Compton Lectures

Arthur H. Compton Lectures

The 81st Compton Lecture Series

Every Saturday morning beginning April 4, through June 6, 2015; lectures start at 11:00 a.m. (No lecture on May 23rd [Memorial Day weekend]).

Lecturer: Andrew McCann, EFI Postdoctoral Scholar 
Topic: "Nature's Timepiece: The Exotic World of Pulsars"

Kersten Physics Teaching Center
5720 S. Ellis Avenue, Room 106
Chicago, IL 60637

Neutron stars are born in the final moments of the supernova death of massive stars and, in keeping with their exotic origin, they exhibit unmatched extremes in a variety of ways. Not only are they the smallest stars we know of, neutron stars are the most dense solid objects in the known Universe. Their surface gravity is 100 billion times that of the Earth and their magnetic fields’ strengths, which can reach 1015 Gauss, are the strongest known to exist. Neutron stars are born rotating rapidly and their emission, like the beam from a lighthouse, is observed as a highly stable and regular periodic pulsation - hence the name 'pulsating star' or 'pulsar'. Although pulsars were discovered over 40 years ago and the number of known pulsars exceeds 2400, the physical processes which power the vast array of unique and often bizarre phenomena observed from pulsars are poorly understood. Explaining the observed behaviour of neutron stars has become one of the most challenging puzzles in high-energy astrophysics. Despite the longstanding mystery of their emission, the steady and predictable pulsations from pulsars make them remarkably powerful astrophysical tools. This duality has put pulsars at the centre of some of the most compelling astrophysical research of the last few decades.

Each week we will explore different aspects of this duality, by reviewing pulsar phenomena in different wave bands (radio, optical, x-ray, gamma-ray) and by discussing the role of pulsars in tests of Einstein's theory of relativity and in the search for gravitational waves.  No scientific background is required -- just bring your curiosity. 

Purpose of the Compton Lecture Series

The purpose of these lectures is to make accessible some of the remarkable recent developments in physical science to the non-specialized public, and to share with laymen some of the intellectual and cultural excitement associated with scientific developments that may affect in some way the lives of all of us and are a significant part of our cultural heritage. The lectures often, but not exclusively, are focused on areas of research being pursued at the Enrico Fermi Institute.

The idea of these lectures originated with John Simpson when he was Director of the EFI and holder of the Compton chair. Funds from a bequest of John W. Watzek, a good friend of Compton, supported the lectures from 1976 through 1986. Presently, funding is provided within the budget of the Enrico Fermi Institute, with much welcome additional support from C. Spencer Powell.

From the outset, Compton lecturers have been nominated by the Director of the EFI from the group of young scientists active in research as Fellows or post-doctoral associates. It is this group, which is in many cases at the center of research, that attacks frontier questions with a fresh view and new ideas. Awarding the Compton Lectureship to the best of these scientists is in general appreciated as a sign of recognition and encouragement that seems more important than the modest stipend also included in the award. Compton lectures are neither given by graduate students nor by full-time faculty members.

Compton lectures are presented in every Spring and Fall quarter; each set of lectures comprise 10 one-hour presentation on successive Saturday mornings in the Kersten Physics Lecture Hall. The lectures are advertised through letters and posters sent to area high schools, libraries, colleges and to individuals, through local newspapers and radio stations (WFMT), and by word of mouth. Depending on the popularity of a particular lecture (or topic), the attendance varies from fifty to "standing room only", and includes people with a wide variety of backgrounds: from faculty to laypersons, and from Hyde Parkers to commuters from distant suburbs.

Of the 78 lecturers since 1976, ten have held faculty positions at the University of Chicago, and many now have faculty positions elsewhere. There are at least two books (Robert Wald - Space, Time and Gravity, UC Press, 1977) and (Nickolas Solomey - The Elusive Neutrino: A Subatomic Detective Story, Scientific American Library, New York, 1997) which grew out of a set of successful Compton Lectures.

Present and Recent Abstracts and Notes:

  • Spring 14, "Cosmic Cartography  - Exploring an Expanding Universe" by Elise Jennings
  • Fall 13, "Dissecting the Higgs Discovery: The Anatomy of a 21st Century Scientific Achievement" by Lauren Tompkins
  • Spring 13, "Frustrating Geometry: Geometry and Incompatibility Shaping the World Around Us" by Efi Efrati
  • Fall 12, "Constructing the Solar System: A Smashing Success" by Thomas Davison
  • Spr 12, "String Theory in the LHC Era" by Joseph Marsano
  • Aut 11, "Before the Beginning to After the End" by Mark Wyman
  • Spr 11, "99 Years of Discovery: What Is Our Current Picture of Cosmic Rays?" by Nahee Park
  • Aut 10 , "Particle Physics: What Has It Done for You Lately?" by Joseph Tuggle
  • Spr 10 , "The Physics of Stuff: Why Matter Is More than the Sum if Its Parts" by Justin Burton
  • Aut 09 , "The Physics of Energy Devices" by Eric Switzer
  • Spr 09 , "From Quantum Mechanics to the String" by Nelia Mann
  • Aut 08 , "Stars: Their Life and Afterlife" by Brian Humensky
  • Spr 08, "Seeing and Believing: Detection, Measurement, and Inference in Experimental Physics" by Kathryn Schaffer
  • Aut 07, "Shining Light on Ultracold Atoms - Illuminating Complex Matters" by Nathan Gemelke
  • Spr 07, "The Quest for Gamma Rays: Exploring the Most Violent Places in the Universe" by Elizabeth Hays
  • Fall 06, "Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe: Looking for Clues in Surprising Places" by Brian Odom
  • Spr 06 "String Theory: With a View Towards Reality" by Nicholas Halmagyi
  • Fall 05, "Challenges to Seeing the Invisible: Foregrounds and Backgrounds in the Scientific Exploration of the Universe" by Dorothea Samtleben
  • Spr 05 “The Story of Galaxy Formation in Our Universe” by Risa Wechsler
  • Fall 04, “The Origin of Mass in Particle Physics” by Ambreesh Gupta
  • Spr 04, "The Age of Things: Sticks, Stones and the Universe" by Matthew Hedman
  • Fall 03,  "Quantum Optics: From the Possible to the Actual" by Matthew Pelton
  • Spr 03,  "Cosmic Fireworks" by Frank Timmes
  • Fall 02,  "Pursuit of the New Messengers: Astrophysics in the Extreme Universe" by Scott Wakely

Past Compton Lectures

1976 - Present 

Series Name Title
W '76 Bruce D. Winstein What's Interesting About Elementary Particles
S '76 Robert M. Wald Space, Time, and Gravity: From the Big Bang to Black Holes
F '76 Ian Hutcheon The Early History of the Solar System: An Experimental Viewpoint
W '77 Earl Swallow Hyperons, Crab Eyes, and Solar Energy: From Basic Science to Practical, Applications
S '77 Paul J. Wiita Exploding Stars and Exploding Galaxies: Rapid Evolutions in Astrophysics
F '77 Joseph J. O'Gallagher Science Meets the Energy Crisis: The Physics of Solar and Other Sources
S '78 Sydney W. Falk, Jr. Nuclear Astrophysics, Alchemy in the Universe
F '78 Bruce McKibben High Energy Astronomy: Cosmic Rays, X-rays, and Gamma Rays
S '79 Christopher T. Hill Quarks, Leptons, and Bosons
F '79 Lindsay Schachinger Quarks and Symmetries
S '80 Michael S. Turner Big Bang Cosmology: From Primordial Soup to the Expanding Universe
F '80 Reinhard Furrer Radiation: Lasers, Atomic Clocks, and a Surprising Look into Nature
S '81 Jocelyn Keene Our Galaxy, The Milky Way
F '81 K. Wyatt Merritt Neutrino Physics
S '82 Simon Swordy Eyes on the Universe
F '82 George Gollin High Tech, Fast-Tech: Research Tools of Elementary Particle Physics
S '83 Mark J. Oreglia The High Energy Particle Accelerators: Their History Achievements, and Future
F '83 Lee Lindblom White Dwarfs, Neutron Stars, and Black Holes
S '84 Lee Smolin Einstein's Revenge?: The Current Crisis in the Relationship of Quantum Physics to General Relativity
F '84 Jeff Rabin Limits of Imagination: The Physics of Science Fiction
S '85 Richard Hinton The Solar System Strikes Back
F '85 Myron Campbell Experiments that Changed the Course of Physics
S '86 Jennie Traschen Heros and Heretics: Black Holes and Curved Spacetime
F '86 Yau-Wai Wah Paradoxes in Physics
S '87 Fulvio Melia Cosmic Violence: From Quark Stars to Quasars
F '87 Brian Newport tar Stuff: The Origins of Ordinary Matter
S '88 Dan E. Amidei From Chemistry to the Supercollider: The Search for the Structure of Matter
F '88 Heinrich Jaeger Superconductivity: A Cold Subject Becomes a Hot Topic
S '89 Edward DeLuca The Sun: From the Inside Out
F '89 Hitoshi Yamamoto Symmetry in Physics: Classical, Quantum, and Beyond
S '90 Raymond Goldstein Phase Transitions: From the Molecular to the Macroscopic
F '90 Barrett Milliken Exploring the Universe with Elementary Particles
S '91 Anthony R. Barker Denizens of the Subatomic Zoo
F '91 Angela Olinto The Universe Then and Now
S '92 Ruth Gregory To Boldly Go Where No Universe Has Gone Before
F '92 Jan Chabala Excitement in the Microworld
S '93 Elliott Cheu From Rutherford to the SSC: Tools of the Trade
F '93 Steven Simon The Oldest Rocks in the World: Meteorites and Moon Rocks
S '94 Nickolas Solomey The Perplexing Story of the Neutrino
F '94 Aaron Roodman Great Mistakes in Science: The Difficulties of Experimental Physics
S '95 Clifford Lopate From the Past Through Tomorrow: The Changing World as Seen by Scientists
F '95 Eanna Flanagan The Fabric of Space and Time
S '96 Suzanne Staggs Imag(in)ing the Universe: Novel Techniques for Developing World Views
F '96 James J. Connell Prometheus' Return: Myths and Misconceptions about Nuclear Science
S '97 Lucy F. Fortson Astronomy with Particles: How the Study of Cosmic Rays Became Astroparticle Physics
F '97 Shankar C. Venkataramani The Chaos Revolution and Beyond: Physics in a Nonlinear World
S '98 Harald Ries Solar Energy - The Future Option?
F '98 Walter Wild Challenges in Imaging
S '99 Joseph Mohr Exploring the Mysteries of Our Evolving Universe: Observational Tests of Big Bang Cosmology
F '99 Finn Larsen Black Holes, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory
S '00 Haim Diamant The Power of Analogy in the Study of Complex Systems
F '00 Richard Kessler History of Anti-Matter
S '01 Edward Brown Brown Dwarfs and Extrasolar Planets
F '01 Maria Spiropulu Invasions in Particle Physics
S '02 Clem Pryke Sketching the Biggest Picture---The Adventure of Experimental Cosmology
F '02 Scott Wakely Pursuit of the New Messengers: Astrophysics in the Extreme Universe
S '03 Frank Timmes Cosmic Fireworks
F '03 Mathew Pelton Quantum Optics: From the Possible to the Actual
S '04 Matthew Hedman The Age of Things: Sticks, Stones and the Universe
F '04 Ambreesh Gupta The Origin of Mass in Particle Physics
S '05 Risa Wechsler The Story of Galaxy Formation in Our Universe
F '05 Dorothea Samtleben Challenges to Seeing the Invisible: Foregrounds and Backgrounds in the Scientific Exploration of the Universe
S '06 Nicholas Halmagyi String Theory: With a View Towards Reality
F '06 Brian Odom Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe: Looking for Clues in Surprising Places
S '07 Elizabeth Hays The Quest for Gamma Rays: Exploring the Most Violent Places in the Universe
F '07 Nathan Gemelke Shining Light on Ultracold Atoms - Illuminating Complex Matters
S '08 Kathryn Schaffer Seeing and Believing: Detection, Measurement, and Inference in Experimental Physics
F '08 Brian Humensky Stars: Their Life and Afterlife
S '09 Nelia Mann From Quantum Mechanics to the String
F '09 Eric Switzer The Physics of Energy Devices
S '10 Justin Burton The Physics of Stuff:Why Matter is More than the Sum of Its Parts
F '10 Joseph Tuggle Particle Physics: What Has It Done for You Lately?
S '11 Nahee Park

99 Years of Discovery: What Is Our Current Picture of Cosmic Rays?

F '11 Mark Wyman Before the Beginning to After the End
S '12 Joseph Marsano String Theory in the LHC Era
F '12 Thomas Davison Constructing the Solar System: A Smashing Success
S '13 Efi Efrati Frustrating Geometry: Geometry and Incompatibility Shaping the Physical World Around Us

F '13

Lauren Tompkins

Dissecting the Higgs Discovery: The Anatomy of a 21st Century Scientific Achievement

S '14

Elise Jennings

Cosmic Cartography – Exploring an Expanding Universe

F '14

Tim Linden

Shining Light on the Dark Side of the Universe

S '15

Andrew McCann

Nature's Timepiece: The Exotic World of Pulsars