Welcome to our public lecture series, normally held at 7PM on the second Thursday of the month during the school year. Our own Columbia University physicists and scientists will present an overview of the international and local experiments that our world-renowned research teams are working on: Big bang cosmology, dark matter, neutrino physics, particle colliders, biophysics, astrophysics; we’ll cover them all!

Everyone is welcome. These talks are intended for a general audience. Lectures last approximately 60 minutes with time afterwards for questions/answers and discussions.

Refreshments will be served prior to each event.

The lectures are free. Registration is required. These talks are popular and space is limited, so we cannot accommodate anyone who does not register in advance. You can register on-line by clicking the appropriate buttons below, or call us at 914-591-8100.

If you would like to support our efforts, a tax-deductible donation can be made below. Any support would be greatly appreciated.

Unless otherwise noted, the Science-on-Hudson lectures are given in the Science Center at Nevis Laboratories, 136 South Broadway, Irvington NY 10533 (please read the directions before trusting your GPS).

Spring 2018

We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe

Thu Mar 15, 2018

Doctor Jorge Cham
Professor Daniel Whiteson, University of California, Irvine

Despite many years of astounding progress, there remain basic questions that science has yet to answer: What is the Universe made of? How did the Universe begin? How will it end? PHD Comics creator Jorge Cham and particle physicist Daniel Whiteson team up to explain everything we DON'T know about the Universe. Using their popular infographics, cartoons, and clear and entertaining explanations, this lecture is perfect for anyone who's curious about science and all the big questions we still haven't answered. No background knowledge is presumed.

A book signing will be held after the talk, with the opportunity to purchase their new book We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe.

We Have No Idea

The Mysterious Case of Matter

Thu Apr 12, 2018

Professor Gustaaf Brooijmans, Columbia University

Sometimes it’s the things we encounter the most that we understand the least. A case in point is matter. While our understanding of interactions is quite sophisticated, as evidenced by our prediction and discovery of the Higgs boson, the origin(s?) of the properties of matter remains shrouded in mystery. Not that we lack clues: if Hercule Poirot were a particle physicist he would have a field day (or maybe century). I’ll discuss those clues, as well as questions we are asking to get the culprits to reveal themselves.

Gustaaf Brooijmans

Alexander Hamilton: The Founding Father for the Rest of Us

Thu May 10, 2018

Professor Bob McCaughey, Barnard College

Some reflections on why Hamilton has so much more resonance for Americans today than all the other Founding Fathers. How his origins, education, public and private life have acquired new relevance in the Age of Trump. How Hamilton’s most recent biographer, Ron Chernow, and his Broadway renderer, Lin-Manuel Miranda, have given us the Hamilton we need.

After the talk, there will be a reception at the Hamilton House at Nevis.

Bob McCaughey


Past events

Gravity: A Status Report

Thu Feb 8, 2018

Professor Rachel Rosen, Columbia University

The unexpected discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe has compelled us to question our current theory of gravity — Einstein’s general relativity. In this talk I’ll review the basic principles behind general relativity and discuss modifications of these principles that could alter the evolution of our universe.

General Relativity
Rachel A. Rosen

The Higgs Boson: Why Should You Care?

Thu Dec 14, 2017

Professor P. Michael Tuts, Columbia University

On July 4th 2012 the CMS and ATLAS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN announced the discovery of a new particle. This new particle, which has a mass about 130 times greater than the proton mass, was confirmed to be the long sought after Higgs boson.

While it ranks as probably the most important discovery in my (long) career in particle physics, this seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the importance of this discovery after the initial euphoria has worn off. It is a question my non-physics friends and my congressman asked me; namely, “Awesome, this is a great discovery, but... so what?”

It is a serious question that deserves a serious answer, and I would like to give you my view on the answer.

Michael Tuts

computer chip

A Tale of Two Stained Glasses

Thu Nov 9, 2017

Professor Laura J. Kaufman, Columbia University

It is commonly stated that stained glass windows in medieval cathedrals are thicker on the bottom than on the top because glass flows, albeit very slowly. While the two clauses comprising that urban legend may (or may not!) be accurate, their relationship certainly is not causal. Come hear about the actual consequences of the fact that glass has both liquid and solid character and how materials of this type are of interest in applications as disparate as oil delivery and cryo-preservation. I will discuss how chemistry and modern imaging technologies are used in my laboratory to “stain glass” and look at the behavior of individual molecules within glass for the first time, affording us fuller understanding of this unique material.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube.

Stained Glass

Laura J. Kaufman

Materials Science and the Road to Technology

Thu Oct 12, 2017

Professor Abhay Pasupathy, Columbia University

Ever wondered why your newer computer performs better than the one from ten years ago? Or why LED lights that are several times more efficient than incandescent bulbs are a reality today? Underlying these advances in technology are advances in the science of materials that go into these amazing products. But how are these advances in materials made? And who makes them? I will discuss these questions and provide an overview of the materials ecosystem - from fundamental, serendipitous discovery in research labs to focused industrial research to solve particular materials challenges.

Abhay Pasupathy

computer chip

Music of the Spheres

Thu Sep 14, 2017

Professor Lam Hui, Columbia University

We will discuss the basic ideas of modern cosmology - a nearly homogeneous, expanding cosmos originating from a big bang - leading up to current research on dark energy, and the primordial universe.

Lam Hui


Space, Time, and Reality

Thu May 11, 2017

Professor Brian Greene, Columbia University

One hundred years ago, Albert Einstein revolutionized our understanding of space and time, elevating them to dynamic participants in the evolution of the cosmos. Research in our era has pushed this revolution far further, even hinting at the quantum threads which may stitch the spacetime fabric together. In this talk, which presumes no background, these ideas will be discussed and visualized.

There will be a reception following the talk at the Hamilton House at Nevis.

Brian Greene

Neutrinos are Us!

Thu Apr 13, 2017

Professor Georgia Karagiorgi, Columbia University

One of the biggest challenges in physics today is to explain why, after the Big Bang, a small amount of matter has survived annihilation with antimatter, making up what remains today as our visible Universe.

This lecture will describe an ambitious experiment which aims to get to the bottom of this mystery. This experiment involves nothing less than a particle detector the size of the Flatiron Building, filled with 40 thousand tons of very cold liquid, more than a million of hair-thin sensor wires, and an abandoned underground gold mine! Its goal is to search for differences between neutrinos and their antiparticles which could be linked to the observed matter-antimatter asymmetry in our Universe.

Neutrinos (Nature’s tiniest fundamental matter particles) and their antiparticles could hold the answer to this question. Extracting that information from neutrinos, however, comes with its very own set of challenges. Despite being the second most abundant known particle in the Universe, neutrinos are notoriously elusive. Thus, studying them in any great detail requires intense neutrino sources, massive detectors, and years of data recording.

Before and after the talk, we'll hand out virtual-reality viewers for your smartphone that will enable you to experience neutrino events from inside the detector. To prepare before the talk, please download the Venu app for iOS or Android phones. The Science Center will open at 6:15 to allow extra time for you to pick up a viewer and receive instruction on how to use it.

Georgia Karagiorgi


Energetic Adventures in Stellar Afterlife

Thu Mar 9, 2017

Professor Brian Humensky, Columbia University

Massive stars explode spectacularly at the end of their lives, launching a powerful shock wave into their surroundings and leaving behind a collapsed core that forms either a neutron star or a black hole. Both the shock wave and the "compact objects" left behind are capable of acting as natural particle accelerators reaching energies tens or hundred (or possibly more!) times greater than the most powerful terrestrial accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. These accelerators include shell-type supernova remnants, pulsars and pulsar wind nebulae, binary systems, and gamma-ray bursts.

In this talk, we'll discuss the very-high-energy gamma-rays produced by these, and what that radiation is teaching us about how these stellar remnants are able to become natural particle accelerators. We'll also discuss the gamma-ray telescopes used to study these objects, and particularly what the next-generation Cherenkov Telescope Array will be able to teach us.

Brian Humensky

Extreme Weather and Climate Change

CHANGE OF DATE: Thu Feb 16, 2017

Professor Adam Sobel, Columbia University

How does climate change influence extreme weather events? Are they increasing in frequency or intensity? When a particular event happens, can we say with any justification that climate change played a role, or that it didn’t? How does the answer differ depending on which kind of event we are talking about – heat waves, floods, droughts, hurricanes, or tornadoes? I will explain what we know and don’t know, based on the latest scientific research on these topics.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube.

climate change
Adam Sobel

Nature's Ultimate Time Machine: Photographing the Infant Universe

Thu Dec 8, 2016

Professor Bradley Johnson, Columbia University

Historians and archaeologists can only dream of taking photographs of ancient civilizations, of observing their daily activities, of watching the constructions of cities and the evolution of conflicts. Incredibly, with modern tools and technologies, cosmologists have at their fingertips the capability to do just that, to photograph the formation and evolution of our universe.

I will describe the experimental and observational methods that make this possible, and review the highlights of what we have learned as we have made observations of the universe as it was further and further back in time. Finally, I will discuss the current cosmological frontier; the challenge of observing the universe when it was much less than a second old. These observations hold the promise of revealing the nature of fundamental physics at the very moment at which our universe came into being.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube.

Bradley Johnson


Microbe-Powered Machines

Thu Nov 10, 2016

Professor Ozgur Sahin, Columbia University

Plants and many other biological organisms have developed structures that are extraordinarily effective in harnessing spatial and temporal changes in relative humidity to actuate structural changes. It is surprising that structures and devices made by humans rarely, if ever, take advantage of this powerful and apparently reliable phenomenon. Working with spores of Bacillus as a model system, we study water behavior in biological structures, particularly the behavior under nanoscale confinement. Confinement endows water with the ability to convert energy from changes in relative humidity with high efficiency.

In this talk, I will present recent work in the field as well as our study of the energy conversion process in spores. The efficiency of spores inspired us to develop hybrid materials that can change shape dramatically in response to changing humidity, and also to use these materials to create evaporation-driven engines that can generate power when placed above water, in a sub-saturated atmosphere.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube.

Ozgur Sahin


Astrophysics' Revolution: Gravitational-wave Observations and the Hidden Universe?

Thu Oct 13, 2016

Doctor Zsuzsa Marka, Columbia University

Advanced LIGO's discovered gravitational waves on the 100th anniversary of Einstein's prediction. Beyond the extraordinary discovery, there is a growing focus on incorporating gravitational waves as a new window on questions from violent cosmic transients to cosmology. We will discuss some aspects of (i) the instrumental breakthroughs that enabled the unprecedented sensitivity reached by Advanced LIGO and (ii) the key scientific directions in which gravitational wave searches are being utilized, directly as well as in the context of multimessenger astronomy.

Zsuzsa Marka


Studying Primordial Matter at the LHC

Thu Sep 8, 2016

Professor Brian Cole, Columbia University

For one month a year the Large Hadron Collider collides nuclei instead of protons. These nuclear collisions produce, for a brief instant, matter in a form that existed in the early universe a few millionths of a second after the big bang and whose temperature is greater than 1012 (a million million) Kelvin. At such temperatures, ordinary matter melts to produce a plasma of quarks and gluons -- the particles which are the fundamental building blocks of protons, neutrons, and by extension, atomic nuclei. Studies of the properties of this quark-glon plasma have provided new insight into the nature of the strong interaction.

This talk will discuss relevant measurements being made by Columbia researchers at the LHC and what we have learned from them.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube.

Brian Cole


A History of Nevis Labs

Thu May 12, 2016

Doctor William Seligman, Columbia University

From one tree to thousands, from the revolution of a nation to evolutions in science, from ghost dogs to ghostly particles: we'll visit the story of how the Nevis estate started from a small part of a British land grant to a center of high-energy physics. We'll follow the path that starts with Alexander Hamilton and his birth on Nevis Island, to his son James Hamilton's purchase of the Nevis estate in 1835, to the donation of the estate to Columbia University in 1934, to the construction of what was then the highest-energy particle accelerator in the world.

There'll be a look at the architectural features of the Hamilton House at Nevis, which influenced the design of other buildings on the Nevis estate, including the physics research centers built 110 years after the original mansion was constructed. We'll also have an overview of the scientific research done at Nevis from the start of the cyclotron in 1950 to the present.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube.

William Seligman

Hamilton House at Nevis

Young Scientist Event: Explore South Pole Science With IceCube

Sat Apr 16, 2016, 12:30 PM - 3:30 PM

Become a Junior Scientist at Nevis Labs and learn how the IceCube experiment has transformed the South Pole ice into a giant telescope.

Fun activities! Young scientists and their families can practice their ice-drilling skills on large blocks of ice using warm water (similar to the technique used to deploy detectors in the South Pole glacier) or try on cold weather gear used in Antarctic expeditions. All ages are welcome!

A group of IceCube scientists will be available to discuss their research and share their experience working in Antarctica. We’ll have a presentation from an IceCube “winterover”, the personnel who guard the experiment during the long and dark Antarctic winter, who will talk about the challenges and rewards of living and working at the South Pole for a full year.

You can see pictures from this event here.

South Pole

IceCube event

The Neutrino: A Particle With Identity Problems

Thu Apr 14, 2016

Doctor Leslie Camilleri, Columbia University

We are continuously bathed in a sea of neutrinos coming from sources such as the sun, cosmic rays and neutrinos left over from the Big Bang! And yet, we are still uncovering more of their unusual properties.

The neutrino was postulated by Pauli in 1930 in order to solve a non-conservation of energy crisis in radioactive decays. However it was only identified 26 years later following the advent of nuclear reactors with their intense neutrino flux. Eventually it was discovered that neutrinos come in three types or flavors. Puzzles related to neutrinos produced in the sun and in cosmic ray interactions were solved by discovering that a neutrino of one flavor could change into a neutrino of a different flavor. This so-called oscillation implied that neutrinos have a non-zero mass. The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald "for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass". As if this was not enough, several experiments now have hints of the existence of even more neutrinos that would have even more unusual properties.

The experiments that led to these discoveries and those in the planning stage to complete our understanding of neutrino masses and oscillations will be described.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube

Leslie Camilleri

MicroBooNE cryostat

Our Violent Universe: A Gamma-Ray View of the Sky

Thu Mar 10, 2016

Professor Reshmi Mukherjee, Barnard College

Very-high-energy gamma-ray astrophysics has emerged as an exciting and vital area of research, with major discoveries made through satellite experiments in space and observatories on Earth. Gamma rays are the most energetic forms of light and are generated in some of the most violent processes in the Universe. One example is a supernova explosion, one of the most violent events in our Universe, generating a blinding flash of radiation, as well as shock waves. Outside our own galaxy, another exciting astrophysical object is a type of high-energy quasar, thought to harbor a supermassive black hole.

This evening we will explore some of the experiments scientists have developed to take a glimpse at the mysterious and energetic Universe.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube

Reshmi Mukherjee

VERITAS telescope

A Brief History of Chemistry in the Cosmos

Thu Feb 11, 2016

Doctor Daniel Savin, Columbia University

Come travel down the cosmic chemical pathway from the Big Bang to the formation of stars and to life as we know it. Our chemical studies have advanced understanding how the first stars formed and how the raw materials needed for life were first synthesized.

Join me as I hop, skip, and jump my way across cosmic time and explain key chemical processes along the way.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube

Daniel Savin

Genesis experiment

The Hunt for Dark Matter with the XENON Experiment

Thu Dec 10, 2015

Professor Elena Aprile, Columbia University

The new XENON1T experiment in the underground laboratory of the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy has unprecedented capabilities in the search for Galactic Dark Matter. While there is general consensus that vast amounts of Dark Matter exist in the Universe, its nature remains unknown.

XENON1T is designed by an international collaboration of more than 120 scientists, with the goal to provide novel insights to this question. With a powerful detector filled with more than 3000 kg of liquid Xenon at -100 °C, the experiment will open a new era with the most sensitive search for dark matter ever realized.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube

Elena Aprile


Fishing for Neutrinos at the South Pole

Thu Nov 12, 2015

Professor Michael Shaevitz, Columbia University

The IceCube project at the South Pole has melted eighty-six holes over 1.5 miles deep in the Antarctic icecap to be used as an astronomical observatory. Into each hole is lowered a string knotted with sixty basketball-sized light detectors that are sensitive to the shimmering blue light emitted in the surrounding clear ice when ghostly particles called neutrinos pass through the Earth.

We have recently discovered a flux of neutrinos reaching us from the cosmos with energies more than a million times those of the neutrinos produced at on earth with accelerators. They are astronomical messengers from the most violent processes in the universe; for example, giant black holes gobbling up stars in the heart of quasars and gamma-ray bursts, which are the biggest explosions since the Big Bang. The lecture will describe the telescope and work at the South Pole along with highlight the first scientific results.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube

Michael Shaevitz

The Radiological Research Accelerator Facility: Radiation on the Small Scale Working on Some Big Questions

Thu Oct 8, 2015

Doctor Andrew Harken, Columbia University

The Radiological Research Accelerator Facility (RARAF), at Nevis Labs, is an NIH-supported national center for the development of radiation microbeams. We use these microbeams to irradiate single cells in culture or tissue and observe the responses to the radiation injury. These studies inform both the radiation hazards that can be present from exposures as well as help to determine new potential treatments for cancer using radiation.

This talk will cover the basics of radiation, how we make our radiation microbeams, the effects of radiation on the cells and tissues, and how these results are used to shape cancer theories and public policy.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube

Andrew Harken

Fluorescent imaging

Exploring the Universe with the Big Bang Machine

Thu Sep 10, 2015

Professor John Parsons, Columbia University

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland is the world's most powerful particle accelerator. Dubbed the Big Bang Machine by the popular press, the LHC allows scientists to re-create the conditions which existed less than a billionth of a second after the birth of the universe.

The ATLAS experiment at the LHC is seeking answers to profound questions about the birth, past, and future evolution of our universe. Highlights which will be discussed include the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson, which led to the awarding of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Excerpts from this talk are available on YouTube

John Parsons

ATLAS event