Public Lecture Series
by Barbara Moroch –
Galileo Galilei. Isaac Newton. Albert Einstein. All easily recognizable names of renowned physicists who have made quantum leaps in our understanding of the universe and our place in it.
Physics is arguably the bedrock of all sciences, uncovering fundamental principles that lead to eureka moments that ultimately drive progress. Throughout the millennia, physicists the world over have made discoveries involving matter, force, energy and motion that have paved the way for such inventions as air and space flight, telescopes, computer technology, and virtually every electronic device ever made.
A breeding ground for physics research can be found in Irvington at Nevis Laboratories, a facility operated by Columbia University’s Physics Department. The site is set on the sprawling 68-acre estate originally owned by James Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the country’s Founding Fathers. In the early 1920s, the DuPont family of Delaware bought the estate and subsequently donated it to the university in 1934. Its use as a laboratory complex began in 1947.
“Most of the work at Nevis is basic research; we are trying to better understand the basic building blocks as well as the origin and evolution of the universe,” says John Parsons, experimental particle physicist and professor of physics at Columbia University. “Our main goal is to expand our knowledge and understanding of nature, and to seek answers to some big questions — such as the nature of dark matter, whether there are as yet undiscovered particles that play a key role in the evolution of the universe, and the properties of black holes.”
This may all seem like pretty heady stuff for the layperson, which is why Parsons and Columbia’s Physics Department have sought to bridge the understanding gap with a public lecture series titled Science-on-Hudson. Every second Thursday of the month, the university’s scientists present an overview of the experiments that their world-renowned research teams are working on — everything from Big Bang cosmology, to biophysics, to particle accelerators.
Perhaps one little-known fact is that some of the instrumentation used in physics labs now serves practical applications. “For example,” notes Parsons, “most of today’s particle accelerators are not used for physics research, but in hospitals and in industry, for purposes such as cancer therapy and fabrication of materials. Many medical devices, such as X-ray machines, MRIs, and PET scanners all were developed first in labs. In fact, the World Wide Web was developed at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research based in Switzerland) to improve communication among physicists. It was then provided, free of charge, to the world.”
In today’s technology-driven times, scientific literacy has become increasingly important for both children and adults. Indeed, curiosity has been part of human nature since the dawn of time, and discoveries that have occurred along the way have led to breakthroughs that continue to propel us forward. Says Parsons, “Basic scientific research has proven time and again to lead to innovations that are needed to solve real-world problems, to steer the economy, and to improve the lives of people. We are very happy that our lectures are being attended by large audiences that are engaging with us in a lively discussion of some of the biggest mysteries and questions facing modern physics.”
Coming: Thursday, March 14, 2019
Cleaning Up Teller’s Mess: Radiation Studies in the Northern Marshall Islands
Hosted by Professor Emlyn Hughes, Columbia University
In the 1940s and 1950s, the United States performed 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands, including the detonation of the largest thermonuclear weapon named Castle Bravo. Seventy years later, the impact on the Marshallese people is still apparent. The more recent challenges of rising sea levels, coupled with the remaining nuclear waste represents a particularly chilling problem. In this talk, Professor Hughes will discuss his recent work on this topic, as well as future plans.
Science-on-Hudson talks take place Nevis Laboratories Science Center, 136 South Broadway, Irvington, New York 10533.
For a complete schedule of Nevis Labs’ Science-on-Hudson speaker series and to register, visit: www.nevis.columbia.edu.