Aspen Science Center


The Aspen Science Center is privileged to host the Physics Cafés ahead of the Aspen Center for Physics’ Nick & Maggie DeWolf Foundation free Winter Lecture series.  Each year, from January through March, the Aspen Center for Physics hosts accomplished physicists for six to eight one-week winter conferences.  These conferences are a chance for physicists to collaborate on the latest developments in the core physics areas of the Center.  The public is invited to attend both the Aspen Center for Physics winter lecture series and the Aspen Science Center Physics Cafés for free.

The Physics Cafés are an informal, yet informative, talk with visiting physicists that allows the audience to hear them discuss their work and current research interests, to describe what initially attracted them to physics as a career and perhaps any advice they might have for young people thinking about pursuing studies in physics, through a moderated Q&A format conversation.

The Physics Cafes take place from 4:30 p.m.—5:20 p.m. in the Wheeler Opera House Bar Lobby on Wednesdays ahead of the Aspen Center for Physics Nick & Maggie DeWolf Foundation Lecture. There is no charge for admission.  The Wheeler Opera House is located at: 320 E Hyman Ave, Aspen, CO 81611.

Schedule for 2020 (All events take place from 4:30 to 5:20 pm on Wednesdays at the Wheeler Opera House, unless otherwise noted).


January 8, 2020
Physics Cafe (4:30- 5:20 pm)
Café Speakers: Dr. Lydia Roberts, Sorbonne University; and Dr. Thomas Fai, Brandeis University

Aspen Center for Physics Lecture (5:30-6:30 pm)
Lecture: “Gulliver’s Travels in Biology”
Speaker: Jané Kondev, Brandeis University

Since time immemorial, people have wondered what determines the size of animals and plants. Beginning with Galileo, we have come to understand how physical forces such as gravity and elasticity limit the size of living things and affect their shapes. Today, equipped with powerful microscopes and other technological marvels, we are peering ever deeper inside individual cells. These developments are beginning to provide a quantitative understanding of structures that self-assemble in cells, and what determines their size.  I will describe these exciting discoveries at the cutting edge of modern science, and how they’re redefining our understanding of cells as a basic unit of life.


January 15, 2020
Physics Cafe (4:30- 5:20 pm)
Café Speakers: Dr. Vidya Madhavan, University of Illinois; and Dr. Joseph Checkelsky, MIT

Aspen Center for Physics Lecture (5:30-6:30 pm)
Lecture: “Tying Knots in Quantum Computing”
Speaker: Charles Marcus, University of Copenhagen

Do opposites attract? At first glance, qubits, the basic units of quantum computing, have little in common with topology, the branch of mathematics that describes shapes, but can the two be married? Can we tie the knot?

In theory, it seems that the stability and hidden character of knotted string may carry over into quantum mechanics. We know that a knot in a piece of string can be difficult to remove. By imbedding a qubit in a mathematical “knot,” might the qubit, which is susceptible to mis-measurement, be stabilized?

This talk will review the connection between qubits and topology from an experimental point of view and describe the challenge of building a system to store quantum information in knots using emergent particles in solid state systems. This is part of the emerging fields of topological condensed matter physics and topological quantum information.


February 5, 2020
Physics Cafe (4:30- 5:20 pm)
Café Speakers: Dr. Narayanan Menon, University of Massachusetts, Amherst; and Ms. Daria Atkinson, Physics Graduate Student, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Aspen Center for Physics Lecture (5:30-6:30 pm)
Lecture: “Mechanics, Thermodynamics, and Electrons”
Speaker: Konstantin Novoselov, Manchester University


February 12, 2020
Physics Cafe (4:30- 5:20 pm)
Café Speakers: Dr. Justin Spilker, Postdoctoral Research Affiliate, University of Texas, Austin; and Dr. Sarah Wellons, postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA) at Northwestern University

Aspen Center for Physics Lecture (5:30-6:30 pm)
Lecture: “Hubble Past and Present: Witnessing the Formation of Galaxies”
Speaker: Casey Papovich, Texas A&M University

The formation of galaxies has been one of the great outstanding problems of astrophysics.  While cosmologists and astrophysicists have made great progress in mapping dark-matter structures in the Universe in the past 30 years, understanding how galaxies grow within these structures remains one of the great unanswered questions.

Now astrophysicists use data from modern observatories, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, to measure how galaxies evolve. With these data, they have measured when and how quickly galaxies form their stars and how they mature to have structures like those in our own Milky Way. Papovich will discuss ongoing and future research to understand the “formation epochs” of galaxies, including forthcoming prospects using the James Webb Space Telescope, where the ultimate goal is to identify the birth of the first galaxies and to form a coherent picture of galaxy formation.


February 19, 2020 *** (Lecture will be held at Aspen Center for Physics, 700 W Gillespie Street, Aspen, CO 81611)

Physics Cafe (4:30- 5:20 pm)
Café Speakers: Dr. Masha Baryakhtar, James Arthur Postdoctoral Fellow at NYU; and Dr. Michael R. Vanner, Imperial College London

Aspen Center for Physics Lecture (5:30-6:30 pm)
Lecture: “Optimized Photonics”
Speaker: Jelena Vuckovic, Stanford University

Photonics is an area of study that involves the use of light whose fundamental element is the photon. Most of today’s photonics are highly inefficient, in many cases adopted from microwave engineering decades ago, when devices could only be designed by hand. It turns out that the parameter space of photonic devices is much richer and that the use of computer-aided design techniques results in highly non-intuitive designs. For example, when you ask a machine to design an optimal airplane wing, it ends up looking just like a bat’s wing, but when you ask it to design an optical device, it looks like something created by an alien intelligence — nothing like what a human would make.  And it all works better than stuff designed by human engineers.

March 11, 2020
Physics Cafe (4:30- 5:20 pm)
Café Speakers: Dr. Ulrich Schollwöck, Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany; and Meigan Aronson, University of British Columbia

Aspen Center for Physics Lecture (5:30-6:30 pm)
Lecture: “Card Tricks and Quantum Physics”
Speaker: Thierry Giamarchi, University of Geneva


March 18, 2020
Physics Cafe (4:30- 5:20 pm)
Café Speakers:

Aspen Center for Physics Lecture (5:30-6:30 pm)
Lecture: “Super Precise Clocks: Spies of the Quantum Realm”
Speaker: Ana Maria Rey, University of Colorado, JILA

The best clock in the world has no hands, no pendulum, no face or digital display. It is made of ultra-cold strontium atoms trapped in crystals of light.  This clock is so precise that, had it begun ticking when Earth formed billions of years ago, it would not yet have gained or lost a second. This super precise atomic clock not only is serving as the most accurate timekeeper, but also it is starting to help us unveil the mysteries of the quantum world, full of bizarre properties. In this talk I will tell you why atomic clocks are a win-win business: not only they are setting the foundations of the next generation of quantum technologies, but in parallel, the gained understanding of the quantum realm is allowing us to improve the current generation of clocks and build the most incredible quantum rulers of time ever imagined.


March 24, 2020** (on a Tuesday)
Physics Cafe (4:30- 5:20 pm)
Café Speakers: Dr. Ana Asenjo , Columbia University; and Dr. Jon Simon University of Chicago

Aspen Center for Physics Lecture (5:30-6:30 pm)
Lecture: “Off the Map: News from the Energy Frontier”
Speaker: Jonathan Butterworth, University College London

With the discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, we are in a position unique in history. We have an internally consistent theory of fundamental physics – the Standard Model – which has scored a huge success. Yet the Standard Model is not a “theory of everything”. It leaves many key questions unanswered, and seems so far to provide little clue as to where those answers might lie. I will describe the current landscape and discuss options for continuing the exploration beyond our current map of subatomic physics.