2007 Kavli Directors Symposium: Observational Astrophysics

A Video Presentation



Observational Astrophysics Panelists

John Carlstrom - Director of the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago

Jackie Hewitt - Director of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Doug Lin - Director of the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University, Beijing, China

MODERATOR: Alan Alda - actor, producer, filmmaker and author

Panel Summary

In September 2007, the directors of the 15 Kavli Institutes met in Santa Barbara, Calif. to share their insights on the great remaining scientific mysteries and humankind’s progress toward solving them.

During a discussion on observational astrophysics, panelists John Carlstrom and Jackie Hewitt, both radio astronomers, tell how observers are trying to detect what happened at critical phases in the early universe. Among these are the brief inflationary period after the Big Bang, when the expansion of the universe accelerated enormously, and the later “dark ages,” a period before matter coalesced into stars and galaxies that gave off light. The third panelist, Doug Lin, discusses the search for new solar systems and signs of extraterrestrial life.

Lin, who shuttles frequently between the U.S. and China, says the most frequent question he is asked on his trans-Pacific flights is, “Are we alone?” Astronomers don’t have an answer yet, but Lin notes that they have far more information than before — including data on myriad planets — to help them address it. Likewise for the question of origins: “How did we get here?” Armed with new, powerful telescopes and other instruments, the science of observational astrophysics is gathering knowledge that may answer these questions and, if not, at least raise intriguing new ones.

2007 Symposium Overview

Panel Discussions on Observational Astrophysics, Theoretical Astrophysics, Nanoscience and Neuroscience

How did the universe begin? What is matter really like in its smallest form? What makes us truly human? Such are the profound questions that face us at the limits of our scientific knowledge. A distinguished group of scientists — directors of the 15 Kavli Institutes — met in Santa Barbara, Calif., in September 2007 to share their insights on the great remaining scientific mysteries and humankind’s progress toward solving them.

The day-long symposium was a first for the Foundation. Never before had all the Institute directors been together in one place. It was a special event for the scientists, too, who were encouraged to ignore the narrow focus and formalities of most research symposia. Here they could — and did — talk not just about the latest research but also about the future of their science. As Kavli Foundation President David Auston explained, they were asked “to look ahead … and not only to look ahead and be prospective, but also to be speculative and provocative.

The symposium consisted of four panel discussions covering neuroscience, nanoscience, observational astrophysics and theoretical astrophysics. Moderating each discussion was actor, producer, filmmaker and author Alan Alda, whose interest in -- and advocacy for -- science has earned him the Public Service Award of the National Science Board.

Observational astrophysics — the science and technology of gathering and analyzing data from space — is at the forefront of profound inquiries about the universe and our place in it. The panel for this field, featuring three Kavli Institute directors, discusses how far our knowledge of space has advanced in recent years and how much remains beyond the reach of our current technology.