"If there is a heaven for scientists, it probably is modeled on the Aspen Center for Physics."
Informing the Public
During both the summer and winter sessions, physicists share their cutting-edge research with Aspen locals and visitors––for free!
The summer Heinz R. Pagels Memorial Lectures take place in Paepcke Auditorium while informal
dialogues at the Center give the audience opportunities to ask questions and engage in conversations.
The Nick and Maggie DeWolf Winter Lecture Series at the Wheeler Opera House is preceded by
question and answer sessions in the lobby, co-hosted with the Aspen Science Center. The Science Center also joins the Physics Center
in hosting a Wednesday picnic for children and their families. After the picnic, our physicists introduce big ideas to children of all ages.
In 2005 the Aspen Center for Physics honored and thanked Maggie and Nick DeWolf for their continuing support, by
naming the winter lecture series for them. Maggie organized the first formal lecture series in 1985 when Martin Block started the
winter conferences at the Center. When Maggie first heard the idea for public lectures, she was not sure the Wheeler Opera House in
downtown Aspen could be filled by a lecture on, of all things, physics! She nevertheless took on the task of organizing and advertising.
To her surprise and the community's credit, a nice crowd came on January 12, 1985 to hear Nobel Laureate Murray Gell-Mann from the Santa
Fe Institute give a lecture entitled, “What are Nature's Building Blocks?”
The next week, Maggie was able to draw another audience for James Cronin's lecture, “From Atom Smashers to Quark Smashers: The Search for the Fundamental Properties of Nature.” For years, Maggie DeWolf was the driving force for winter public lectures which she continues to fund through the Nick DeWolf Foundation. Although the Aspen Center for Physics had had public lectures from its beginning, this was a formalized schedule of opportunities for the public to hear the latest in physics research from top scientists from around the world. Recently Italian physicists marveled at how the small village of Aspen could draw a good audience for a science lecture when they found it difficult to gather a handful of people in much larger Rome.
The winter lectures encouraged the physicists to initiate a summer series but it was the death of one of their own that inspired the naming of the Heinz R. Pagels Memorial Lecture Series. Heinz Pagels was a professor of physics at Rockefeller University, president of the New York Academy of Science, a trustee of the Aspen Institute, and a member of the Aspen Center for Physics for twenty years, serving as a participant, officer, and trustee. A part-time local resident, Professor Pagels died here in a mountaineering accident. His family and friends instituted the lecture series in his honor because he devoted a substantial part of his life to effective public dissemination of scientific knowledge. Click here to read more about Pagels in Jeremy Bernstein's book on the first 35 years of the Center.
In 2005 we began our collaboration with the Aspen Science Center. During the informal café at 4:30 before each of our winter lectures, physicists chat with the public in the second-floor lobby of the Wheeler Opera House about their current research, how they got into science or about topics from the audience. This is a nice après ski event with coffee, tea and cookies.
In the summer, the party takes place on our campus at 700 West Gillespie when the Science Center offers Kids' Picnics. The event starts with an inexpensive barbeque and pre-talk games for children in grade school through high school. Then the Aspen Center for Physics provides a physicist for a 20–30 minute talk. Kids from four to 84 have been mesmerized, stumped and entertained by everything from the physics of climbing to tesselation.
We hope to see you at the public events listed on the links to the left. If you would like to be on our Friends email list, email patty at aspenphys.org with your name and email address. We will keep you updated on public events at the Center and on the insider's track for the latest in physics research.