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Lectures @ Dyer

Vanderbilt Dyer Observatory hosts annual Seyfert lectures in honor of the late Dr. Carl Seyfert, renown galactic astronomer and the “father” and first director of Dyer Observatory. In addition, Dyer Observatory holds lectures for special events as well as visiting astronomers. Below are just a few of the many lectures we have held over the years:


November 2016 “Meet the Astronomer” – Dr. Jedidah Isler

Blazars are supermassive, hyperactive black holes that reside at the centers of certain massive galaxies. These extremely active black holes interact with the environment around them to produce highly accelerated particle streams, called jets, from very nearby the black holes themselves. The process by which these particles are accelerated is still a very active area of research and Dr. Isler discusses the most recent findings while learning more about some of Nature’s most powerful particle accelerators.




September 2016 “Meet the Astronomer” – Dr. Jonathan Bird

Where did you come from? Many of the atoms that make up our bodies were created by stars billions of years ago. We are literally made of star dust. Whether or not you have heard this story, Dr. Bird’s talk  provides new insight into how astrophysicists *know* this to be true. He discusses scientific results covering a variety of fields: cosmology and the shape of the Universe, gravity and general relativity, the structure of the nucleus and atomic physics, nuclear reactions in stars, and much more. By the end of the talk, you will be able to convince your friends and family one of the most beautiful lessons our exploration of the Universe has taught us: we are all made from stars.




August 2016 “Meet the Astronomer” – Dr. Bob O’Dell

Stars are forming continuously from giant clouds of gas molecules in our Milky Way Galaxy. Fortunately, one of these regions is nearby and has created the Orion Nebula, which is visible with even small binoculars. Thousands of stars have recently formed there, with the oldest about three million years old and the youngest about the same age as us, homo sapiens. The advent of the Hubble Space Telescope has allowed us for the first time to see the disk and jets that seem to be necessary to allow the formation of stars and that are the building blocks from which planetary systems may be forming. Dr. Bob O’Dell, Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Vanderbilt University, explains one facet of how we came to be.

Note: Audio quality improves after first 30 seconds.




June 2016 “Meet the Astronomer” – Dr. Andreas Berlind

If you go to the NASA Science Astrophysics site, their explanation of dark matter begins with, “We are much more certain what dark matter is not, rather than what it is.” Dr. Andreas Berlind, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Astrophysics at Vanderbilt University, discuss what is actually known now about dark matter, the challenges of researching dark matter, and what we hope to learn from new and future discoveries.




May 2016 “Meet the Astronomer” – Dr. David Weintraub

Over ten years ago NASA launched the New Horizons mission to Pluto.  After traveling three billion miles through our solar system, New Horizons finally reached the Pluto system in July 2015 for a quick close encounter, taking as many images and measurements as possible while it flew past the frigid system.  As New Horizons continues to move on towards the next target, it continues sending back data, and mission scientists continue to be awestruck by all of the new results that are still coming in on a daily basis.

During this talk, Dr. David Weintraub, Professor of Astronomy and Director of the Program in the Communication of Science and Techonology at Vanderbilt University, discusses some of the science results that have come about thus far from the New Horizons data.




April 2016 “Meet the Astronomer” – Dr. Keivan Stassun

NASA’s recently completed Kepler mission has uncovered thousands of distant solar systems, the vast majority of which contain “gas giant” planets like our Jupiter and Saturn. Now astronomers are redirecting the quest toward the discovery of solar systems with planets most like our own terrestrial home. The NASA Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission, to be launched in 2017, will survey the brightest stars across the entire sky searching for “Earth 2.0,” those Earth-like planets orbiting relatively nearby stars and whose atmospheres could be probed for signs of habitability by the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Dr. Keivan Stassun, Vanderbilt University Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor of Physics & Astronomy and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Fisk University, summarized the promise of the TESS mission for detecting other worlds like our own and identifying other places in the universe where life just might be possible.




March 2016 “Meet the Astronomer” – Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann

In February 2016, a team of scientists from around the world announced that they had recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, fulfilling the last prediction of Einstein’s 100-year-old General Theory of Relativity. The resulting gravitational waves, with power 50 times greater than the output of all the stars in the universe combined, were picked up by two highly-specialized giant antennae in Washington State and Louisiana known as LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, Associate Professor of Astrophysics at Vanderbilt University and Adjunct Professor of Physics at Fisk University, gave a lively presentation on gravitational waves for non-experts. In the talk, she discussed gravitational waves, how they were observed, played audio of what was actually detected, and then answered audience questions.



In addition, Dr. Holley-Bockelmann also gave a TEDx talk on the subject, which can be viewed below:


The Thirty Meter Telescope:  What, Why, & How – Dr. Warren Skidmore

On November 20, 2015, Dr. Warren Skidmore spoke about the construction, the scientific questions that drive the creation of a giant telescope, how the observatory is designed to support a range of scientific studies, and the engineering solutions that have been developed to overcome the problems of constructing a giant diffraction-limited observatory.




25th Anniversary of the Launch of the Hubble Space Telescope – Dr. C. R. O’Dell

Dr. C. R. O’Dell of Vanderbilt University, who was not only instrumental in the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope but also some of the science that was carried out with it, gave two lectures in April of 2015 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the orbiting observatory’s launch. The first lecture detailed the creation of the telescope from the early design concepts to the last servicing mission in 2009. The second lecture described just a few of the innumerable scientific discoveries made possible by the sharp vision of the Hubble Space Telescope.






Searching for New Physics with the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope – Dr. Peter Michelson

Dr. Peter Michelson, professor of Physics at Stanford University, California, and the Principal Investigator for the Large Area Telescope (LAT)on the Fermi spacecraft, spoke about the search for dark matter and gravitational radiation through the use of neutron stars and pulsars in April 2014.




Hot on the Trail of Warm Planets Around Cool Stars – Dr. John Johnson

In 2013 Dr. John Johnson of the California Institute of Technology spoke about how just three years prior the prospect of finding temperate, rocky worlds around other stars was still the subject of science fiction until the extraordinary success of NASA’s Kepler mission changed all of that.




Catching Shadows: Kepler’s Quest for New Worlds – Dr. Natalie Batalha

For the 2012 Seyfert Lecture, Dr. Natalie Batahla, professor of physics and astronomy at San Jose State University and the Science Team Lead of NASA’s Kepler Mission, discussed NASA’s Kepler mission and some of the exciting results that have come out of its detection of over 2,000 possible planets as well as details of some of its confirmed exoplanet discoveries.




Endless Universe – Dr. Paul Steinhardt

Dr. Paul Steinhardt, the Albert Einstein Professor in Science and director of the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science at Princeton University, gave the 2011 Seyfert Lecture on the topic of the “endless universe,” which introduced an alternative to the standard Big Bang model and challenged conventional ideas about space, time and the evolution of the Universe. Known as the “cyclic universe,” this theory proposes that space and time had no beginning and that the Big Bang is actually an event that has repeated at regular intervals. Included is a discussion of how the cyclic theory may be distinguished from the standard Big Bang picture through experiments being mounted over the next few years.




Primordial Ice Reservoirs of the Solar System – Dr. David Jewitt

In March 2010, Dr. David Jewitt, professor of astronomy in the Earth, Planetary, and Space Science Department of UCLA and principal investigator of the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program, discussed our current knowledge (and lack thereof) of the primordial ice reservoirs of the solar system. He also emphasized links to the formation epoch and connections between the origin of the oceans and atmosphere and of the thermal evolution of asteroids and comets.