April 3, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 13

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    Compton Lecture series brings science out of laboratory

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    A series of 10 free lectures at the University will explore how scientists can talk sensibly about the beginning of the universe or phenomena at exceedingly small scales.

    “Seeing and Believing: Detection, Measurement and Inference in Experimental Physics” is the title of this year’s Arthur Holly Compton Lectures, sponsored each spring and fall by the University’s Enrico Fermi Institute. The 67th series of these public lectures will begin Saturday, April 5, and will be held each Saturday through June 14 (except May 24). The lectures will be given from 11 a.m. to noon in Room 106 of the Kersten Physics Teaching Center, 5720 S. Ellis Ave.

    Compton Lectures are intended to make science accessible to a general audience and to convey the excitement of new discoveries in the physical sciences. Delivering the lectures this spring will be Kathryn Schaffer, a postdoctoral fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics and the Enrico Fermi Institute.

    Schaffer received her B.A. from Bard College in 1998 and her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Washington in 2005. Her doctoral research earned her the 2007 Dissertation Award in Nuclear Physics from the American Physical Society. Her research at Chicago has taken her to Antarctica, where she has worked with the South Pole Telescope.

    While physics does involve some speculation, Schaffer will show how major results in the field are always based on concrete observations and down-to-earth reasoning. Among her lectures, she will describe how an understanding of the physics of detection and simple statistics can go a long way toward demystifying even the strangest claims in the field.

    The Compton Lectures are named for Arthur Holly Compton, a former physicist at the University. Compton is best known for demonstrating that light has the characteristics of both a wave and a particle. He organized the effort to produce plutonium for the atomic bomb and directed the Metallurgical Laboratory at Chicago, where Fermi and his colleagues produced the first controlled, nuclear chain reaction in 1942.

    More information about the Compton Lectures is available by calling (773) 702-7823.