Russell Frank Astronomy Lecture Series

The mission of the Russell Frank Astronomy Lecture Series is to bring distinguished scientists to UNLV to present lectures aimed at communicating cutting edge science to the general public. The lectures are free and are held once each semester. They are intended for a general audience and we encourage enthusiasts of all backgrounds and ages to attend.

The sponsor of the series, Russell Frank, is a New Jersey native who has multiple degrees and has taught at several prestigious institutions. Frank says: "I have enjoyed the various courses I have taken at UNLV and providing the astronomy and physics lecture series to the community is my way of giving back to the university."

The Lectures

Mitchell Begelman, University of Colorado
(March 2018)

What Can Black Holes Do for You?

Mitchell Begelman image Black holes are often regarded as cosmic vacuum cleaners, but it is actually rather hard to get them to eat. And when they do feed, they make a mess, disturbing their surroundings out to thousands or even millions of light years. I will explain why black holes are “fussy eaters”, and why the messes they make are important for the evolution of the Universe.

Mitch Begelman is a Professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, as well as a Fellow of JILA (which used to stand for Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, the way IBM used to stand for International Business Machines), both at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Mitchell Craig Begelman was born in New York and graduated from Bronx High School of Science before attending Harvard, where he was a National Merit Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa, to obtain A.B. and A.M. degrees in physics. He then went to the University of Cambridge to study with Martin Rees for his Ph.D. in theoretical astrophysics; his thesis was entitled Aspects of Accretion Theory (the physics of accretion of stuff onto black holes and compact stars). At Cambridge he was a National Science Foundation graduate fellow, and was awarded the Isaac Newton Studentship, named for a fellow Cambridge alumnus. He arrived at the University of Colorado Boulder in the early 80s , moving up the ranks to Professor and serving twice (and currently) as chair of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences. He is also a Fellow of JILA. He has received too many honors and awards to list any others. He serves as Vice-Chair of the National Academy of Sciences Astro2010 "Galaxies Across Cosmic Time" panel. Watch Dr. Begelman's lecture!

Shane Larson, Northwestern University
(November 2017)

Whispers from the Cosmos: The Dawn of Gravitational Wave Astronomy

Shane Larson image We tell the story of the discovery of gravitational waves (awarded the Physics Nobel Prize this year). These waves reveal what happens when two black holes collide, how the inner core of a star destroys itself during a supernova explosion, and how the graveyard of the galaxy is filled with the whisper of binary white dwarf stars that spiral together as they fade into oblivion. We will also look ahead to the future of this new branch of astronomy.

Dr. Shane Larson holds a joint appointment as Associate Professor of Physics Northwestern University & Dept. of Astronomy , Adler Planetarium , Chicago IL. He received a Ph. D. in Physics from Montana State University in 1999. He works in the field of gravitational wave astrophysics, specializing in studies of compact stars, binaries , and the galaxy. He works in gravitational wave astronomy with both the ground- based LIGO project , and future space -base. He has held several leader ship roles , and performed community ser vice including membership on NASA's L3 Study Team, NASA's Gravitational Wave Science Interest Group, Resource Letters Editorial Board of the American Journal of Physics . He is an internationally recognized scientist with numerous publications in peer reviewed journals. Watch Dr. Larson's lecture!

Mario Livio , University of Nevada, Las Vegas
(September 2017)

Brilliant Bluders

Mario Livio image Even the greatest scientists have made some serious blunders. This lecture concerns the evolution of life on Earth, of the Earth itself, of stars, and of the universe as a whole. We shall discuss major errors committed by such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Linus Pauling, and Albert Einstein. We will scrutinize the various types of blunders and attempt to identify their causes. Most importantly, we shall show that blunders are not only inevitable; they are in fact part and parcel of progress in science and other creative enterprises.

Dr Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist, best-selling author, and a popular speaker. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr Livio has published more than 400 scientific articles, on topics ranging from cosmology, supernova explosions, and black holes, to extrasolar planets and the emergence of life in the universe.

He has received numerous awards and recognitions for his research, including having been selected as the “Carnegie Centenary Professor” by the universities of Scotland in 2003, and as the “Danz Distinguished Lecturer” by the University of Washington in 2006.

Dr Livio is also the author of five popular science books. His bestselling book “The Golden Ratio” won him the “Peano Prize” in 2003 and the “International Pythagoras Prize” in 2004, as the best popular book on mathematics. His book “Is God A Mathematician?” inspired the NOVA program “The Great Math Mystery” that was nominated for an EMMY in 2016. His most recent book, “Brilliant Blunders,” was selected by The Washington Post as one of the “Notable Books of 2013.” His upcoming book “WHY? An Exploration of Human Curiosity” is scheduled for release in the summer of 2017. Watch Dr. Livio's lecture!

Peter Mészáros, The Pennsylvania State University
(March 2017)

The Highest Energy Cosmic Rays: Messengers from the Deep Universe

Peter Meszaros image The highest energy cosmic rays are single atoms with the energy of a pistol bullet. They hit the Earth from outer space at the rate of one per century per square mile. Their energy greatly exceeds the energies reached by the largest terrestrial accelerators. These particles probably arise from giant explosive events associated with black holes. We will review the growth of cosmic ray physics from its inception to the latest multi-million dollar experiments, and discuss the recent intellectual and computational efforts which have greatly increased our understanding.

Peter Mészáros is the Eberly Chair of Astronomy & Astrophysics and Professor of Physics at the Pennsylvania State University, where he is Director of the Center for Particle and Gravitational Astrophysics, and member of the directorate of the Institute for Gravity and the Cosmos. He served as head of the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics in 1993-2003, as the theory lead of the Swift satellite consortium and as member of the IceCube experiment team and the Fermi satellite consortium, and is currently member of the AMON Astrophysical Multimessenger Observatory Network consortium. Watch Dr. Mészáros' lecture!

Fiona Harrison , Caltech
(December 2016)

From Spinning Black Holes to Exploding Stars A New View of the High Energy Universe

Fiona Harrison image Space-based telescopes have greatly expanded our view of the cosmos, extending our ‘eyes’ into the X-ray band, where we can now observe some of the hottest and most energetic phenomena in the Universe. This talk centers on the remarkable discoveries made by NASA’s NuSTAR X-ray telescope, and the fascinating story of how a small space mission was able to make high energy X-ray images of our cosmos crisper and deeper than ever before.

Fiona A. Harrison is the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Caltech, Benjamin M. Rosen Professor of Physics at Caltech and the Principal Investigator for NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission. Watch Dr. Harrison's lecture!

Scott Tremaine, Institute for Advanced Study
(March 2016)

Is the Solar System Stable?

Scott Tremaine image The planets in the solar system have completed a few billion orbits since they were born. The behavior of planetary orbits over such long times was not understood until recently despite three centuries of study. Computers now allow us to follow the motion of planets reliably forsc the lifetime of the solar system. We will see how the Earth's orbit has evolved throughout geological history, and learn of the Earth's ultimate fate. We will also discuss what determines the number and spacing of the planets and whether there are lost planets.

Scott Tremaine has made seminal contributions to understanding the formation and evolution of planetary systems, comets, black holes, star clusters, galaxies, and galaxy systems. He predicted the Kuiper belt of comets beyond Neptune and, with Peter Goldreich, the existence of shepherd satellites and density waves in Saturn’s ring system, as well as the phenomenon of planetary migration. He interpreted double-nuclei galaxies, such as the nearby Andromeda galaxy, as eccentric stellar disks, and elucidated the role of dynamical friction in galaxy evolution. Watch Dr. Tremaine's lecture!

Shri Kulkarni , Caltech Optical Observatories
(February 2015)

The Restless Universe and the Palomar Transient Factory

Shri Kulkarni image Cosmic explosions were first noted nearly two thousand years ago. They are divided into two major families, novae and supernovae. The Palomar Transient Factory, an innovative 2- telescope system, was designed to to chart the transient sky. It is s now finding an extragalactic transient every 20 minutes discuss new developments in our understanding of supernovas and the discovery of prime candidates for gravitational wave detection by space observatories.

Shrinivas Ramchandra Kulkarni (born 1956) is an astronomer born in India. He is currently a professor of astronomy and planetary science at California Institute of Technology, and the director of Caltech Optical Observatory (COO) at California Institute of Technology who oversees Palomar and Keck among other telescopes. Watch Dr. Kulkarni's lecture now!

Sean Carroll, Caltech
(December 2014)

The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time

Sean Carroll image The past is different from the future. We can remember yesterday, but not tomorrow; we can turn an egg into an omelet, but can't turn an omelet into an egg. That's the arrow of time, consistent throughout the observable universe. The arrow can be explained by assuming that the very early universe was extremely orderly, and disorder has been increasing ever since. But why did the universe start out so orderly? We will discuss the nature of time, the origin of entropy, and how what happened before the Big Bang may be responsible for the arrow of time we observe today.

Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in 1993 from Harvard University. His research focuses on fundamental physics and cosmology, especially issues of dark matter, dark energy, spacetime symmetries, and the origin of the universe. Recently, Carroll has worked on the foundations of quantum mechanics, the arrow of time, and the emergence of complexity. Carroll is the author of The Particle at the End of the Universe, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, and Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity. He has been awarded prizes and fellowships by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Sloan Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics, and the Royal Society of London. Carroll has appeared on TV shows such as The Colbert Report, PBS's NOVA, and Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman, and frequently serves as a science consultant for film and television. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, writer Jennifer Ouellette. Watch Dr. Carroll's lecture!

Lars Bildsten, University of California, Santa Barbara
(March 2014)

Exploding Stars!

Lars Bildsten image Stars explode once every second in the Universe, often becoming brighter than the galaxy they live in. Recently enhanced capabilities to scan the skies now detect about 10 such stars per day. This has revealed whole new types of cataclysms, some much brighter than previously thought possible and some, much, much fainter. After describing the common outcomes, I will focus on the exciting new discoveries and our novel theoretical interpretations.

Lars Bildsten joined the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Physics Department at University of California, Santa Barbara in July 1999. He received his PhD in theoretical physics from Cornell University in 1991, where he held a Fannie and John Hertz Graduate Fellowship . Bildsten was then at Caltech for three years as the Lee A. DuBridge Research Fellow in Theoretical Astrophysics and received a Compton Fellowship from NASA in spring 1994. He was an assistant and associate professor in both the Physics and Astronomy departments at University of California, Berkeley from January 1995 through July 1999. While there, he was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship in 1995 and a Hellman Family Faculty Fund Award in 1997. The Research Corporation designated him as a Cottrell Scholar in 1998. In 1999, he was awarded the Helen B. Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society. Bildsten was cited for his fundamental work on stellar structure, including nuclear burning on neutron stars, the role of neutron stars as gravity wave sources, and the theory of lithium depletion. He was the 2000 Edwin Salpeter Lecturer at Cornell University and the 2004 Biermann Lecturer at the Max-Planck Institute for Astrophysics, and is presently a Foreign Associate of the Cosmology and Gravity Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Watch Dr. Bildsten's lecture!

David Spergel , Princeton University
(November 2013)

Taking the Baby Picture of the Universe

David Spergel image Observations of the microwave background, the left-over heat from the big bang, are snapshots of the universe only 300,000 years after the big bang. We will show how observations made with the WMAP and Planck satellites have answered many fundamental questions: How old is the universe? What is its size and shape? What is the composition of the universe? How do galaxies emerge?

There has been significant progress, but many key cosmological questions remain unanswered: what happened during the first moments of the big bang? what is the dark energy? what were the properties of the first stars? I will discuss how future observations may start to answer these new and deeper questions.

David Spergel is a theoretical astrophysicist whose interests range from the search for planets around nearby stars to the shape of the universe. He is involved in a number of large research collaborations, including the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, the U.S. Euclid Collaboration, and the Subaru Measurement of Images and Redshifts, a two-part project consisting of the HyperSuprime Cam survey of the sky, followed by the spectroscopic study with PFS. Spergel serves as co-chair of the science definition team for the WFIRST mission, a mission that aims to understand dark energy, explore the growth of structures and galaxies, and search for extrasolar planets. Watch Dr. Spergel's lecture!

Karl Gebhardt, University of Texas, Austin
(March 2013)

Exploring the Dark Side of the Universe: Black Holes, Dark Matter and Dark Energy

Karl Gebhardt image We will discuss three key findings in astronomy. A new force of nature, dark energy, is causing the expansion of the universe to speed up. The nature of dark matter that dominates mass around galaxies is unknown. Black holes are thought to be exist in all galaxies, yet we do not understand how they form and interact with galaxies.

Each of these three areas is ripe for significant advances. We will review the current discoveries and understanding of these dark components of the Universe. We will discuss new data that show that we are living through a unique time for Astronomy.

Karl Gebhardt's research focuses on two main areas: black holes and dark energy. His work on black holes has helped build the case that a class of medium-mass black holes exists in between the stellar-mass black holes that result when massive stars explode as supernovae and the supermassive black holes that lie at the hearts of galaxies. Karl is also one of the architects of HETDEX, the $34-million Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment. This McDonald Observatory project seeks to understand dark energy, that enigmatic force causing the universe's expansion to speed up. Dark energy has been called the most important puzzle in all of science today. Karl received his Ph.D. in Physics and Astronomy from Rutgers University.

John Johnson, Caltech
(September 2012)

Hot on the Trail of Warm Planets Orbiting Cool Stars

John Johnson image We present some early, exciting results that point the way to the first detection of an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a star. NASA’s Kepler satellite mission has discovered many new planets orbiting right “next door,” around tiny red dwarf stars. Several of these planets reside in the zone where liquid water could exist. We will describe our multi-telescope campaign to study and characterize these planetary systems.

John Asher Johnson is an American astrophysicist and professor of astronomy at Harvard. He was a formerly a professor at the California Institute of Technology and a researcher with NASA's Exoplanet Science Research Institute.

In 2012 Johnson's team discovered three exoplanets, including the smallest one found to date, orbiting a red dwarf using the Kepler orbital telescope. A subsequent study used the host star's similarity to Barnard's star and observations from the Keck Observatory to determine more information about the system and the size of its three planets. He is the principal investigator of the Miniature Exoplanet Radial Velocity Array (MINERVA), a ground-based robotic search for exoplanets.

Other Distinguished Astronomy Lectures

Prior to Russell Frank establishing our astronomy lecture series that we record, a number of distinguished astrophysicists have lectured at UNLV, often in the University Forum Lecture Series. Among these scholars are: Doug Lin, Raja GuhaThakurta, Mario Livio, Roger Blandford, and James Stone.

Copyright © 2018 UNLV Physics & Astronomy