Saturday Physics Series


The Saturday Physics Series consists of five to six scheduled talks. At each talk, adults and high school students meet a University of Colorado professor and learn about his/her research. Talks usually last about one hour. Material is presented at the level of high school juniors and seniors. The series is free, open to the public, and no reservations are required. Simply show up and enjoy the show!

For more information—or to request a 2014 - 2015 poster—please contact Veronica Lingo.

This project received funding from the CU Outreach Committee.

2014 - 2015 Season

All Lectures are held at 2 p.m. in Duane Physics Room G1B30.




Oct 18

“Introduction to Quantum Computation and Quantum Information”

Quantum computers and the algorithms that run on them can do everything that classical digital computers can do and, in some cases, provide in addition efficient solutions to problems where no classical algorithm is presently known.  Thus, quantum computers appear to provide a model for computation that challenges the mechanical Turing Machine model that held for nearly 50 years.  In this overview, we will cover briefly the classical models for computation, and then introduce quantum bits, quantum logic gates, and the quantum circuit model for quantum computation.  We will discuss a couple of simple algorithms to illustrate how quantum computation works.  The field of quantum computation and quantum information processing is active across the world, with research proceeding at university, government, and increasingly at industrial labs.  Prospects for practical quantum computers will be briefly discussed.

Professor Charles Rogers
Condensed Matter Physics

Nov 8

“How to Hold Many Universes in Your Hand (Sorta)”

We live in a world where almost all of the fundamental forces of nature are nearly hidden from us. Only the weakest force—gravity—shows itself to us directly. In most instances, these other forces nearly cancel themselves out, leaving only traces of their nature behind in our daily lives. This means that many of the interactions in the macroscopic universe we live in are the result of only tiny specks of fundamental forces, which come from these very tiny force cancellations. Because of this, small changes in how these cancellations occur can effectively lead to wildly different properties of the universe we live in. In the field of condensed matter physics, we study the interactions that exist inside the materials that surround us and how electrons behave in these systems. By finding materials where the fundamental forces between the electrons and nuclei cancel in slightly different ways, we explore wholly different universes where electrons live. In this talk, I will explain how we use these tiny details to find universes where new laws of physics emerge, where electrons and atoms can move with no friction, where different Higgs bosons or even magnetic monopoles exist, and much more—all in materials you can hold in the palm of your hand.

Professor Kyle McElroy
Condensed Matter Physics
Jan 17

“Neutrinos: Ghosts of the Subatomic Universe”

Neutrinos are fundamental particles, one of the basic building blocks of the universe. Though trillions of neutrinos from our Sun passed through your thumb in the time that it took you to read the previous sentence, they remain one of the most poorly measured fundamental particles. Due to their lack of electrical charge and very tiny masses, neutrinos can travel undisturbed through enormous amount of material. This makes them very useful probes of distant phenomena, but difficult to study in the lab. In this overview, I will briefly discuss the history of neutrinos, including the long-standing the solar neutrino problem, and the challenges of detecting them. Over the past decade, we have dramatically improved our understanding of neutrinos using manmade sources, and I will describe what we have learned and still hope to discover about these elusive particles.

Professor Alysia Marino
High Energy Physics

“The Science of Musical Sound”

The science of musical sound involves music, psychology and physics.  While sound waves are very well explained by physics, they can seem mysterious because we can’t see them. We’ll briefly review what sound waves are. We will explore some interesting questions related to musical sound:  What makes a sound musical or not? What are musical notes?  Why do two instruments playing the same note sound so different? Finally, we will explore wave resonance pipes and how the human voice works.

Professor Scott Parker
Plasma Physics
March 14

"Light Unchained: Virtual Photons Made Real"

Thermal radiation - it is so omnipresent that we rarely notice it as something special. Thermal radiation is one of the most universal processes in nature, from the cosmic microwave background left over from the big bang to the visible light from the sun or a light bulb. The investigation of thermal radiation has lead to groundbreaking discoveries throughout the history of physics, such as in thermodynamics by Gustav Kirchhoff or quantum mechanics by Max Planck. Its origin is microscopic charge motion randomly driven by heat energy. However, in addition to the resulting emitted blackbody radiation we detect at a distance from an object, there is also a confined radiation field very near the surface that does not radiate. That thermal surface-confined field, predicted to have a very high energy density and special spectral properties, has long gone unmeasured. I will discuss our quest to perform spectroscopy of this unique optical field by transforming it into detectable radiation using optical nano-antennas on a scanning probe microscope tip. I will discuss how we turned this fundamental discovery into a technique for super-resolution chemical imaging, including its commercialization. I will furthermore give a perspective how this work leads to new methods for thermal management of microelectronic devices, new forms of solar cells which turn waste heat into electricity, and new ways to test physical principles like quantum optical forces. 

Professor Markus Raschke
Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics
Apr 25

“Quantum Fuzziness and Quantum Certainty”

Late at night, the world can look fuzzy to tired eyes.  Thankfully, a pair of reading glasses or a good night's sleep will make things clear again.  However, in the quantum world there is a fundamental fuzziness that cannot be fixed with glasses or a good night's sleep.  Remarkably, this fundamental quantum fuzziness is responsible for keeping the stuff you and I are made out of from collapsing, and is the key to making atomic clocks that are accurate to a few parts in a billion billion.  The quantum fuzziness does eventually serve to blur our best measurements of the world around us.  We will discuss both the quantum certainties and uncertainties created by quantum fuzziness, and how we use quantum entanglement to stitch together laser-cooled and levitated atoms to reduce their total quantum fuzziness.

Professor James Thompson
Precision Measurement and Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics