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 our generous lecture attendees. You can help out yourself by visiting the link below.
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 Autumn quarter; each set of lectures comprise 9 one-hour presentations 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 many 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.