Start with a bang, end by expanding (your mind) | AspenTimes.com

Start with a bang, end by expanding (your mind)

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado
A lecturer speaks at the Aspen Center For Physics last July. The center kicks off this season's lecture series on Wednesday. (Aspen Times file)
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ASPEN The universe is expanding faster than we thought, and Dr. Alex Filippenko is coming to Aspen to provide the details.Filippenko, who was voted best professor at the University of California at Berkeley five times and whose introduction to astronomy class attracts as many as 800 students, will kick off the Aspen Center for Physics free summer lecture series at Paepcke Auditorium at 6:30 Wednesday.Lectures and discussions are free and open to the public on intermittent Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the summer.”The expansion of the universe seems to be speeding up with time,” Filippenko said. And while the force of gravity slows the rise of an apple thrown into the air, the same principles don’t seem to work on the expanding universe, thanks to dark matter and dark energy, mysterious substances that make up 96 percent of the universe.”We now recognize we don’t understand what 96 percent of the universe is,” Filippenko said, adding that the study of dark matter and dark energy is revolutionizing astronomy and physics. And developing an understanding of dark matter and dark energy is vital to creating a unified theory of the universe, he said.”He’s a very exciting speaker,” said Patty Fox, public relations representative at the Aspen Center for Physics, and Filippenko’s lecture is the first in a summer slate that will appeal more to scientists and nonscientists.

“This year more than ever, the speakers are more in tune with speaking to an audience that are not necessarily scientists,” Fox said. And though the lectures are more accessible than the average discussions around the laboratory water cooler, attendees will want to bring their curiosity for all things scientific.

“It’s for the average interested Joe,” Fox said.”I feel that public outreach is a very important,” Filippenko said. He said his lectures are on a very “understandable level,” peppered with lots of jokes – that kind of shtick that attracts so many students to his UC-Berkeley classes where he shows slides, plays animations and music and wears a T-shirt with a different theme for each of the 40 days of class.Along with the six Wednesday night lectures, prominent physicists will host five dialogue sessions, a chance for the public to ask questions of some of the biggest brains in science, Fox said.”The dialogues are really conversations here at the physics center,” Fox said. “You can feel free to interrupt and say, ‘I don’t know what you mean about this that or the other.'”

The speakers come to Aspen for specific conferences – Filippenko is here for a conference on supernovas – and there are usually about 90 physicists on the Aspen campus at any given time, Fox said.The Aspen Center for Physics is a nonprofit that runs on grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, as well as private donations. For more information about the lectures and discussions throughout the summer, call 925-2585 or visit http://www.aspenphys.org.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is cagar@aspentimes.com.


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