Lectures and a concert celebrate UW astronomy’s 50th anniversary

The University of Washington Astronomy Department is celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall with a number of special events of interest to astronomy buffs and more.

The celebration had something of an informal kickoff back in May when cosmologist Jim Peebles gave a talk celebrating the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the cosmic microwave background. Several of the upcoming celebratory events were mentioned at that lecture, and now details are firmed up for most.

originsposterThe centerpiece of the celebration is an audiovisual concert called Origins: Life and the Universe that will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, November 7 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. Eight Seattle composers have created original orchestral music that showcases the complexity and beauty of our universe. The symphonic concert will be accompanied by projected high-resolution movies created using some of the most spectacular imagery, videos and conceptual art from the Hubble Space Telescope and a variety of other sources. The live concert will feature Grammy-award winning conductor David Sabee and the renowned Northwest Sinfonia orchestra.

Origins will be a benefit for the scholarship program at the University of Washington Astrobiology Program in the Department of Astronomy. It will be presented by Burmer Music, The Composition Lab, University of Washington’s Astrobiology Program, and Department of Astronomy. The eight featured composers are Nan Avant, Barry Dowsett, Eric Goetz, Stan LePard, Howard Mostrom, Glenna Burmer, Tim Huling, and Kohl Hebert, a 12-year-old musical prodigy making his orchestral premiere.

Tickets are $32, $22 for students, and are available through the Seattle Symphony website. The organizers will be offering discount pricing for members of local astronomy clubs.

Supporting lectures

Three free public lectures have been planned to highlight the science featured in Origins and to preview some of the music written for the concert.

Origins of Nebulae and Stars
Thursday, Oct. 1, 6 p.m. at the Museum of Flight
Professor Bruce Balick of the UW Department of Astronomy will discuss the origin and development of nebulae and star nurseries. Composer Avant’s piece “Bijoux” showcases some of the more spectacular nebulae ever discovered. The talk is free, as part of the museum’s free first Thursday program.

Origin of the Universe and Everything in It
Saturday, Oct. 17, 2 p.m. at the Museum of Flight
Professor Matt McQuinn of the UW Department of Astronomy will take a close look at how our universe was formed and how small fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background grow into galaxies with stars and planets. Burmer, who composed a piece entitled “The Big Bang,” discusses her musical and visual interpretation of the 13.8-billion-year history of our universe, exploring the process that composers and filmmakers use to bridge science and art. Free with museum admission.

Oceans, Volcanoes and the Origin of Life
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 7 p.m. at the Pacific Science Center
Professor John Delaney of the UW Department of Oceanography, one of the world’s foremost experts on deep-sea volcanoes, will explore the hydrothermal activity that may have produced life on primordial Earth. He is joined by composer Dowsett, whose composition, “The Evolution of Carbon and Stardust,” is part of the Origins concert. Admission to this event is $5 for the general public; members of the Pacific Science Center, UW students and alumni with ID, and members of the Seattle Astronomical Society will be admitted free.

The Big Bang and beyond

bigbangAlso in connection with the Astronomy Department’s anniversary, the UW Alumni Association is sponsoring a series of four lectures titled The Big Bang and Beyond: Four Excursions to the Edges of Time and Space. The talks feature three UW faculty members and a prominent alumnus, and each will be held in room 120 of Kane Hall on the UW campus in Seattle. Here is the schedule for the Wednesday evening lectures:

Andy-Connolly_210Unravelling our own cosmic history
Wednesday, Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m.
UW professor Andy Connolly will take us on a tour of how, using the latest technologies, astronomical surveys like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Large Synoptic Sky Survey Review produce some of the deepest optical images ever obtained. These images allow us to look for flashes from the most energetic events in the distant universe and dramatically extend our cosmic reach.

Miguel_Morales_210The end of the beginning
Wednesday, Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m.
Inflation, particle production, huge sound waves and gravity waves—the early universe was a strange place. This phase of the universe culminated with the release of the oldest light we can ever hope to see: the cosmic microwave background. In this lecture, UW professor Miguel Morales will focus on how scientists read the subtle patterns in the cosmic microwave background to infer what happened in the first few moments of our universe’s history.

Julianne-Dalcanton_2101Building the universe, piece by piece
Wednesday, Nov. 18, 7:30 p.m.
UW professor Julianne Dalcanton will highlight the unique role that the Hubble Space Telescope has played in shaping our understanding of galaxies and stars as she illuminates the complex forces that have shaped the universe we see around us. She will also talk about the future of space exploration and how it will shape future discoveries about the universe.

adamfrankBefore time, beyond the universe
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m.
Adam Frank, UW alum, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester, and well known science communicator will take us on a journey to “the wild west of physics”—the speculative realm of how time began, how many universes are out there and whether or not we need to rethink our fundamental approach to cosmic questions. Beginning with questions that informed philosophy for centuries, Frank will show how physicists and astronomers are working to create bold new ways of seeing reality, much in the same fashion as Leonardo, Copernicus, Bacon, Newton and their contemporaries reframed the human perspective in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Talks in the Big Bang and Beyond lecture series are free, but preregistration is required.

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