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The 82nd Compton Lecture Series

October 07, 2015 7:55 AM | Linda Zanieski (Administrator)

From the University of Chicago web site:

Every Saturday morning beginning October 3 through December 12, 2015.  There will be no lecture on November 28th (Thanksgiving weekend) or December 5 (“Physics with a Bang!”).

Lecturer: Manos Chatzopoulos, Fermi Postdoctoral Fellow 
Topic: "The Cosmic Fireworks that Synthesize the Building Blocks of Life: Supernova Explosions"

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

Supernova explosions mark the violent deaths of massive stars and the ignition of ultra-dense cores of stars called white dwarfs. The luminosity produced by these cosmic catastrophes is millions to hundreds of billions times greater than that of the sun, meaning that they can outshine their entire host galaxy. The massive stars that evolve into supernova explosions synthesize heavy nuclei that are some of the main ingredients of life. The immense intrinsic brightness of these events allows us to discover them at great distances and use some of them as “standard candles” to measure large cosmic scales enabling us to explore some of the most fundamental properties of the Universe. Supernovae are observed to be a very diverse group of astrophysical objects with many ranges in luminosities, durations and chemical composition. The onset of modern fully-automated wide field telescopes and the large number of amateur astronomers searching for them has allowed us to better understand their nature and explosion mechanism. Furthermore, realistic three-dimensional supernova simulations run on supercomputers have given us a unique insight on the physics associated with the explosion mechanism.

Each week we will explore the conditions that lead to supernova explosions by first understanding the evolution of massive stars, the variety of mechanisms proposed for the explosion itself, and the associated numerical supercomputer simulations largely performed by the astrophysicists here at the University of Chicago.  No scientific background is required -- just bring your curiosity. 


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.

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.

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