Learning Resources for the 2015 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science

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Links to recommended readings and more information to help you continue learning about this year's topic. This webpage will be updated as the lectures progress.


2015 Frontiers Poster 

24 January 2015

"Einstein's Greatest Discovery" presented by John Norton.

  • Einstein for Everyone: A web book (TM) by John Norton
    This free online book has nearly 40 chapters and surveys the history and philosophical significance of Einstein's physics. The text is written at an introductory level and is drawn from John Norton's course "Einstein for Everyone" at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Einstein's Pathway to General Relativity (a chapter in a book by John D. Norton)
    This chapter describes Einstein's indirect, fallible, tortured, and inspired path to his revolutionary theory of general relativity. The final theory emerged after Einstein struggled for seven years with many things: strong hunches about what the theory should say physically, vivid thought experiments to support the hunches, lengthy explorations into new mathematics, errors and confusions that thoroughly derailed him, and a final insight that rescued him from exhaustion and desperation.
  • A Peek into Einstein’s Zurich Notebook
    In the half century and more of Einstein's work in science, one discovery stands above all as his greatest achievement. It is his theory of general relativity. In it, Einstein found a new way to think of the gravity that pulls apples from their trees and keeps the moon in orbit around Earth. There are no forces pulling on them, he saw. They are merely responding to a curvature in the geometrical fabric of space and time.
  • More Einstein "Goodies" Provided by John D. Norton
    This collection of information provided by John D. Norton includes sections on the origins of Einstein's flashes of inspiration, the ways Einstein changed the way we think about science, Einstein's most famous thought experiment, and a guided thought exercise to answer the challenging question "How big is an atom?"


31 January 2015

"Sculpting the Universe" Presented by David Weinberg.

  • From the Big Bang to the Multiverse: Translations in Space and Time by David Weinberg
    Since 2004, David Weinberg has been collaborating with artist Josiah McElheny on the design of cosmological sculptures, inspired originally by the chandeliers of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. This article describes the science behind four works that have emerged from this collaboration. These works incorporate idealized representations of many fundamental aspects of contemporary cosmology, including expansion of the universe, the last scattering surface, the structure of the cosmic microwave background, the growth and transformation of galaxies, the rise and fall of the quasar population, the development of large-scale structure, and the possibility that our universe is one of many cosmic islands in an eternally inflating multiverse.
  • The Center is Everywhere by David Weinberg
    "The Center is Everywhere" is a sculpture by Josiah McElheny. The sculpture is based on data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, using hundreds of glass crystals and lamps suspended from brass rods to represent the three-dimensional structure mapped by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey through one of its 2000+ spectroscopic masks or light controllers, called "plugplates." This article describes the scientific ideas behind this sculpture.
  • The Sloan Digital Sky Survey
    The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has created the most detailed three-dimensional maps of the Universe ever made, with deep multi-color images of one third of the sky, and spectra for more than three million astronomical objects. At this website you can learn and explore all phases and surveys of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

7 February 2015 
"The Warped Side of the Universe" Presented by Nergis Mavalvala.

  • The LIGO Laboratory
    The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is the largest and most ambitious project ever funded by the U. S. National Science Foundation.  Its purpose is to detect the gravitational-wave distortions of cosmic space that are predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity -- waves that scientists have not yet been able to detect directly. A further goal of the LIGO project is to develop gravitational-wave observations as an astronomical tool for detecting and studying the massively powerful events and forces that Einstein's theory predicts are the cause of these waves in space. 
  • Advanced LIGO: The Next Step in Gravitational Wave Astronomy
    Gravitational waves offer a remarkable opportunity to see the universe from a new perspective, providing access to astrophysical insights that are available in no other way. The Initial LIGO gravitational-wave detectors completed observations at and beyond their original design sensitivity in 2007. The Advanced LIGO project will completely upgrade the three U.S. gravitational-wave interferometers, bringing these instruments to sensitivities that should enable gravitational-wave astronomy's routine use as a new way to solve many intriguing mysteries about the universe.
  • LIGO scientific collaboration (LSC)
    The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) is a dynamic group of more than 900 scientists worldwide who have joined together in the search for gravitational waves from the the most violent events in the universe.  The LSC is seeking to make the first direct detection of gravitational waves, to use them to explore the fundamental physics of gravity, and to develop the emerging field of gravitational-wave science as a tool of astronomical discovery. 
  • LIGO magazine

    This downloadable, interactive magazine keeps you up-to-date with the LIGO Scientific Collaboration's research.

  • LSC for the public
    This central clearinghouse provides information and resources for the general public regarding gravitational waves and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), including summaries of the research and learning opportunities for high school teachers and undergraduate students.
  • Einstein@Home
    The Einstein@Home project uses your computer's idle time to search for weak astrophysical signals from spinning neutron stars (also called pulsars) using data from the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors, the Arecibo radio telescope, and the Fermi gamma-ray satellite. Einstein@Home volunteers have discovered more than three dozen new neutron stars and they continue to search for more. The project's long-term goal is to make the first direct detections of gravitational-wave emission from spinning neutron stars. Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein almost a century ago, but have never been detected directly. Such observations would open up a new window on the universe, and usher in a new era in astronomy.


14 February 2015 
"Capturing the Birth Cries of Black Holes" Presented by John Nousek.

  • NASA's Website for the Swift Mission
    On NASA's website, you can see a video of NASA scientists and Penn State astronomers John Nousek, Caryl Gronwall, and Jamie Kennea describing the game-changing astrophysics provided by the Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer satellite. This website also has links to a sky map that shows all the gamma-ray bursts detected by Swift during the past decade -- including the three most-recently discovered during February 2015 -- plus much more information.
  • Swift Educator Resources
    The Swift mission investigates the almost unimaginably violent explosions called gamma-ray bursts, which were predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. Gamma-ray bursts result from tremendous supernovae explosions and voracious black holes gobbling down matter at fantastic rates. These are topics that fascinate students, and can inspire them to learn more about math, physics, technology, and other science specialties. The Swift Education and Public Outreach group has created many standards-based activities that use these targets of Swift science to engage students, and to help educators better show them the wonders of the Universe.
  • Global Telescope Network The Global Telescope Network is an informal association of scientists, students, individuals and observatories interested in supporting the NASA Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (formerly GLAST), Swift, and XMM Newton missions by obtaining and processing ground-based observations for objects related to the primary science goals for these missions. These observations can be used, for example, to discover new information about our universe and to test Einstein's theory of general relativity. The Global Telescope Network provides:
    involvement for students, teachers, and amateur astronomers in cutting-edge astronomical research; activities and instructional materials for a range of levels and interests; mentoring in research practices; telescope use, data analysis and educational resources.
  • Questions and Answers
    An interesting collection of questions from the general public about gamma-ray bursts (a prediction of Einstein's theory of general relativity) and answers by NASA scientists.

21 February 2015 
"Using Relativity to Discover Planets" Presented by Jason Wright.

  • Jason T. Wright's research website
    This website contains a video in which Jason Wright gives a summary of his research interests. It also contains other links, including his “TED-style” talk about the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and his presentation about exoplanet detection at a conference for science teachers.
  • Penn State Center for Exoplanets and Habitable Worlds
    The Penn State Center for Exoplanets & Habitable Worlds seeks to discover planets beyond our solar system, to characterize planetary systems and their host stars, and to understand the implications of the abundance of potentially habitable planets for the possibility of life beyond Earth and the origins of our own solar system.
  • NASA Astrobiology Institute
    Astrobiology is the study of the origins, evolution, distribution, and future of life in the universe. It encompasses the search for habitable environments in our solar system and beyond; the search for evidence of prebiotic chemistry or life in our solar system; and research into the origin, early evolution, and diversity of life on Earth. Astrobiologists in this NASA institute address three fundamental questions: How does life begin and evolve? Is there life elsewhere in the Universe? What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?
  • Exoplanets.org
    At this site, you can explore the Exoplanet Orbit Database, which is produced and maintained by Jason Wright, his colleague Geoff Marcy, and the California Planet Survey consortium.
  • Scholarpedia
    Scholarpedia is a peer-reviewed open-access encyclopedia written and maintained by scholarly experts from around the world. It aims to complement Wikipedia by providing in-depth scholarly treatments of the theory of general relativity and other academic topics.

28 February 2015 "Pushing Science Beyond Einstein" Presented by Eugenio Bianchi.

  • Outreach page of the Penn State Institute for Gravity and the Cosmos
    This page contains links to a bounty of useful videos and articles for your continued learning pleasure. The resources on this page feature the work of scientists affiliated with the Penn State Institute for Gravity and the Cosmos. For example, the first-listed resource, titled "The Last Gasp of a Black Hole," is an article by our Our Frontiers of Science speaker on 28 February 2015, Eugenio Bianchi.
  • Penn State work on loop quantum gravity featured in Nature
    Many researchers believe that physics will not be complete until it can explain not just the behavior of space and time, but also where space and time come from. This webpage, published by the scientific journal Nature, features videos, podcasts, text, and illustrations that describe research of Penn State and other scientists into the mysteries of space and time.
  • Video: Before the Big Bang - Loop Quantum Cosmology Explained
    Abhay Ashtekar, Holder of the Eberly Family Chair in Physics and the Director of the Penn State Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos is featured along with one of his former postdoctoral scholars, Ivan Agullo, in this video about loop quantum cosmology.
  • Loop Quantum Gravity by Carlo Rovelli, Physics World 2003
    This article, published in the popular-science magazine Physics World, provides an interesting historical tour of the ideas and personalities involved in the quest to "complete the scientific revolution that was started by general relativity and quantum theory." The article concludes that loop quantum gravity -- the research focus of Eugenio Bianchi and other scientists in the Penn State Center for Gravitation and the Cosmos directed by Abhay Ashtekar -- is "the most resolute attempt to address this problem."
  • The Penn State Center for Fundamental Theory
    The Penn State Center for Fundamental Theory fosters research and education in the fields of general relativity, non-commutative geometry, loop quantum gravity, string theory, and related areas of astrophysics and astronomy, mathematical physics, geometry, and philosophy of science. Our Frontiers of Science speaker on 28 February 2015, Eugenio Bianchi, is one of the scientists affiliated with this research center.
  • Atoms of Spacetime, 2003 Scientific American
    The author of this article, Lee Smolin, has been a member of the physics faculty at Penn State. His article begins, "We perceive space and time to be continuous, but if the amazing theory of loop quantum gravity is correct, they actually come in discrete pieces."
  • Einstein on the Completeness of Quantum Theory
    Although Einstein had contributed to the development of quantum theory, in his later years he became its most prominent critic. He did not believe that future fundamental physics should be build upon quantum theory. Rather, he thought the way ahead was to develop the geometrical approach of general relativity into an all-encompassing "unified field theory" within which the results of quantum theory could be derived. The author of this article, John D. Norton, is one of our speakers in the 2015 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science.
  • Physics of the Black Hole in the movie Interstellar
    Interstellar is the first Hollywood movie to attempt depicting a black hole as it actually would be seen by someone nearby. This research article and video describe the physics of the black hole portrayed in the movie Interstellar.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the Central Pennsylvania area and beyond.

Use the links to the left to access more information about the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, including archived recordings of previous lectures.

For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information by telephone at (814) 863-8453 or by e-mail at jms1140@psu.edu.


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