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The Frontiers of Physics Public Lecture Series

The University of Washington Department of Physics and College of Arts & Sciences are proud to present the Frontiers of Physics Public Lecture Series. Building on the Department's longtime commitment to public scholarship, the lecture series brings renowned scientists to UW to offer free lectures on exciting advances in physics with the goal of fostering an appreciation of science and technology in our community.

Thanks to support from generous donors, this series is free and open to the public through online registration.


Past Lectures

More Information 

For more information on series sponsorship opportunities and the Department of Physics, please contact Professor David Kaplan, or (206 685-3546)

To learn more about the Department of Physics at the UW, please visit our website

To make a gift in support of this series please visit our giving website

Dr. Lisa Randall: Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs

Wednesday May 16, 2018, 7:30 PM

Kane Hall 130

Professor Randall's Lecture is now available for streaming: Watch Here.

Lisa Randall studies theoretical particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University, where she is a Frank J. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science. Randall’s physics research connects theoretical insights to addressing puzzles in our understanding of the properties of matter, the Universe, and space. She is an exceptional thinker with the ability to connect complex science to the everyday world around us. Randall has also contributed to the arts in writing the libretto, Hypermusic Prologue: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes which premiered at Paris’s prestigious Centre Pompidou. And she is an avid rock climber, exploring terrain across the globe.

Randall was featured on Time Magazine’s list of “100 Most Influential People” of 2007 and her books Warped Passages (2005) and Knocking on Heaven’s Door (2011) were featured on New York Times’ lists of “100 Notable Books.” Her latest book, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, is a sweeping evolution of the Universe, the Milky Way, the Solar System and of life.

Resource Material for the Lecture: Study Guide for Dark Matters and the Dinosaurs

Professor David Wineland: Optical Atomic Clocks

Tuesday December 5, 2017, 7:30

Kane Hall 130

Professor Wineland's Lecture is now available for streaming: Watch Here.

Optical Atomic Clocks

For many centuries, and continuing today, a primary application of accurate clocks is for precise navigation.  For example, GPS enables us to determine our distance from the (known) positions of satellites by measuring the time it takes for a pulse of radiation emitted by the satellite to reach us.  The more accurately we can measure this time, the more accurate our position is known.  Atoms absorb electromagnetic radiation at precise discrete frequencies.  Knowing this, a recipe for making an atomic clock is simple to state: we first need an oscillator to produce the radiation and a device that tells us when the atoms absorb it.  To make a clock from this setup, we then simply count cycles of the oscillator; the duration of a certain number of cycles defines a unit of time, for example, the second.  Today, the most accurate clocks count cycles of radiation corresponding to optical wavelengths, around a million billion per second.  At this level, many interesting effects, including those due to Einstein’s relativity, must be accounted for.

About Dr. Wineland

​David Wineland received a BA degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1965 and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1970. He has been a member of the Time and Frequency Division of NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) in Boulder, Colorado since 1975, where he is a group leader and NIST Fellow. Starting with graduate school, a long-term goal of his work has been to increase the precision of atomic spectroscopy. This research has applications to making better atomic clocks and has led to experiments showing precise control of the energy levels and motion of atoms. Such control is now being applied to measurements whose precision is limited only by the constraints of quantum mechanics and to demonstrations of the basic building blocks of a quantum computer.

He completed his PhD in 1970, supervised by Norman Foster Ramsey, Jr. His doctoral dissertation is entitled "The Atomic Deuterium Maser". He then performed postdoctoral research in Hans Dehmelt's group at the University of Washington where he investigated electrons in ion traps.

He shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physics with French physicist Serge Haroche "for ground-breaking experimental methods that enable measuring and manipulation of individual quantum systems."

Resource Material for the Lecture:

Study Guide for Optical Atomic Clocks

Professor John Preskill: Quantum Computing and the Entanglement Frontier

Thursday May 11, 2017, 7:30pm
Kane Hall 130, Registration is now closed. 

Professor Preskill's talk is now available online for viewing. WATCH HERE. 

The quantum laws governing atoms and other tiny objects seem to defy common sense, and information encoded in quantum systems has weird properties that baffle our feeble human minds. John Preskill will explain why he loves quantum entanglement, the elusive feature making quantum information fundamentally different from information in the macroscopic world. By exploiting quantum entanglement, quantum computers should be able to solve otherwise intractable problems, with far-reaching applications to cryptology, materials, and fundamental physical science. Preskill is less weird than a quantum computer, and easier to understand. 

John Preskill is the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at the California Institute of Technology, and Director of the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at Caltech. Preskill received his Ph.D. in physics in 1980 from Harvard, and joined the Caltech faculty in 1983.  Preskill began his career in particle physics and cosmology, but in the 1990s he got excited about the possibility of solving otherwise intractable problems by exploiting quantum physics; he is especially intrigued by the ways our deepening understanding of quantum information and quantum computing can be applied to other fundamental issues in physics, such as the quantum structure of space and time. You can follow him on Twitter @preskill

Resource materials for lecture:

Additional resources for quantum computing: What is Quantum Computing? and an interactive introduction to quantum computing.

For interested readers, here are articles and on-going research in this exciting field:


Professor Rainer Weiss: Gravitational Wave Astronomy, A New Way to Explore the Universe 

Tuesday October 25, 2016, 7:30pm
Kane Hall 130, Free 

UPDATE: Professor Rainer Weiss was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics.

In February 2016, scientists announced a groundbreaking discovery, the first direct detection of gravitational waves reaching the Earth, using an instrument known as LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). The discovery confirmed a prediction first proposed by Albert Einstein in his 1916 paper on applications of general relativity after his famous paper introducing his new theory of gravity in 1915.

The recent observations of gravitational waves from the cataclysmic merger of binary black holes over a billion light years away from Earth open a new window onto the universe and allow the study of general relativity in the limit of extreme gravitational fields.

For Dr. Rainer Weiss, one of the founders of LIGO, the discovery was 50 years in the making. His own work on the topic began as a classroom exercise in a general relativity course  given at MIT in 1967.  Dr. Weiss will speak to the UW community about the fascinating history of the gravitational waves proposed by Einstein and of the results of The LIGO Project, as well as a vision for the future of gravitational wave astronomy. A live broadcast of his walk will be available through our partners at UW Video on their UW channel.

Biography: Dr. Weiss is an emeritus professor in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he completed both his undergraduate and doctorate degrees. Dr. Weiss previously served as an assistant physics professor at Tufts University and has been an adjunct professor at Louisiana State University since 2001.

Dr. Weiss is known for his pioneering measurements of the spectrum of the cosmic microwave background radiation, his inventions of the monolithic silicon bolometer and the laser interferometer gravitational wave detector and for his roles as a co-founder and an intellectual leader of both the COBE (microwave background) Project and the LIGO Project. He has received numerous scientific and group achievement awards from NASA, as well as the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the National Space Club Science Award, and the Einstein Prize of the American Physical Society.

Professor Weiss' talk is now available online for viewing. WATCH HERE


Professor David Gross: The Frontier of Fundamental Physics

Tuesday May 25, 2016, 7:30pm
Kane Hall 220, Free

At the frontiers of physics we search for the principles that might unify all the forces of nature and we strive to understand the origin and history of the universe. In this public lecture Professor David Gross, 2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics will describe some of the questions that we ask, some of the proposed answers, what it might mean to have a final theory of fundamental physics and whether we are capable of discovering it. Along with Frank Wilczek and David Politzer, he was awarded the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of asymptotic freedom.

He is the former director and current holder of the Frederick W. Gluck Chair in Theoretical Physics at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also a faculty member in the UC Santa Barbara Physics Department and is currently affiliated with the Institute for Quantum Studies at Chapman University in California.

Professor Gross' talk is now available online for viewing. WATCH HERE