Previous Compton Lectures

How Astrophysicists See the Universe by Christoph Welling


Astrophysics is a tricky business. Even the closest stars are trillions of miles away, too far to explore them up close any time soon. So astronomers and physicists have to rely on observations they can make from earth. To do this, every night, and day, a wide array of observatories all over the world are catching the light from distant galaxies, radio waves from the early universe and even ripples in space-time itself.

This is a lecture series about these telescopes and how they are used to learn about the universe. We will talk about how modern observatories work, and what the light they detect can tell us about the objects it came from. We will also discuss new types of observatories, that do not detect light, but other messengers, like cosmic rays, neutrinos or gravitational waves.

March 23, 2024


March 30, 2024


April 6, 2024


April 13, 2024


April 20, 2024


April 27, 2024


May 4, 2024


May 11, 2024


How Fundamental Science Has Changed the World: A Story of Invention and Discovery by Philipp Windischhofer


The world of today is a magical place. We talk to people on the other side of the planet at the push of a button, we cook our lunch by splitting the cores of heavy atoms, and we treat cancer with subatomic particles moving nearly as fast as light.

In this lecture series, we will explore the origins of the technological marvels of the present. We will see the world through the eyes of the scientists of the past, examine the experiments they conducted and explain the inner workings of the instruments they devised. Watching progress unfold over the centuries, from the nature of heat, to electricity, to the mystery of the atom, we will witness how scientific progress spurred technological innovation, but also how new technologies helped push back the frontiers of knowledge even further.

Wherever we look, we will find examples of the symbiosis between fundamental science and technology, a connection that has not only helped us understand our place in the universe, but that has also given us the power to shape it into a place worth living in.

September 30, 2023


October 7, 2023


Extended Slides

October 14, 2023


Extended Slides

October 21, 2023


Extended Slides

October 28, 2023


Extended Slides

November 4, 2023


November 11, 2023


Extended Slides

November 18, 2023

Extended Slides

Particles, the Cosmos, and You: An Origin Story from the Edges of Space and Time by Seth Koren










Spring 2019, "Symmetry and Symmetry Breaking" by Yu-Chen Tung


Autumn 2018, "Nuts and Bolts Cosmology" by Amy Lowitz


Spring 2018, "The Physics of Neutrinos: Progress and Puzzles" by Andrew Mastbaum

Autumn 2017, "Hellish or Hadean: The First 500 Million Years of Earth's Existence" by Patrick Boehnke

Spring 2017, "How and Why to Go Beyond the Discovery of the Higgs Boson" by John Alison

Autumn 2016, "Novel States of Matter: from Quantum Mechanics to Quantum Computing" by Matthew Roberts

Spring 2016, "The Soundtrack to the Universe:  LIGO and the Detection of Gravity Waves" by Benjamin Farr

Autumn 2015, "The Cosmic Fireworks that Synthesize the Building Blocks of Life: Supernova Explosions" by Manos Chatzopoulos

Spring 2015, "Nature's Timepiece: The Exotic World of Pulsars" by Andrew McCann

Autumn 2014, "Shining Light on the Dark Side of the Universe" by Tim Linden

Spring 2014, "Cosmic Cartography  - Exploring an Expanding Universe" by Elise Jennings

Autumn 2013, "Dissecting the Higgs Discovery: The Anatomy of a 21st Century Scientific Achievement" by Lauren Tompkins

Spring 2013, "Frustrating Geometry: Geometry and Incompatibility Shaping the World Around Us" by Efi Efrati

Autumn 2012, "Constructing the Solar System: A Smashing Success" by Thomas Davison

Spring 2012, "String Theory in the LHC Era" by Joseph Marsano

Autumn 2011, "Before the Beginning to After the End" by Mark Wyman

Spring 2011, "99 Years of Discovery: What Is Our Current Picture of Cosmic Rays?" by Nahee Park

Autumn 2010, "Particle Physics: What Has It Done for You Lately?" by Joseph Tuggle

Spring 2010, "The Physics of Stuff: Why Matter Is More than the Sum of Its Parts" by Justin Burton

Autumn 2009, "The Physics of Energy Devices" by Eric Switzer

Spring 2009, "From Quantum Mechanics to the String" by Nelia Mann

Autumn 2008, "Stars: Their Life and Afterlife" by Brian Humensky

Spring 2008, "Seeing and Believing: Detection, Measurement, and Inference in Experimental Physics" by Kathryn Schaffer

Autumn 2007, "Shining Light on Ultracold Atoms - Illuminating Complex Matters" by Nathan Gemelke

Spring 2007, "The Quest for Gamma Rays: Exploring the Most Violent Places in the Universe" by Elizabeth Hays

Autumn 2006, "Unsolved Mysteries of the Universe: Looking for Clues in Surprising Places" by Brian Odom

Spring 2006, "String Theory: With a View Towards Reality" by Nicholas Halmagyi

Autumn 2005, "Challenges to Seeing the Invisible: Foregrounds and Backgrounds in the Scientific Exploration of the Universe" by Dorothea Samtleben

Spring 2005, “The Story of Galaxy Formation in Our Universe” by Risa Wechsler

Autumn 2004, “The Origin of Mass in Particle Physics” by Ambreesh Gupta

Spring 2004, "The Age of Things: Sticks, Stones and the Universe" by Matthew Hedman

Autumn 2003, "Quantum Optics: From the Possible to the Actual" by Matthew Pelton

Spring 2003, "Cosmic Fireworks" by Frank Timmes

Autumn 2002, "Pursuit of the New Messengers: Astrophysics in the Extreme Universe" by Scott Wakely

Spring 2002, "Sketching the Biggest Picture---The Adventure of Experimental Cosmology" by Clem Pryke

Autumn 2001, "Invasions in Particle Physics" by Maria Spiropulu

Spring 2001, "Brown Dwarfs and Extrasolar Planets" by Edward Brown

Autumn 2000, "Anti-Matter" by Richard Kessler

Spring 2000, "The Power of Analogy in the Study of Complex Systems" by Haim Diamant

Autumn 1999, "Black Holes, Quantum Mechanics, and String Theory" by Finn Larsen

Spring 1999, "Exploring the Mysteries of Our Evolving Universe: Observational Tests of Big Bang Cosmology" by Joseph Mohr

Autumn 1998, "Challenges in Imaging" by Walter Wild

Spring 1998, "Solar Energy - The Future Option?" by Harald Ries

Autumn 1997, "The Chaos Revolution and Beyond: Physics in a Nonlinear World" by Shankar C. Venkataramani

Spring 1997, "Astronomy with Particles: How the Study of Cosmic Rays Became Astroparticle Physics" by Lucy F. Fortson

Autumn 1996, "Prometheus' Return: Myths and Misconceptions about Nuclear Science" by James J. Connell

Spring 1996, "Imag(in)ing the Universe: Novel Techniques for Developing World Views" by Suzanne Staggs

Autumn 1995, "The Fabric of Space and Time" by Eanna Flanagan

Spring 1995, "From the Past Through Tomorrow: The Changing World as Seen by Scientists" by Clifford Lopate

Autumn 1994, "Great Mistakes in Science: The Difficulties of Experimental Physics" by Aaron Roodman

Spring 1994, "The Perplexing Story of the Neutrino" by Nickolas Solomey

Autumn 1993, "The Oldest Rocks in the World: Meteorites and Moon Rocks" by Steven Simon

Spring 1993, "From Rutherford to the SSC: Tools of the Trade" by Elliott Cheu

Autumn 1992, "Excitement in the Microworld" by Jan Chabala

Spring 1992, "To Boldly Go Where No Universe Has Gone Before" by Ruth Gregory

Autumn 1991, "The Universe Then and Now" by Angela Olinto

Spring 1991, "Denizens of the Subatomic Zoo" by Anthony R. Barker

Autumn 1990, "Exploring the Universe with Elementary Particles" by Barrett Milliken

Spring 1990, "Phase Transitions: From the Molecular to the Macroscopic" by Raymond Goldstein

Spring 1989, "The Sun: From the Inside Out" by Edward DeLuca

Autumn 1988, "Superconductivity: A Cold Subject Becomes a Hot Topic" by Heinrich Jaeger

Spring 1988, "From Chemistry to the Supercollider: The Search for the Structure of Matter" by Dan E. Amidei

Autumn 1987, "tar Stuff: The Origins of Ordinary Matter" by Brian Newport

Spring 1987, "Cosmic Violence: From Quark Stars to Quasars" by Fulvio Melia

Autumn 1986, "Paradoxes in Physics" by Yau-Wai Wah

Spring 1986, "Heros and Heretics: Black Holes and Curved Spacetime" by Jennie Traschen

Autumn 1985, "Experiments that Changed the Course of Physics" by Myron Campbell

Spring 1985, "The Solar System Strikes Back" by Richard Hinton

Autumn 1984, "Limits of Imagination: The Physics of Science Fiction" by Jeff Rabin

Spring 1984, "Einstein's Revenge?: The Current Crisis in the Relationship of Quantum Physics to General Relativity" by Lee Smolin

Autumn 1983, "White Dwarfs, Neutron Stars, and Black Holes" by Lee Lindblom

Spring 1983, "The High Energy Particle Accelerators: Their History Achievements, and Future" by Mark J. Oreglia

Autumn 1982, "High Tech, Fast-Tech: Research Tools of Elementary Particle Physics" by George Gollin

Spring 1982, "Eyes on the Universe" by Simon Swordy

Autumn 1981, "Neutrino Physics" by K. Wyatt Merritt

Spring 1981, "Our Galaxy, The Milky Way" by Jocelyn Keene

Autumn 1980, "Radiation: Lasers, Atomic Clocks, and a Surprising Look into Nature" by Reinhard Furrer

Spring 1980, "Big Bang Cosmology: From Primordial Soup to the Expanding Universe" by Michael S. Turner

Autumn 1979, "Quarks and Symmetries" by Lindsay Schachinger

Spring 1979, "Quarks, Leptons, and Bosons" by Christopher T. Hill

Autumn 1978, "High Energy Astronomy: Cosmic Rays, X-rays, and Gamma Rays" by Bruce McKibben

Spring 1978, "Nuclear Astrophysics, Alchemy in the Universe" by Sydney W. Falk, Jr.

Autumn 1977, "Science Meets the Energy Crisis: The Physics of Solar and Other Sources" by Joseph J. O'Gallagher

Spring 1977, "Exploding Stars and Exploding Galaxies: Rapid Evolutions in Astrophysics" by Paul J. Wiita

Winter 1977, "Hyperons, Crab Eyes, and Solar Energy: From Basic Science to Practical, Applications" by Earl Swallow

Autumn 1976, "The Early History of the Solar System: An Experimental Viewpoint" by Ian Hutcheon

Spring 1976, "Space, Time, and Gravity: From the Big Bang to Black Holes" by Robert M. Wald

Winter 1976, "What's Interesting About Elementary Particles" by Bruce D. Winstein