Vaden W. Miles Memorial Lecture Series

Held once a year, this lectureship was established by Mrs. Maxine Miles to commemorate the memory of her husband, Professor Vaden Willis Miles, former faculty in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Learn more about the history of the Vaden W. Miles memorial lecture.

  • April 19, 2018: Professor J. Michael Kosterlitz

    Topological Defects and Phase Transitions – A Random Walk to the Nobel Prize

    Professor J. Michael Kosterlitz, 2016 Nobel Prize Laureate, Brown University

    This talk is about my path to the Nobel Prize and reviews some of the applications of topology and topological defects in phase transitions in two-dimensional systems for which Kosterlitz and Thouless split half the 2016 Physics Nobel Prize.

    The theoretical predictions and experimental verification in two-dimensional superfluids, superconductors, and crystals will be reviewed because they provide very convincing quantitative agreement with topological defect theories.


    Dr. J. Michael Kosterlitz is a theoretical physicist recognized for his work with David J. Thouless on the application of topological ideas to the theory of phase transitions in two-dimensional systems with a continuous symmetry. The theory has been applied to thin films of superfluid 4He, superconductors and to melting of two-dimensional solids. This work was recognized by the Lars Onsager prize in 2000, membership in the AAAS 2007, and by the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics.

    Dr. Kosterlitz graduated from Cambridge University earning a BSc in physics in 1965, an M.A. in 1966 and received a D. Phil. from Oxford in 1969. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Torino University, Italy, in 1970 and at Birmingham University, U.K., from 1970-73. There he met David Thouless and together they did their groundbreaking work on phase transitions mediated by topological defects in two dimensions. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell in 1974, on the faculty at Birmingham 1974-81, Professor of Physics at Brown University 1982-present, and elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2017.

  • April 11, 2017: Adam Riess

    Supernovae and the Discovery of the Accelerating Universe

    Adam Riess, Johns Hopkins University and Space Telescope Science Institute, 2011 Nobel Prize Laureate

    In 1929 Edwin Hubble discovered that our Universe is expanding. Eighty years later, the Space Telescope which bears his name is being used to study an even more surprising phenomenon, that the expansion is speeding up.

    The origin of this effect is not known but is broadly attributed to a type of "dark energy" first posited to exist by Albert Einstein and now dominating the mass-energy budget of the universe. I will describe how our team discovered the acceleration of the Universe and why understanding the nature of dark energy presents one of the greatest remaining challenges in astrophysics and cosmology.


  • April 7, 2016: Professor H. Eugene Stanley

    Economic Fluctuations and Statistical Physics

    Professor H. Eugene Stanley

    Recent analysis of truly huge quantities of empirical data suggests that classic economic theories not only fail for a few outliers but that there occur similar outliers of every possible size. In fact, if one analyzes only a small dataset (say one million data points), then outliers appear to occur as "rare events."

    However, when we analyze orders of magnitude more data (200 million data points!), we find orders of magnitude more outliers – so ignoring them is not a responsible option, and studying their properties becomes a realistic goal.  We find that the statistical properties of these "outliers'' are identical to the statistical properties of everyday fluctuations. We report a recent discovery that the same laws govern the formation and bursting of large bubbles as tiny bubbles, over a factor of 1,000,000,000 in time scale.

    Financial market fluctuations are characterized by many abrupt switchings on very short time scales from increasing "microtrends" to decreasing "microtrends" – and vice versa. We show that these switching processes have quantifiable features analogous to those present in phase transitions, and find striking scale-free behavior of the time intervals between transactions both before and after the switching occurs.

    We interpret our findings as being consistent with time-dependent collective behavior of financial market participants. We test the possible universality of our result by performing a parallel analysis of volatility and transaction volume fluctuations.

  • April 9, 2015: Professor Hitoshi Muaryama

    The Quantum Universe

    Professor Hitoshi Muaryama, University of California Berkeley

    Where do we come from? Science is making progress on this age-old question of humankind. The Universe was once much smaller than the size of an atom. Small things mattered in the small Universe, where quantum physics dominated the scene. To understand the way the Universe is today, we have to solve remaining major puzzles.

    The Higgs boson that was discovered recently is holding our body together from evaporating in a nanosecond. But we still do not know what exactly it is. The mysterious dark matter is holding the galaxy together, and we would not have been born without it. But nobody has seen it directly. And what is the very beginning of the Universe?

  • April 10, 2014: Dr. Mario Livio

    Brilliant Blunders

    Dr. Mario Livio, Space Telescope Science Institute

    Mario LivioEven the greatest scientists have made some serious blunders. "Brilliant Blunders" concerns the evolution of life on Earth, of the Earth itself, of stars, and of the universe as a whole. In this talk, I shall concentrate on and analyze major errors committed by such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Linus Pauling, and Albert Einstein.

    I will also scrutinize the various types of blunders and attempt to identify their causes. Most importantly, however, I'll argue that blunders are not only inevitable but rather part and parcel of progress in science and other creative enterprises.

  • April 4, 2013: Professor Charles M. Falco

    The Science of Optics; The History of Art

    Professor Charles M. Falco, UA Chair of Condensed Matter Physics, University of Arizona

    Renowned artist David Hockney observed that certain drawings and paintings from as early as the Renaissance seemed almost "photographic" in detail. Following an extensive visual investigation of western art, he made the revolutionary claim that artists must have used optical aids. 

    In this talk, I show a wealth of optical evidence for Hockney's claim that Hockney and I subsequently discovered during a remarkably productive collaboration between an artist and a scientist. I also discuss the imaging properties of the "mirror lens" (concave mirror), and implications this work has for the history of science as well as the history of art (and the modern fields of machine vision and computerized image analysis).

    These discoveries convincingly demonstrate optical instruments were in use -- by artists, not scientists -- nearly 200 years earlier than commonly thought possible.

  • March 29, 2012: Colonel Terry Virts

    Space Shuttle Mission STS-130 & Scientific Exploration on the International Space Station

    Colonel Terry Virts, NASA Astronaut

    Colonel Terry VirtsColonel Terry Virts, NASA Astronaut, presents a compelling lecture about his role as STS-130 pilot of Space Shuttle Endeavour, and as the mission’s lead robotic operator.  

    Space Shuttle Mission STS-130 was the final assembly mission of the International Space Station (ISS) program. Tranquility and Cupola - two important modules - were carried aloft and assembled on the ISS providing a primary living complex and spectacular panoramic views of planet Earth.

    As riveting as science fiction, Virts describes the mission in terms of complex spacewalks and robotics.  He discusses scientific research opportunities on board the ISS namely the AMS-2 (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer-2), a particle physics instrument, and the basic fields of research being conducted: human health and technology testing for future exploration, life and physical sciences, and Earth and space science.

  • March 3, 2011: Professor Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

    SUSY and the Lords of the Ring: Supersymmetry Theory

    Professor Sylvester James Gates, Jr.

    Professor Gates is the John S. Toll Professor of Physics, and Director of the Center for String and Particle Theory at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2009, President Obama named Gates as a member of PCAST - the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and Governor O'Malley nominated him for the Maryland State Board of Education where he currently serves.

    Sylvester Gates is internationally known for his ability to communicate the complex ideas at the forefront of theoretical physics to a general audience, for his promotion of science education, and for his groundbreaking and ongoing research in the areas of supersymmetry and supergravity - areas closely related to string theory. Gates has been featured on the PBS television programs: "A Science Odyssey," "Breakthrough: The Changing Face of Science in America," "Einstein's Big Idea," and "The Elegant Universe.

    Gates holds two Bachelor of Science degrees in mathematics and physics, and a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His Ph.D. thesis (1977), "Symmetry Principles in Selected Problems of Field Theory," was the first at MIT on the topic of supersymmetry. He completed his postgraduate studies at Harvard University and the California Institute of Technology.

    Gates has authored or co-authored over 200 scientific research papers in the areas of string theory, supersymmetry, and supergravity; and, written numerous scientific articles. He authored the popular DVD lecture course "Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality" for The Great Courses company, co-authored "Superspace or 1001 Lessons in Supersymmetry," (with M. T. Grisaru, M. Rocek, and W. Siegel), and authored "L'arte della Fisica: Stringhe, Superstring, Teoria Unificata dei Campi". Professor Gates recommends the following Scientific American style article for the interested public: "Symbols of Power", Physics World, Vol. 23, No 6, June 2010, pp. 34 - 39.

    He has won numerous prestigious awards and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Physical Society (APS), and the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP). Gates was the first recipient of the APS Bouchet Award and was a past president of NSBP.

  • April 1, 2010: Professor Young-Kee Kim

    Extreme Physics Where Small and Big Things Meet

    Professor Young-Kee Kim

    The profound discovery of Einstein a century ago, that particles can both be made from energy and disappear back into energy, inspires the experiments that provide our knowledge of the smallest building blocks of matter. The experiments, done at enormous energy and intensity frontier accelerators, have led to a consistent theory of the origins of our world up to a certain point.

    However, at an energy scale not far above what we can attain at existing accelerators, this picture is predicted to break down. Moreover, the theory of the very small is intimately connected to cosmology -- the ultimate cause and structure of our universe. Cosmological observations again point to the need for a new theory in this energy range. In this colloquium, I will trace out the path from where we are and what we need to do to take the next step towards understanding the nature of space and time. The discovery of new particles or new laws at energy and intensity frontier accelerators will open up windows on this world.


    Young-Kee Kim, an experimental particle physicist whose research focuses on understanding the origin of mass for fundamental particles, is a Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago and the Enrico Fermi Institute. Since July 2006, she has been the Deputy Director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. In this role, Professor Kim leads and manages the development and implementation of the strategic plan and establishes the oversight mechanisms to ensure compliance with the plan as well as the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

    Prior to her role as Deputy Director, Prof. Kim served as co-spokesperson for the CDF collaboration at Fermilab’s Tevatron, a collaboration with more than 600 physicists around the world. In 2005 she was awarded the Ho-Am Prize in South Korea, which is given to “those who have made outstanding contributions to the development of science and culture, and enhancement of the welfare of mankind”. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and has been a recipient of the Alfred Sloan Foundation Fellowship as well as an award from the National Science Foundation Professional Opportunities for Women in Research and Education.

    Professor Kim received her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Rochester, and worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. She was a Professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, before she moved to the University of Chicago in 2003.

  • March 26, 2009: Professor George W. Crabtree

    The Sustainable Energy Challenge

    Professor George W. Crabtree

    The global dependence on fossil fuel is among the greatest challenges facing our economic, social and political future. The uncertainty of imported oil threatens global energy security, the pollution of fossil combustion threatens human health, and the emission of greenhouse gases threatens the global climate. Meeting the demand for double the current global energy use in the next 50 years without damaging security, environment or climate requires finding alternative sources of energy that are clean, abundant, accessible and sustainable. Electricity and hydrogen, once produced, meet these criteria and are among the most versatile of energy carriers. Dr. Crabtree, one of the top energy experts in the United States, will discuss current challenges that would enable the production, storage, and use of electricity and hydrogen as sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel.


    Dr. George Crabtree is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors given to a scientist/engineer in the United States. He is also a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and has served as Chairman of the APS Division of Condensed Matter Physics. As an esteemed expert in energy research and policy, Dr. Crabtree has chaired or served in many scientific committees or advisory/oversight boards, most recently a member for the 2008 APS Energy Future Report, Co-Chair and editor for the 2008 Energy Challenges report of U.S. Department of Energy, an organizer and spokesperson for the Department of Energy’s Workshops on Basic Research Needs for the Hydrogen Economy and for Solar Energy, among many others. Dr. Crabtree has also served as a Congressional Witness for energy issues in the Hearing of the House Science Committee, Subcommittees on Energy and Research.

    Dr. Crabtree received his B.S. degree from Northwestern University and his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is now a Distinguished Fellow of Argonne National Laboratory, the laboratory’s highest scientific and engineering rank, and former director of Argonne’s Materials Science Division. Dr. Crabtree has received numerous awards for his scientific accomplishment, including the Kamerlingh Onnes Prize, U.S. Department of Energy Awards for Outstanding Scientific Accomplishment in Solid State Physics (four times), University of Chicago Award for Distinguished Performance at Argonne (twice), R&D 100 Award, Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Technology Transfer, ISI Highly Cited Researcher in Physics, etc.

  • April 10, 2008: Professor Eric Cornell

    Stone Cold Science: Bose-Einstein Condensation and the Weird World of Physics a Millionth of a Degree Above Absolute Zero

    Professor Eric Cornell, 2001 Physics Nobel Laureate

    As atoms get colder and colder, they become more and more like waves, and less like particles. When a gas of atoms gets so cold that the "waviness" of one atom overlaps the waviness of another, the result is a sort of quantum mechanical identity crisis, a "condensation" predicted 70 years ago by Albert Einstein. Professor Cornell will discuss how one reaches the necessary record-low temperatures, and explain why one goes to all the trouble to make this bizarre state of matter.


    Eric Cornell received his B.S. from Stanford University in 1985 and his Ph.D. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1990. He was a post-doctoral fellow at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics in Boulder, Colorado and he is now a Senior Scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder and a Professor Adjoint in the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    Professor Cornell is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Professor Cornell has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics, the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics, the Lorentz Medal from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, the I. I. Rabi Prize in Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics from the APS, the R.W. Wood Prize from the OSA, the King Faisal International Prize in Science, and the Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering.

    The Department of Physics and Astronomy gratefully acknowledges the American Physical Society’s Division of Laser Science – Distinguished Traveling Lecturer Program for assistance in bringing Professor Cornell to Wayne State University.

  • April 12, 2007: Professor Sidney Nagel

    Physics at the Breakfast Table

    Professor Sidney Nagel, Department of Physics, University of Chicago

    Many complex phenomena are so familiar that we forget to ask whether or not they are understood. In this lecture, I will discuss several familiar cases of effects that are so ubiquitous that we hardly realize that they defy our normal intuition about why they happen.

    The examples of poorly understood classical physics that I will choose can all be viewed at a breakfast table: the anomalous flow of granular material, the long messy tendrils left by honey spooned from one dish to another and the pesky rings deposited by spilled coffee on a table after the liquid evaporates. These are all non-linear hydrodynamic phenomena which not only are of technological importance but can also lead the inquisitive into new realms of physics.


    Sidney Nagel received his B.A. from Columbia University in 1969 and his Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University in 1974. He was a Research Associate at Brown University before moving in 1976 to the University of Chicago, where he is currently the Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Physics and a member of the James Franck and Enrico Fermi Institutes.

    Professor Nagel is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the National Academy of Sciences. Professor Nagel has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Oliver E. Buckley Prize from the American Physical Society, the Paul Klopsteg Prize from the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.