Physics and Astronomy Colloquium Series
Dr. Douglas Osheroff
Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014
I grew up in a logging town on the west coast of Washington State. My father was a medical doctor and my mother had been a nurse, but gave up nursing to raise a family of five children. I was the second oldest. I did well in school, graduating from high school with a straight A grade point. But my major interest was experimental science; physics and chemistry. I suppose I am lucky to have survived my childhood, as I was fascinated by high voltage electricity and gunpowder. By the time I graduated from high school I had built a 100,000 volt X-ray source from old parts in the basement of my parents home. I remember very clearly the day that an announcement came over the junior high school PA system that the Russians had put a satellite into orbit. It was an exciting time to be alive, but the message was clear to most: Science would be an important part of the cold war.
I did my undergraduate work at Caltech, just after Richard Feynman had created his famous two year long undergraduate physics sequence: ‘The Feynman Lecture on Physics’. My entering freshman class had 192 students, but only 120 returned for their sophomore year. Feynman challenged us all, and at the same time treated us to a remarkable two year physics sequence for every freshman and sophomore at Caltech. I got involved in an infra-red star survey my junior year. I would drive up to the Mt. Wilson observatory to run the 62 inch (diameter) infra-red telescope. I remember very clearly the night that one of the other undergraduates, working on a different telescope, dropped by with the news that he and a graduate student had found that they could image the center of the Milky Way (the galaxy that includes our Earth) in the infrared.
When it came time for me to apply to graduate programs, I applied only to schools with strong astrophysics programs. I was admitted to all eight of the schools to which I had applied. But when it came time to choose between the eight, I began to realize that what I had always enjoyed doing was not observing stars and other celestial objects, but doing experiments. This came from my high school chemistry teacher, who came into class one day with a milk carton. He shook the milk carton, and we could hear that there was something inside. Then Mr. Hock said that every time one does an experiment, they are asking a question of Nature. For instance, when he rotated the milk carton horizontally about its long axis, we could hear that what was inside was rushing from corner to corner: The object inside thus had to have cylindrical symmetry. That simple tutorial had provided me with an insatiable thirst for knowledge of the unknown. I wanted to ask nature questions by doing experiments! In short, I recognized that I wanted to be an experimental physicist.
I went to Cornell University for graduate study, and quickly became a member of the low temperature laboratory. This was a very exciting time, as new refrigeration technologies were just being developed that would allow me to study nature in a new and very different realm: The realm of ultra-low temperatures. Three years later I was to discover superfluidity in liquid 3He, a discovery for which I was to share the 1996 Nobel Prize for Physics.
The Physics and Astronomy Colloquium Series is open to all members of the university. Unless otherwise noted, talks are held on Thursday afternoons at 4:00-5:20 in Mendocino 1015. Schedule is regularly updated as dates, titles, and abstracts are received. Please check back often. To receive updates about the Colloquium Series, please join our Events Mailing List. For past semesters' series, see our archive.
Fall 2014 Semester Schedule
We will update the schedule for the Fall 2014 semester as we get closer to the start of the semester. Have a great summer!
Oct. 2, 2014
Oct. 16, 2014
Oct. 30, 2014
Nov. 13, 2014
Dec. 4, 2014