ratios. Recently, evolutionary game theory has even been applied to micro-organisms. In this talk, I will describe how experiments in the lab with micro-organisms have provided insight into the evolution of cooperation via the production of a public good, given that non-contributing cheats can take advantage of the cooperating cells. These experiments have implications for understanding the human microbiome and the evolution of antibiotic resistance.
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  • June 14, 2018
    Seeing Whats Coming: How Your Brain Computes the Future
    Speaker: Stephanie Palmer, University of Chicago

    Prediction is essential for interacting fluidly and accurately with our environment because of the delays inherent to all brain circuits. In order to interact appropriately with a changing environment, the brain must respond not only to the current state of sensory inputs but must also make rapid predictions of the future. In this lecture, well explore how our visual system makes these predictions, starting as early as the retinal cells in the eye. Well borrow techniques from statistical physics and information processing to assess how we get terrific, predictive vision from these imperfect (lagged and noisy) component parts.
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  • June 21, 2018
    Mapping the Dark Universe with Galaxy Surveys
    Speaker: Risa Wechsler, Stanford University

    The movement of our Universe on the largest scales — including both how it expands and how its structure builds up over time — is dominated by two unseen components, known as dark matter and dark energy. An understanding of these two components, which together make up 95 percent of the Universe, is essential to answering the most fundamental questions about our Universe: how it began, why is it accelerating, and what is the nature of most of its mass. In order to learn more about these puzzles, astronomers and physicists are pursuing a new generation of sky surveys, that are mapping the Universe's expansion history and evolution of structure over the last ~ 12 billion years, using measurements from hundreds of millions of galaxies. I will describe how these surveys are already providing clues to how our Universe formed, how we use massive computer simulations to connect measurements to theories, and the potential the surveys have to discover the nature of the dark energy and dark matter as well as the physics of the Universe's beginnings.
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  • June 28, 2018
    The coolest use of light: using light forces to study the coldest matter in the universe
    Speaker: Wolfgang Ketterle, MIT

    Light has many important properties and applications. I will explain that light exerts forces on particles and objects. These forces deflect the tails of comets. They are used in the form of optical tweezers to manipulate cells and DNA in biological samples, and they allow the trapping of atoms. Laser light can cool matter to temperatures close to absolute zero. In this regime, new materials with novel properties are observed.
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  • July 5, 2018
    AI in the Sky: Intelligent Machines in Science and Society
    Speaker: Brian Nord, Fermilab

    In recent years, artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms have begun to revolutionize the roles of data and machines in our society. AI is an overarching term that describes the corpus of algorithms that learn patterns in data --- machine learning. This property of the algorithms is the principal source of both their strength and weakness: the algorithms must be taught, and how we teach them remains an active area of research. These learning algorithms can drastically accelerate many tasks that humans find cumbersome or challenging: analyzing images, controlling robots, translating language. Because of its power and potential, AI is finding its way into many facets of our lives --- from entertainment and shopping, to self-driving cars and drones, to medicine and the physical sciences --- and its likely here to stay. The effects of this algorithmic revolution are already being realized in the physical sciences, and recently in Astronomy. Brian Nord will discuss how these algorithms do what they do, how they can be used to accelerate our learning of the cosmos, and how they are changing human societies.
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  • July 19, 2018
    The Inner Universe of Quantum Materials
    Speaker: Premala Chandra, Rutgers University

    Historically the study of physics in our local environment has led to an improved understanding of Nature well beyond our planetary bounds. As a physicist who has worked in academia and industry, I hope to convey my excitement for the study of quantum materials both for their application to the everyday and for their fundamental properties that may help us understand our greater Universe. The combination of quantum mechanics and complexity leads to the emergence of rich, exotic states of matter where the number of constituent electrons is comparable to the number of stars in our observable Universe. In this sense quantum materials can be viewed as tunable Universes where their behaviors under extreme conditions can be probed in the laboratory with far-reaching implications. After discussing some specific examples, I will end with our Dark Matter challenges and our many hopes for the future.
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  • August 9 2018
    Faster, Smaller, Cheaper: Discovering the Universe on a Shoestring Budget
    Speaker: Jonathan Feng, University of California Irvine

    The elements of the periodic table make up only 5% of the universe. What makes up the other 95% is one of the greatest mysteries in science today. For decades, the leading attempts to find the answers have been large undertakings, requiring billions of dollars, thousands of physicists, and decades of effort. More recently, however, new ideas have led to novel opportunities to probe the universe with relatively fast, small, and cheap experiments. In this talk, Jonathan Feng will explain how this new approach came to be, give some prominent examples, and speculate about what a discovery could mean for our understanding of the cosmos.
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  • August 16, 2018
    Black holes, Hawking Radiation and the Structure of Spacetime
    Speaker: Juan Maldacena, Institute for Advanced Studies

    Black holes are fascinating objects predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. Though they were initially viewed as pathological and unphysical solutions, they were later understood to be a solid and generic outcome of the theory. They are objects where the distortion of space and time is so extreme that it defies imagination. Black holes give rise to paradoxes whose resolution requires us to modify our conception of spacetime. We will review how black holes evolved from being understood as apparently unphysical solutions to a central tool for discovering new perspectives on the nature of spacetime.
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  • August 23, 2018
    Illuminating Dark Matter: New Ideas in the Search for the Missing Universe
    Speaker: Neal Weiner, New York University

    We have understood robustly that the overwhelming majority of matter throughout our galaxy and the universe is something other than what we are made of. We remain profoundly ignorant of what it is. In this talk, Neal Weiner will describe the range of ideas that have arisen as to what this mysterious stuff might be, where it came from, and how to look for it. He will detail the progress made in the search to understand the nature of dark matter and what questions this era hopes to answer, including perhaps the central one: what does the dark universe have to do with the one we can see?
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  • August 30, 2018
    Dark Matter Archaeology
    Speaker: Mariangela Lisanti, Stanford University

    Photographs of the Milky Way extended across the starry night sky serve as a vivid reminder of the vast expanse of our Galaxy. While there are many billions of stars in the Milky Way, a quantity impossible to fathom, these stars make up only a small fraction of all that is out there. Indeed, the vast majority of stuff in the Milky Way takes the form of matter that is dark to the human eye. The motions of stars in our Galaxy have historically played a critical role in inferring the presence of dark matter. Today, data from the European Space Agencys Gaia satellite is opening up a new window to this dark world. I will discuss how we can mine this unprecedented data to learn about the Galaxys dark matter and demystify its fundamental nature.
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