Weekly Colloquium

Most weeks during the semester, we host a scholar for a one-day visit. The visit culminates with a public talk on a topic of contemporary physics or astronomy. Students are welcome to these talks, and seniors are required to attend at least nine over the course of a year. We gather before the talks for tea, coffee, and cookies. Near the end of each semester, honors thesis students give public lectures on their work. The typical schedule has refreshments at 4:00 pm in Merrill 204 with the talk at 4:15 pm in Merrill 3. 

Our Astronomy program is part of the Five College Astronomy Department, which hosts its own colloquium series Thursdays at 3:45 pm at UMass in LGRT 1033. 

  • If you would like to be mailed seminar announcements, please send an email to physics@amherst.edu.
  • Contact colloquium organizer Larry Hunter (lrhunter@amherst.edu) with any questions about colloquia.

Tue, Oct 24, 2017

Bradonjic

Professor Kaća Bradonjić, Hampshire College

"Mathematics as the Language of Physics: What is Lost in the Translation?"

The use of mathematics for codification of observations and the formulation of physical laws has been of such utility that it is easy to forget that mathematics as it is used by mathematicians is in many important ways different from mathematics as it is used by physicists. The former deals with purely abstract concepts, such as numbers and geometric shapes, while the latter is imbued with meaning which relates these concepts to the features of the physical world. Unlike the mathematician, the physicist is tasked with casting observations and physical laws into mathematical form and then interpreting the mathematical results as statements about the Nature. The big question is, what is lost in the translation? Given a mathematical formulation of a physical theory, where does its physics end and the pure math begin? After looking at some familiar examples from undergraduate physics, I will discuss these questions in the context of the general theory of relativity, examining how abstract concepts of a manifold, coordinates, metric tensor, and affine connection are used to model physical events, geometry of spacetime, and the gravitational field. Understanding the relation between math and physics in this context is essential for the development of new physical theories, such as modifications of general relativity and quantum theory of gravity.

Tue, Oct 31, 2017

Weekly Physics & Astronomy Seminar: TBA

Unless otherwise noted, all physics seminars and colloquium are held on Tuesdays from 4:45 to 6:00 pm, in Lecture Room 3 of Merrill Science Center. Tea and snacks will be served before seminars at 4:15 in 204 Merrill. If you would like to be mailed seminar announcements, please send an email to physics@amherst.edu

Tue, Nov 7, 2017

Principal Research Scientist Herman Marshal, MIT Kavli Institute: "The Future of X-ray Polarimetry in Astronomy"

I will present several projects to measure the X-ray polarizations of astronomical sources over the next 5-10 years. Previous observations were obtained in the 1970s for bright Galactic sources such as X-ray binaries and the Crab Nebula using a Bragg reflection from graphite crystals, limiting the measurements to 2.6 and 5.2 keV. Recently, a few detections have been reported using Compton scattering at hard X-rays. A newly approved NASA mission is the Imaging X-ray Polarization Explorer (IXPE). It would operate in the 2-8 keV range and is expected to launch in late 2020. It has an imaging capability, with a resolution of about a half arc-minute, and should detect X-ray polarizations as low as 1-5 percent for a dozen or more active galaxies, supernova remnants, neutron stars, and X-ray binaries during a mission lifetime of a few years. I will describe the instrument and a few of the science goals. I will also describe a design for a sounding rocket based polarimeter to work in the 0.2-0.6 keV band. The method uses gratings developed at MIT and multilayer coated mirrors. Potential targets include active galaxies, isolated neutron stars, and nearby black hole binaries in outburst. The configuration is extensible to orbital use, possibly to be combined with other instruments to provide a bandpass from 0.2 to 50 keV.

Tue, Nov 14, 2017

Professor Bjoern Penning, Brandeis University:

Tue, Nov 28, 2017

Physics/Astronomy Senior Thesis Talks

Tue, Dec 5, 2017

Physics/Astronomy Senior Thesis Talks

Tue, Jan 23, 2018

Information Session for Junior Physics & Astronomy Majors

Information Session for Junior Physics & Astronomy majors beginning at 4:30 p.m. in the Student Lounge/116 Merrill. This will be an informational meeting for all juniors where we will discuss how to go about applying to graduate school and options and procedures for honors thesis projects. Pizza will be served.

Tue, Jan 30, 2018

Weekly Physics & Astronomy Seminar: TBA

Unless otherwise noted, all physics seminars and colloquium are held on Tuesdays from 4:45 to 6:00 pm, in Lecture Room 3 of Merrill Science Center. Tea and snacks will be served before seminars at 4:15 in 204 Merrill. If you would like to be mailed seminar announcements, please send an email to physics@amherst.edu

Tue, Feb 6, 2018

Assistant Professor David Moore, Yale University:

Tue, Feb 13, 2018

Professor Katharine Jensen, Williams College