"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 Nick and Maggie 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 10, 2018
    Prediction and Control of Extreme Events, from Rogue Waves to Protein Folding"
    Speaker: Eric Vanden-Eijnden, NYU

    Seemingly random events are ubiquitous in our daily lives. How unpredictable the weather can be is just one example, with consequences that can go from mere annoyance, in the case of unexpected rain, to catastrophic in the case of giant hurricanes. Other examples include massive earthquakes, crashes of the financial markets, or pandemics. These events are rare but they always happen eventually and their aftermath is so dire that it is desirable to accurately estimate the (small) probability of their occurrence. In this talk, Professor Vanden-Eijnden will discuss how mathematical tools from probability theory can be used to describe systems subject to random fluctuations and explain how their behavior can become predictable in certain conditions.
    Watch the lecture.

  • January 17, 2018
    The Dark Energy of Quantum Materials
    Speaker: Laura H Greene, National High Field Magnet Lab

    The title stresses the extreme “dark” of fundamental, unsolved questions in the fascinating quantum mechanical phenomenon of superconductivity, which to date, only occurs at low temperatures. Superconductivity allows transmission of electrical power with no loss, magnetic levitation, and other intriguing phenomena. Conventional superconductivity was discovered in 1911, but was not solved until 1957. High-temperature superconductivity, discovered in 1986, is only one family of the dozens of families of unconventional superconductors, which fall into the family of quantum materials. Quantum materials, discovered in 1979 (original theory dates back decades before that) remain, surprisingly, unsolved. Greene will define what is a superconductor, an unconventional superconductor, and describe some of the bizarre behaviors of quantum materials.
    Watch the lecture.

  • January 24, 2018
    Tidal Disruption Events: How One Star’s Death Gives Life to a Black Hole
    Speaker: Erin Kara, University of Maryland

    In a galaxy, once every hundred thousand years, an unsuspecting star finds itself on a collision course with the supermassive black hole quietly sitting at the center of galaxy. The gravitational forces from the black hole are just too strong for the wimpy star, and it gets torn apart. We call this violent episode a Tidal Disruption Event, and since telescopes are continuously monitoring hundreds of thousands of galaxies, astronomers actually observe these rare events a few times a year. In this lecture, we will discuss what happens after this stellar disruption: how it produces the light we see through our telescopes, and what these events can tell us about how black holes feed and grow. In particular, Professor Kara will present a cutting edge technique called X-ray reverberation mapping that gives us a close up look at Tidal Disruption Events. Just as bats use echolocation to map out the structure of a dark cave, we are using light echoes to map out the gas near the black hole.
    Watch the lecture.

  • January 31, 2018
    The Physics of Flocking
    Speaker: M Cristina Marchetti, Syracuse University

    Birds flock, bees swarm and fish school. These are just some of the remarkable examples of collective behavior found in nature. Physicists have been able to capture some of this behavior by modeling organisms as tiny arrows that align with their neighbors according to simple rules. Successes like these have spawned a field devoted to the physics of active matter, which studies both living and non-living systems where a large number of individually driven units exhibit coherent organization at larger scales. Such systems include suspensions of swimming bacteria, layers of migrating cells, and collections of synthetic microswimmers. Physicists, biologists, engineers and mathematicians are now engaged in modeling the complex behavior of these systems, and in trying to identify universal principles. 
    Watch the lecture.

  • February 7, 2018
    Searching for Cosmic Dawn
    Speaker: Cynthia Chiang, Princeton University

    The first stars in the universe were born a few hundred million years after the big bang.  These stars were unlike any that exist today, and astronomers are working to build specialized telescopes that are capable of looking back to the earliest moments in our universe's history and giving us our first glimpse of "cosmic dawn."  In order to observe the first stars, we tune our telescopes to measure radio waves at frequencies around 100 MHz.  Because FM radio stations also broadcast at these frequencies, it is impossible to observe from most places on earth: our telescopes are blinded by manmade transmission. The search for cosmic dawn requires traveling to some of the most remote corners of the earth in order to access the quietest observing conditions.  I will tell the story of one experiment, named PRIZM, that led our team to Marion Island: a small island halfway between South Africa and Antarctica that is home to penguins, albatrosses, seals, and now two small radio telescopes.
    Watch the lecture.

  • March 7, 2018
    Knots in Physics
    Speaker: Louis Kauffman, University of Illinois at Chicago

    This talk is an exploration, using visual ideas, of the role of knots in natural science and mathematics. We will begin with knots and DNA and the production of knots in DNA recombination. Then we will show a movie of knotted vortices in water (courtesy of the work of William Irvine at the University of Chicago). Irvine and his group accomplished a feat that is the equivalent of blowing a knotted smoke ring. We discuss the possibility of knotted gluon fields in relation to the complexity of knots measured by rope length. We discuss the possibility of framed braids as a basis for elementary particles. And, we discuss the remarkable relationships among statistical mechanics, quantum field theory and the construction of invariants of knots, links and three-manifolds.
    Watch the lecture.

  • March 14, 2018
    Quantum Information Science: Exploring the Strangeness of the Atomic World for Information Processing
    Speaker:David Poulin, University of Sherbrooke

    Quantum mechanics is an extraordinarily well-established scientific theory, which has survived the scrutiny of decades of experimental tests and has predicted new phenomena which have reshaped our society. But quantum mechanics defies intuition. Ever since its inception, scientists have been striving, in vain, to decipher the intuitive meaning of the physical concepts that are encoded in the mathematical formulation of the theory. Starting in the 1980s, a few courageous scientists began to explore a new line of research: instead of trying to explain the inexplicable, embrace the strangeness of quantum theory and put it to use for information processing purposes. This was the birth of quantum information science. This talk will demonstrate the aspect of quantum theory that defies our everyday logic and illustrates how this opens the path to new information technologies.
    Watch the lecture.

  • March 21, 2018
    The Search for Quantum Gravity
    Speaker: Shiraz Minwalla, Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, Mumbai

    *at the Aspen Center for Physics
    The early years of the last century saw two major revolutions in physics. The first of these was the theory of relativity which explained that the force of gravity is a consequence of the fact that the geometry of space and time it dynamical. The second was quantum mechanics, which explained that microscopic observables usually do not have definite values. Over the last 100 years it has proved surprisingly hard to put these two revolutions together to formulate a consistent theory of gravity. I will review progress in the search for quantum gravity, and in particular the formulation of a class of consistent toy models of quantum gravity using the gauge-gravity duality of strong theory.
    Watch the lecture.

  • March 28, 2018
    We Have No Idea: An Exploration of the Unanswered Questions About Our Universe
    Speaker: Daniel Whiteson, University of California Irvine

    Humanity's understanding of the physical world is full of gaps. Not tiny little gaps you can safely ignore but huge, yawning voids in our basic notions of how the world works. Particle physicist Daniel Whiteson will explore these voids using cartoons drawn by PHD Comics creator Jorge Cham. He will give us the best answers currently available, including questions about dark matter, dark energy and the nature of space itself. The universe is full of weird things that don't make any sense, but the questions we can't answer are as interesting as the ones we can. You’ll be invited to see the universe as a boundless expanse of uncharted territory that's still ours to explore.
    Watch the lecture.