Oct. 21, 1999
Vol. 19 No. 3

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    Faculty share their own queries, research in College Lecture Series

    By Jennifer Leovy
    News Office

    A series of transparencies covered in a rainbow of colors––red, green, blue and yellow squiggles––flashed before the audience’s eyes as the scientist revealed the history of the universe, as he knows it. The scientist is Michael Turner, the Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and the inaugural presenter in the College Lecture Series.

    Turner’s lecture, “The Complete History of the Universe from Quark Soup to the Accelerating Universe,” was the first of eight lectures designed to highlight faculty research for an interdisciplinary, undergraduate audience.

    “Many undergraduates come to Chicago because it is a great research University, but they don’t necessarily get the chance to understand what is research at the forefront,” said Sidney Nagel, the Louis Block Professor in Physics and Master of the Physical Sciences Collegiate Division. “Understanding what research questions our faculty ask and what they are interested in is different from taking their courses.”

    When Nagel conceived the series last year, he wanted its content to be accessible to nonexperts, so students and faculty could share “a common experience that transcends disciplines.” Nagel said he asks speakers to discuss their research questions and explain why the answers might be interesting or relevant to a broader audience.

    Turner began his lecture by explaining the “six things everyone should know about the universe they live in,” including such 20th-century discoveries as the big bang and primordial quark soup. Turner then discussed three questions to which he seeks the answers through his research: Did all objects begin as subatomic quantum mechanical fluctuations? Is the universe’s dark matter made of elementary particles left over from the quark soup? What’s making the universe speed up?

    Turner discussed his field of expertise further during a post-lecture discussion and dinner with students, including Heesoo Chung, a fourth-year student in Geophysical Sciences.

    “I like seeing how people from different fields think,” said Chung. “It was nice to hear about the beginning of the universe in terms I could understand.”

    First-year Stephanie Morris concurred, noting how much she enjoyed the dinner discussion as well. “We ate pizza and talked about particle physics, space travel and science funding––it was great!”

    John Boyer, Dean of the College, said, “The College Lecture Series exemplifies our College as a learning community of which both students and faculty are members. This series is a wonderful way for students to hear from distinguished faculty on a regular basis.”

    The College and individual, recognized student organizations will sponsor the 1999-2000 lectures. They also will sponsor post-lecture discussions, which will feature the lecturer and a faculty moderator representing a different discipline, as well as dinners for the featured lecturer and students from the sponsoring RSO.

    Members of the Ryerson Astronomical Society sponsored Turner’s presentation and William Wimsatt, Professor in Philosophy, moderated the post-lecture discussion. Lecture series supporters and organizers are Dean Boyer; Michael Jones, Associate Dean, Programs and Development in the College; Bill Michel, Assistant Dean in the College and Deputy Dean of Student Services for Development and Student Activities; and Heather Johnson, College Programming Coordinator.

    “The series allows the entire College community to come together for a regular academic event,” said Michel. “We believe that our campus community wants more contact among colleagues across divisions, which is why we are so enthusiastic about this new series.”

    Christopher Faraone, Professor and Chairman of Classical Languages & Literatures, will deliver the second lecture in the series, “Sophistry, Sorcery and the Law Courts of Democratic Athens,” at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 3, in Harper 130.