Physics Slam VII – Sold Out

  • Nov. 16, 2018, 8:00 pm
  • Fermilab Ramsey Auditorium
  • Various Speakers
  • Tickets: $7 - limit 4
  • Purchase tickets »

Five scientists each try their best to make the most compelling, original argument in just 10 minutes as to why their topic is the most worthy of the title of Slam Champion!   Each year this sells out well in advance, and we end up turning many people away, so we are limiting tickets to just four per person.  Duplicate orders will be asked to exchange for another lecture.

Our contenders….

Samantha Blickhan:  Are You Smarter Than A Computer?
We already live in an era of Big Data, but advances in data-gathering technology mean it’s about to get Even Bigger. As a means of dealing with overwhelming amounts of data, many researchers are turning to online crowdsourcing, often called “citizen science.” Human eyes are essential for picking out the serendipitous (the “unknown unknowns” of scientific research), but advances in machine learning mean that automated procedures are on track to out-pace human classification for many online projects. So how do we balance the need for speed against the subtle expertise of the human eye? In this talk, Sam will discuss some of the machine learning experiments being conducted through the Zooniverse (, the largest platform for online crowdsourcing in the world, and share how we plan to tackle the Big Data onslaught in the years to come.

Sam Blickhan is the IMLS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, and Humanities Lead for Zooniverse. A musicologist by training, her research is truly interdisciplinary, including manuscript studies, paleography, and machine learning, particularly Handwritten Text Recognition. Her publications range from 12th-century music notation to Björk’s 2011 app album, Biophilia.


Christopher Bresky: The Aquarius Project: The First Student-Driven Underwater Meteorite Hunt
Last year a sonic boom shook the residents of the Midwest.  A meteor traveling at 38,000 miles per hour entered our atmosphere with a force equal to 10 tons of dynamite.  Weather radar spotted the end of its journey as it splashed down into Lake Michigan.  There is little known about the lake bottom in this region.  It is the combination of knowns and unknowns that has inspired high school students and science professionals from across Chicago, NOAA and NASA to mount The Aquarius Project.  This multidisciplinary endeavor is the first student-driven attempt at underwater meteorite retrieval.

Chris Bresky is a trained artist and educator who currently works at the Adler Planetarium finding creative ways for students to engage with science.  He is interested in using story and narrative to inspire exploration. Chris has been awarded the Jon Lipsky Award for Excellence in Playwriting for his immersive theater work about Gemini 4 and the life and death challenges of space exploration.  He is also the author and illustrator of the shark holiday mash-up, “The Twelve Days of a Great White Christmas.”

Andre Luiz De Gouvea:  Neutrino Oscillations – What, How, and Why it Matters
One of the biggest recent discoveries in physics is the phenomenon called neutrino oscillations. After introducing neutrinos – the coolest and least understood fundamental particles – Andre will explain what this means, how it works – spoiler alert: it is quantum mechanics – and why it is a big deal. 

Andre Luiz de Gouvea is a theoretical particle physicist and a professor at Northwestern University. He grew up in Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, where he got a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Physics. He then moved north of the Equator for his Ph.D. at UC Berkeley and have had the privilege to work at both CERN and Fermilab before settling down in Evanston. He spends most of my research time thinking about neutrinos, how to learn more about them and figuring out what they are trying to tell us about how the universe works.

Erin Guilfoil Cox:  Observing the Birth of Extrasolar Systems
Finding other worlds has long been a topic of human fascination, with depictions of alien lifeforms and worlds threading our history. In 1995 we discovered what is often considered the first extrasolar world, and in the last two decades, this number has gone into the thousands. What we have discovered, however, is that none of these exoplanet systems look anything like our own solar system. In textbooks, we are described as typical, yet we have found that this is not the case. Why is this? We can look to the youngest stellar systems and the birth of their planets to discover how these worlds come to be.

Erin Cox is a Postdoc at Northwestern University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois where she researched how magnetic fields influence the youngest protostars. Here she also developed an interest in learning how protoplanets shape the disks they are born into. Erin uses radio and sub-millimeter telescopes to look at baby solar systems.

Travis Hamilton: Seeing Clearly: How to Build Sensitive Cameras to Probe the Universe
Taking pictures of distant planets orbiting a star outside our solar system is done by blocking out the stars light. This produces a dim planet washed out in a bright starlight background and requires highly sensitive cameras to see clearly. This problem becomes more acute when smaller, more Earth-like planets are present. In this talk, Travis Hamilton will discuss a highly sensitive camera his group at Northwestern University is building to tackle planet imaging. He will explain the physics we rely on to ensure light is captured and converted efficiently into electrical current and talk about what we hope to see using our new camera.

Travis Hamilton is a 4th year Ph.D. student in Northwestern’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department. My work revolves around shaping and controlling light within spaces about the width of a human hair. When not in the lab, he enjoys spending time with his wife Tiffini, baking bread, reading biographies on scientists and playing computer games.