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Fall 2013

10/12/2013 | Epidemics, Kevin Bacon, and the Internet: The Physics of Networks -- Mark Newman (U-M Physics)

Professor Mark Newman will talk about ways in which physicists are contributing to our understanding of networks, such as social networks and computer networks, and how ideas from physics can help us understand things like the "six degrees of separation" and how to prevent or slow the spread of disease.

10/19/2013 | Hydraulic Fracturing 101: Clearing the Waters of the Fracking Debate -- Brian R. Ellis (U-M Civil & Environmental Engineering)

Recent growth in the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from unconventional reservoirs promises to change America’s energy future. Yet, the scale and rate at which this technology is being applied is simultaneously raising concerns about its impact on the environment and public health. This presentation will introduce the fundamentals behind hydraulic fracturing, discuss how this completion technology is altering the national energy landscape and examine current activity specific to the state of Michigan.

10/26/2013 | What It Takes to Find the Elusive Sub-Nuclear Giant! -- J. Wehrley Chapman (U-M Physics)

Professor Chapman will present the development of the ATLAS detector at CERN and the discovery of the Higgs particle. The experiment may be the largest scientific endeavor ever attempted with a total of 3000+ scientists and engineers engaged in building a massive detector which produces vast amounts of data. Professor Chapman will define the features of the detector, the volume of data, and the sifting of data to extract the long sought Higgs particle. We will see the pictorial view of sub-nuclear particles to illustrate how physicists view the world.

11/02/2013 | Weighty Thoughts on the Origin of Mass -- James Wells (U-M Physics)

Scholars have struggled with the concept of mass since time immemorial. Professor Wells will explain the usefulness of even speaking about "mass" and then describe how something so seemingly easy and intuitive can trip up the most brilliant minds upon closer scrutiny. He will describe the major leaps in understanding over the centuries, from the Ancients, to Newton, to Einstein, and to the discovery of the Higgs boson last year at CERN. The historical context will demonstrate why the Higgs boson discovery was such an extraordinary achievement in science, and how it opens up a host of deeper questions that physicists will struggle with for decades to come.

11/09/2013 | Making the Chicken from the Egg: A Physicist's View of Animal Development -- David Lubensky (U-M Physics)

Every animal begins its life by undergoing a remarkable process of self-organization: Somehow, starting from a tiny, single-celled egg, it creates an incredibly complex adult organism, with a wide variety of precisely constructed tissues and organs. How do animals manage to do this, and moreover to do it reliably and accurately, with relatively few errors in the final outcome? This talk will discuss how ideas from physics can shed some light on this profound biological question.

11/16/2013 | Mapping the Beginning of the Universe -- Jeffrey McMahon (U-M Physics)

Inflation, a theory that incorporates physics at an energy scale a trillion times higher than can be observed at the Large Hadron Collider, is currently the best working model to describe our Universe at the earliest times. Fortuitously, this theory predicts signatures in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) that we are now using to study extremely high energy physics and the conditions at the earliest times in our Universe.

11/23/2013 | Seeing the Unseeable: Black Holes and Revelation -- Rubens Reis (U-M Astronomy)

The fascination with black holes as both a mathematical concept and physical entity has long been the subject of many scientific research. Only in recent years, however, have we come to realize the cosmological importance of such objects.  In this talk, Dr. Reis will summarize the current status of the field after introducing the manner in which we "see" and "hear" black holes. He will also show how similar physics and phenomena observed in nearby objects allow us to detect and study the inner engines of dormant, supermassive black holes 5 billion light years away as it destroys a star.

12/07/2013 | Splash Gordon: The Origin of Water on Earth -- Ruud Visser (U-M Astronomy)

The presence of water on Earth is crucial for life as we know it, but where did all that water come from? Was water part of the building blocks out of which Earth formed, or did it rain down in the form of comets and meteorites?