The University Record, October 8, 2001

Saturday morning physics starts Oct. 13

By Judy Steeh
News and Information Services

(Photo courtesy of Saturday Morning Physics)
Saturday Morning Physics, the University’s ever-popular series of multi-media physics lectures for general audiences, returns this fall for what organizers are calling “an accessible, enjoyable opportunity to learn about exciting current research from some of U-M’s best young scientists.” The nine-part series, sponsored by the Department of Physics, begins Oct. 13.

Each free, public lecture will be held 10:30–11:30 a.m. Saturdays in Room 170, Dennison Hall. Coffee and refreshments will be served. High school students are especially encouraged to attend, but people of all ages are welcome.

David Gerdes, assistant professor of physics, and coordinator of the fall program, says, “We’re going to be looking at some of the most exciting topics in current research—how black holes consume stars, how superconductors work, how string theory may provide a ‘theory of everything.’ Our audience ranges from middle-schoolers to retirees, from all backgrounds, but they share one thing—a passionate curiosity to learn more about how the world works.”

The series is sponsored by the Department of Physics and M. Lois Tiffany of Ann Arbor, who received her master’s degree in physics in 1946 and a Ph.D. in biophysics in 1971, both from U-M. It also is supported in part by donations from the public.

Lectures scheduled for the fall series will be presented in groups of three by post-doctoral fellows from the Department of Physics: X-ray astronomy on Oct. 13, 20, and 27, presented by Don Smith; the elegant world of superconductors on Nov. 3, 10, and 17, presented by Tobias Eckhouse; and string theory on Dec. 1, 8, and 15, presented by Jan Pieter van der Schaar.

  • Oct. 13: “X-ray Vision.” Viewing the universe in X-rays instead of visible light reveals a radically different universe. Explore the nature of high-energy radiation, the tools that enable us to explore this invisible range and how they have opened up a new realm for understanding the universe.

  • Oct. 20: “How Stars Die.” Trace how stars live and die and how they can sometimes be resurrected in a momentary blaze.

  • Oct. 27: “Why Black Holes Make Bad Neighbors.” A look at black holes and the extreme behavior they can create—warbling accretion discs, jets ejecting from the system at near the speed of light, and X-ray sources that flare and erupt on a moment’s notice.

  • Nov. 3: “Why Superconductivity?” Superconductivity was born when scientists discovered that in some materials, electricity flows without any friction at very low temperatures. Find out about the techniques that are used to study materials at low temperatures and delve into the mechanisms of superconductivity.

  • Nov. 10: “Superconducting Devices and the Constants of Nature.” Using the most sensitive electrical and magnetic measurements, scientists are utilizing the unique quantum properties of superconductors to test the relationships between the physical constants: the charge of an electron and Planck’s constant.

  • Nov. 17: “High Temperature Superconductors.” The practical applications of superconductivity were limited by the need to reach very low temperatures, but in the 1980s, largely by accident, a layered ceramic material became superconducting at what was then considered an improbably high temperature.

  • Dec. 1: “Quantum Mechanics vs. Einstein.” String theory may well prove to be the solution to the basic conflict between the two pillars of 20th century physics, quantum mechanics and Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Learn the history of and motivation for this theory which promises to explain the entire universe.

  • Dec. 8: “A World Made of Strings.” The basics of string theory, including how strings interact with each other and why string theory needs extra spacetime dimensions and supersymmetry.

  • Dec. 15: “M stands for Mystery.” Go beyond strings to M-theory, which some say stands for Mystery, Magic, or Membrane—the most exciting development in physics since strings appeared on the scene.