The Maggie and Nick DeWolf Foundation presents

    Aspen Center for Physics

    2023 FREE Physics Talks

    Wednesdays at Aspen Center for Physics

    5:30 to 6:30pm Public Talks

    Join us early at 5pm for cookies and tea, sponsored by Two Leaves and a Bud.

  • January 4, 2023
    Recreational Biology: Topological Puzzles at Cellular Scales
    Speaker: Manu Prakash, Stanford University
  • Recreational mathematics involves mathematical puzzles and games, often appealing to children and untrained adults, inspiring their further study of the subject. Can a similar analogy be drawn in biology? Without making any claims of usefulness, we will explore a wide range of topological puzzles in cellular physiology: Can single cells be toroidal in nature? Can cytoskeletal geometry encode behavior in free living protists? Can "Klein bottles" help us understand a fungal pathogen? Do cells get stuck forever in topological traps? Finally, we will reflect on the role of curiosity as an engine for discovery in life sciences.

    Watch the video on YouTube

  • January 11, 2023
    A Physicist's View of Wiggling Worms and Fighting Fish
    Speaker: Joshua Shaevitz, Princeton University
  • When we think of experimental physics, we often think of the most controlled experiments and precise machines, sometimes as big as a city, probing the largest and smallest measurable quantities. Experiments such as the LHC, LIGO, and the James Webb Space Telescope help us understand how fundamental forces in the universe affect everything from subatomic particles to clusters of galaxies. But what if a physicist wanted to understand something much more approachable in size but seemingly messier, and even alive, such as the behavior of an animal? How accurately can we measure what an animal does and what would those measurements teach us about an animal's interactions with its environment, the ability of the brain to produce and control behaviors, and interactions between individuals? I will discuss efforts over the last decade to measure what animals do and how these experiments have begun to change our view of behavior and neuroscience. Moving past written descriptions of animal behavior of the greats such as Charles Darwin and Jane Goodall, we use modern techniques in machine learning and statistical physics to turn quantitative measurements of animal movements into a physics-based understanding of behavioral dynamics. I will touch on mind-reading in the nematode worm, optical behavioral control in the fruit fly, and fighting in zebrafish. Much of this modern renaissance in the Physics of Behavior was started ten years ago at a summer workshop at the Aspen Center for Physics.

    Watch the video on YouTube

  • February 8, 2023
    The New Frontier of Quantum Computing
    Speaker: Mikhail Lukin, Harvard University
  • A broad effort is currently underway to build quantum machines that may be capable of outperforming the existing classical counterparts. These new quantum machines may be able to execute useful tasks in areas ranging from computation and communication to sensing and metrology (the science of measurement). Practical realization of such systems and exploration of their potential capabilities and limitations are among the central challenges in the new field of quantum science and engineering.

    In this talk, Mikhail Lukin will describe several examples of recent work towards these goals. These include the realization of programmable systems composed of hundreds of quantum bits. These systems can be used to study new forms of quantum matter and to solve complex computational problems. Work is also underway to develop methods to correct errors in quantum processors in order to scale them up and to connect quantum computers to develop ingredients for a future quantum internet. Recent advances in quantum sensing include magnetic resonance imaging of individual molecules and novel approaches to biomedical diagnostics. We will discuss challenges and opportunities for building large-scale quantum machines and realizing their real-world applications.

    Watch the video on YouTube

  • March 1, 2023
    Topic: Will Machine Intelligence Surpass Human Intelligence?
    Speaker: Yann LeCun, Meta-AI, New York University
  • How could machines learn as efficiently as humans and animals? How could machines learn to reason and plan? How could machines learn representations of percepts and action plans at multiple levels of abstraction, enabling them to reason, predict, and plan at multiple time horizons?

    LeCun will propose a possible path towards autonomous intelligent agents, based on a new modular cognitive architecture and a somewhat new self-supervised training paradigm. The centerpiece of the proposed architecture is a configurable predictive world model that allows the agent to plan. Behavior and learning are driven by a set of differentiable intrinsic cost functions. The world model uses a new type of energy-based model architecture called H-JEPA (Hierarchical Joint Embedding Predictive Architecture). H-JEPA learns hierarchical abstract representations of the world that are simultaneously maximally informative and maximally predictable.

    Watch the video on YouTube

  • March 8, 2023
    Black Holes in the Spotlight
    Speaker: Suvi Gezari, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • Supermassive black holes are mysterious and powerful phenomena of extreme gravity that lurk in the centers of almost all galaxies, including our own Milky Way. We cannot detect light directly from a black hole: its gravitational pull is so strong in its vicinity that even light cannot escape it, the region known as the event horizon of a black hole. However, astronomers have made exciting advances in our ability to study supermassive black holes indirectly, either from witnessing the gravitational pull on stars and gas nearby the black hole, or by observing light emitted by stars and gas in the process of being swallowed by the black hole.

    Recently, supermassive black holes have been in the spotlight. In 2020, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery of the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole through the measurement of stellar orbits in the Galactic Center. In the last few years, the Event Horizon Telescope provided our most direct view yet of a supermassive black hole using a global network of radio telescopes to achieve the extremely high resolution capable of imaging the event horizon of the central black hole in the Milky Way and in the galaxy M87. In the future, we will be able to study the merging of supermassive black holes as galaxies crash into each other over cosmic time by measuring the ripples in space time that they produce known as gravitational waves.

    In her talk, Gezari will highlight how we hunt for supermassive black holes by watching them feast on unlucky stars that wander too close-by in the nucleus of a galaxy. She will show the bounty from our hunt using telescopes on the ground and in space that survey the dynamic night sky, and how we plan to use these star-feeding events to probe the demographics of supermassive black holes in galaxy nuclei, and to answer the fundamental question of how they first formed in the Universe.

    Watch the video on YouTube

  • March 15, 2023
    Magic Angle Graphene: The Twist and Shout of Quantum Materials
    Speaker: Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, MIT
  • Among the most fascinating states of matter are those where individual constituents (for example electrons) interact strongly with each other. However, the understanding of strongly-interacting quantum matter has challenged physicists for decades. The discovery five years ago of superconductivity in magic angle twisted bilayer graphene has led to the emergence of a new materials platform to investigate strongly interacting physics, namely moiré quantum matter. These systems exhibit a plethora of quantum phases, such as correlated insulators, superconductivity, magnetism, ferroelectricity, and more. In this talk, Jarillo-Herrero will review some of the recent advances in the field, focusing on the newest generation of moiré quantum systems, where correlated physics, superconductivity, and other fascinating phases can be studied with unprecedented tunability. He will end the talk with an outlook of some exciting directions in this emerging field.

    Watch the video on YouTube

  • March 22, 2023
    Topic: Never-Before-Seen Details of the Universe with the James Webb Telescope (JWST)
    Speaker: Susan Mullally, Space Telescope Science Institute
  • NASA’s latest flagship observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), launched on December 25, 2022, will be observing the Universe in the near and mid-infrared at a higher precision and resolution than ever before. Its data will have the capability to drive revolutionary discoveries ranging from discovering the furthest galaxies to characterizing planets orbiting nearby stars. In this talk, Dr. Susan Mullally will give an overview of the capabilities of the observatory and then demonstrate how scientists are using Webb to zoom-in on details of the Universe previously hidden from view.
  • March 29, 2023
    Casting a Wide Net for Dark Matter
    Speaker: Tim M.P. Tait, University of California Irvine
  • In this talk, Tim Tait will discuss the nature of dark matter, the mysterious substance whose existence is necessary to hold galaxies together, but whose fundamental nature remains unknown. This includes some of the ideas for what dark matter could be, and how they teach us lessons of how to write down a more fundamental description of nature at the very smallest distances, extending the Standard Model of particle physics which successfully describes ordinary matter. Tait will go over some of the key ideas we have for how to build experiments that could teach us more about dark matter, and how we can synthesize their results to build a kind of 'composite image’ of what the dark matter can (or can’t) look like.

"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."