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Nobel Laureate Series

As part of DCU’s new president, Professor Brian MacCraith’s inauguration speech in July 2010, he promised that over the years 2010 to 2015, six annual lectures will be delivered by Nobel Laureates, one from each of the six categories of Nobel Prize: Physics, Chemistry, Peace, Economics, Physiology and Medicine, and Literature, in what is known as the Nobel Laureate Series.

Today saw the inaugural lecture of this series, by Dr Steven Chu, US Secretary of Energy who won the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work in developing a technique to cool down an atom to a very low temperature (nearly absolute zero or -273 degrees Celsius) in order to trap and manipulate it with light.

Dr Steven Chu

Dr Steven Chu

I had registered earlier on in the week, but was still relatively undecided about going, as I did not know anyone else going. The main reason was that I have gotten the impression that my supervisors do not really like us being away from our work. However a chance phone call by my supervisor got us talking on the subject and he said you should definitely go. I therefore asked the lab’s post-doc whether I could go with him. It seems he was going with one of my supervisors, so off we went all together towards the auditorium.

We had around a 45 minute wait from when we were seated till the lecture actually started. So it also served to have a bit of an informal discussion with my supervisor. The lecture started around 15 minutes late. But oh was the wait worth it. The lecture was titled ‘A Random walk in Science: from laser cooling to global warming’. The title of the lecture on its own does not seem to make sense. However once the lecture was over I could see that is exactly what he did. The 1.5 hour or so lecture covered aspects of Dr Chu’s research work, his current role as US Energy Secretary and his current focus on the role of science in relation to climate change.

The lecture was nothing like any I have ever attended, and nothing like I was expecting from someone as a Nobel Laureate and a US Secretary of Energy. It had personal anecdotes, it was funny at times, scientifically heavy at others but more importantly it was accessible to all, even when explaining some of the more scientific aspects of his research. I also like the fact that he accepted a number of questions from students (who were preselected beforehand, but anyways the gesture was nice).

This was my first of the Nobel Laureate series of lectures, but it will certainly not be my last.

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