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"Time in the Physical Universe: From Antiquity to Einstein and Beyond" is Free Public Lecture on 7 February 2004

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A free public lecture titled "Time in the Physical Universe: From Antiquity to Einstein and Beyond" will be given on 7 February by Abhay Ashtekar, the Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Physics and Director of the Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Penn State. This event is the second weekly lecture in the 2004 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, an annual series designed as a free minicourse for the enjoyment and education of residents in Central Pennsylvania communities. The theme of the series this year is "It's About TIME." Ashtekar's lecture take place from 11:00 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in 101 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park Campus.

"Every civilization has been fascinated by the question of what time is and by the issues of the Beginning and the End," Ashtekar comments. "Although early thinkers including Lao Tsu and Aristotle wrote extensively on the subject, and every mythology contains 'explanations' of how the universe was created, it was only with Newton that mathematically precise ideas emerged. Their ideas triumphed for over two centuries, yet in the early part of the twentieth century their notions underwent a revolutionary change, as well. Einstein's relativity theories showed that the Newtonian notions were deeply flawed, that time is not absolute, and that it fuses with space to form the space-time continuum, leading to fascinating consequences. But during the latter part of the twentieth century, physicists realized that Einstein's notions also have limitations because they ignore quantum physics. Yet another revolution awaits us." Ashtekar will conclude his lecture with a description of the new clues that recent discoveries in cosmology and quantum physics have revealed about the nature of time, which provide a glimpse of the new paradigm for the third millennium.

Some of Ashtekar's current research interests are quantum gravity; generalizations of quantum mechanics; and general relativity, including a mathematical theory of black holes, gravitational radiation theory, and the interface of analytical and numerical relativity. He directs the Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Penn State, where physicists, mathematicians, and astronomers are working to enhance the understanding of quantum gravity and general relativity, along with the related areas of geometry, mathematical physics, computational relativity, cosmology, and relativistic astrophysics.

Ashtekar received his bachelor's degree with honors in physics and mathematics at the University of Bombay in India in 1969 and his doctoral degree in physics at the University of Chicago in 1974. Before joining the Penn State faculty in 1994, Ashtekar was a postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Oxford in England from 1974 to 1977, a research associate at the University of Chicago from 1976 to 1978, and a physicist at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France from 1978 to 1980. From 1980 to 1994 he was a faculty member at Syracuse University, which honored in 1988 him with the rank of distinguished professor and in 1992 with the title of Erastus Franklin Holden Professor of Physics. He also was a professor of physics and Chair of Gravitation at the University of Paris in France VI from 1983 to 1985.

Among his many honors, he received the first Gravity prize awarded by the Gravity Research Foundation of Massachusetts in its annual international competition in 1977, the Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow award for 1981 to 1985; the Syracuse University Chancellor's Citation for Academic Excellence in 1987; election to the Governing Council of the International Society for General Relativity and Gravitation from 1989 to 1998, the Wasserstrom Award for Graduate Teaching and Advising at Syracuse University in 1992, election as an Honorary Fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1996, election as a Fellow of the American Physical Society in 1997, election as a Foreign Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in India in 1997, and election as president of the American Chapter of the Indian Physics Association from 2000 to 2002. Ashtekar also is featured in the book titled The New York Times Scientists at Work, published in 2000.

A highly-regarded lecturer, he was honored as the Rufus Putnam Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ohio University in 1989, the Senior Visiting Fellow of the British Science and Engineering Research Council in 1991, the Distinguished Lecturer at the Institute for Fundamental Theory of the University of Florida in 1992, the Distinguished Lecturer at the Center for Theoretical Physics of the University of Maryland in 1994, the presenter of the Andrejewski Lectures on Mathematical Physics in the Federal Republic of Germany in 1995, the Golden Jubilee Visiting Professor at the Physical Research Laboratory in India in 1997, the presenter of the Distinguished Lecture Series of the Mexican Academy of Science in Mexico City in 1997, and the Invited Lecturer in the symposium titled "Les Quanta": un Siecle apres Planck" celebrating the 100th anniversary of the publication of Planck's paper on black-body radiation at the Academy of Sciences in France in 2000.

The remaining events in the 2004 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science include:

  • "Atomic Clocks on Earth and in Space: Why We Need Them, How They Work, and What They Can Tell Us" on 14 February in 100 Thomas Building by Kurt Gibble, associate professor of physics at Penn State;
  • "Time, Human Aging, and Longevity: How Long Can a Person Live?" on 21 February in 100 Thomas Building by Robert B. Mitchell, professor of biology and director of the premedicine and science majors at Penn State; and
  • "The Arrow of Time: Why Can We Remember the Past but Not the Future?" on 28 February in 100 Thomas Building by Joel L. Lebowitz, professor of mathematics and director of the Center for Mathematical Sciences Research at Rutgers University.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science are sponsored by the Penn State Eberly College of Science, with additional financial support provided by Pfizer Inc.

Thomas Building is located at the intersection of Pollock and Shortlidge Roads on the Penn State University Park Campus. Free parking is available in the Eisenhower Parking Deck behind Eisenhower Auditorium on Shortlidge Road. For access assistance contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Public Information by telephone at (814) 863-8453, by e-mail at science@psu.edu.

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