Upcoming Events


Important Notice: For the last two talks of the fall semester we will be switching back to Saturday (listed below) starting at 1pm. Each event typically lasts 45-60 minutes, and questions are encouraged! Please see a list of the planned and past events below.


Fall 2017


12/9 - Alien Messages and Earth's Space Invasion of the Proxima Star System: The Breakthrough Initiatives


    The earth-born space invasion has begun! Ok, not really, that was an excitedly-made statement, but we are considering it. As a civilization, in order to begin inter-star system travel we first need to prepare some things. The Breakthrough Initiatives, a privately funded program, hopes to do just that - pave the way for human expansion outside of our own solar system! What is the approach? Listen for extraterrestrial life. Prepare a message from humanity if contact is made. Actively search the known extrasolar planets nearest to ours for signs of life. And finally, prepare a fleet of nanocrafts to leave our solar system and become the first human-made objects to directly visit another star system. Sound far-fetched and sci-fi? Come join us to learn how this is currently becoming a reality...






Past Events

Fall 2017


11/11 - Things That Go Bump —and Shine— in the Night: LIGO Ushering in a New Era of Multimessenger Astronomy


Special Announcement: LIGO principle scientists receive the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for the observation of gravitational waves!


Special Announcement 2: LIGO detects the merging of neutron stars and with it brings a revolution in multimessenger astronomy!


    Imagine attending a rock concert that has no speakers – the flashing lights and the animated singers are cool, but the muted show dampens a lot of the excitement. For a long time, when massive objects (binary neutron stars, neutron star-black holes, ...) went 'bump' out there in space, the best astronomers could hope to do was see these “flashing lights” (gamma-ray bursts, kilonovae) using telescopes; with the “music” muted, they couldn’t always tell with certainty what went bump in the night. But, in 2015, sound-like vibrations of space itself – gravitational waves – caused by massive orbiting black holes, were detected for the very first time by LIGO. Come join us as we explore what possibilities lie ahead as LIGO joins hands with telescopes all around the world. The speakers are now in place and the cosmic rock concert should be more exciting than ever before.


10/8 - Future Frontiers in Astronomy


    The Hubble Space Telescope, currently operating 12 years beyond its original 25-year lifespan, has been our premier eye on the sky for over two decades, inspiring the public and astronomers alike. But the era of Hubble is coming to an end, and astonomers are gearing up for the next generation of telescopes that will change how we see the Universe. From Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope (to be launched next year), to the next 30m ground based telescopes, to visions of telescopes such as LUVOIR, we'll highlight astrnomer's wish-list for future observatories and the science they hope to accomplish.


9/10 - Fast Radio Bursts: Neither Aliens nor Microwaves


    Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are extragalactic, millisecond-duration pulses of unknown origin that were discovered by astronomers in 2007 with the Parkes radio telescope. A decade later only two dozen bursts have been observed, some lasting for less than a millisecond! The energy released by FRBs as well as their duration, sky position and repeatability give astronomers clues about what they might be. Spoiler: not aliens — but there are many other exotic theories that claim to explain their origin. Come join us to hear about the discovery of FRBs and recent developments, including a repeating "burster" that has been localized to a galaxy 3 billion light years from Earth. And don’t blink, or you’ll miss it!



Summer 2017


8/13 - The Summer Solar Eclipse Countdown!


    Amidst the general excitement of the summer months, there is another very special event that will take place August 21st - a full solar eclipse! The breathtaking passage of the moon in front of the sun will cast a complete shadow that will carve a swath from coast to coast through the heart of the United States. A bit farther north where we are here in Milwaukee, the show won't be a complete solar eclipse, but we'll still get to see between 80-90% of the sun's light eclipsed. Join us one week in advance to hear about what you can expect to see. So grab your eclipse glasses, make a day trip down to southern Illinois if you can, and prepare for one of the greatest astronomical sights you can see here on this planet!


7/9 - How are Memories Stored in the Brain? (Special Guest Presentation)

    Can you imagine not being able to remember anything that ever happened, experiencing every minute as if it were the first one in your life? The ability to remember things we have learned and recall past experiences is so central to our lives that it is difficult to even imagine how we would be without it. Unfortunately, this ability can be severely affected in people suffering from dementia, brain injury, or some infectious diseases. In this session, we will explore the changes undergone by brain cells as we acquire new information, and the brain structures that are critically involved in storing, retrieving and modifying different types of memories. Finally, we will present the latest research on behavioural and brain changes associated with normal aging, Alzheimer's disease, and dementia.



Spring 2017


5/13 - Citizen Science, and the projects that you can be a part of!


    We live in an era where the experiments we run allow us to collect more data than anyone could ever hope to study by themselves in their own lifetime. We need all of the help that we can get - so would you like to don the lab-coat and become a scientist yourself? Many projects, including Einstein@home, SETI@home, or the Zooniverse projects, allow you to help out in the collective pursuit of knowledge, from hunting for gravitational waves, to listening for extraterrestrial life, to studies in biology, history, medicine, language, and more! And all from your own personal computer. So come join us to learn more about what some of these projects are, how they work, and what you can do to be a part of them!


4/8 - The Interstellar Medium: The Ocean Between the Stars


    There isn’t just empty space between the stars. The material between stars, called the interstellar medium or ISM, is mostly gas and dust and can have an enormous range of temperatures and densities. Stars form from the ISM and supernovae blast new material into the ISM. We use the ISM to understand what galaxies are made of and how galaxies are rotating. In this talk, we will explain what the ISM is and how we can use it to understand galaxies.


3/11 - Stellar Women: Celebrating the women who have shed light on our universe


    We’ve all heard of the “greats” in astronomy: Kepler, Copernicus, Hubble, etc. Instead of focusing on these prominent figures, let’s celebrate the women scientists whose contributions to modern astronomy have all too often been overlooked. From revelations in dark matter to pulsars, and from the classification of stars themselves to astronauts who have traveled to space, these women’s contributions to astronomy and science have been nothing short of stellar, and have changed the way we understand the universe around us.


2/11 - Gravitational Lensing, and the quest to build a solar system sized telescope!


    Lenses and mirrors allow us to bend and focus light, and through their construction in telescopes they have allowed humans to see faint objects in the far off reaches of our universe. And in a similar way to how your glasses help focus light into your eyes so you can see better, massive objects in space such as stars or galaxies can bend and focus light towards Earth, coming from objects far away. So picture the largest telescope that you have ever seen. Now, do you think humans could build one as large as the solar system itself...?



Fall 2016


12/10 - The Science of Science-Fiction!


    This topic is an enormous one which we obviously can't completely cover in one coffeeshop sitting. So what we are going to do is to present to you some famous examples of science fiction concepts that have been portrayed in films, books, comics, and popular culture in general, what about them is based from real science, and where creative license has taken its liberties! So from the profetic mind of Jules Verne in the novel "From the Earth to the Moon," through the wormholes of the "Stargate" franchise, to contact with extraterrestrial life, to the rise of artificial intelligence like HAL 9000, we hope you join us for this fun exploration of the science of science-fiction!


11/12 - Active Galactic Nuclei: The Cosmic Beacons


    Active Galactic Nuclei, or AGN, are ultra-luminous central regions of galaxies where radiation is emitted from a supermassive black hole as matter falls onto it. They are the most luminous continuous sources of light in the universe, which makes them some of the most distant observable objects. The study of AGN is one of the largest fields in modern astronomy. During this talk we will discuss what these objects are and how they are used to study large scale-structure in the universe in addition to telling us how galaxies form and evolve through time.


10/8 - Light and Spectra: The Colors of our Universe


    Light is an incredibly powerful and essential tool that we use to understand our universe. We use light everyday to observe the world around us. With the aid of telescopes, astronomers observe the light coming from different objects to help them understand the universe better. In this talk, we’ll describe what light actually is and how we can extract information from it to learn about our universe. Want to know what an object is made of? How hot it is? How fast it’s moving? All you need is light!


9/10 - The History of Space Exploration


    With the recent arrival in July of the Juno spacecraft at our mighty planet Jupiter, we will reflect on just how far the space programs of our world have come, from the first super-sonic flight, to the first humans in space, and the arsenal of satellites and rovers which we have sent as our forerunners to study the heavenly bodies of our solar system. Each of these stepping stones has further advanced our space exploration technology and has allowed us to go further, faster, and for longer durations, leading us ever closer to the goal of human space travel.




Spring through Summer 2016


6/4 - Pulsars and Neutron Stars: The Universal Timekeepers


    You've probably heard of black holes--objects so dense, with such massive gravity, not even light can escape from them. Neutron stars are almost as tiny and dense as black holes, but their mass and gravity are small enough that they can still hold themselves up against gravity, and they emit light that we can see! Neutron stars are about 10 miles across, have incredibly strong magnetic fields, and can rotate up to nearly 1000 times per second--faster than a kitchen blender! The light they emit appears to pulse as they spin, just like a lighthouse, which is why we call these objects pulsars. By studying neutron stars and pulsars, we can learn about gravity, particle physics, magnetic fields, and other physics in environments so extreme that they cannot be produced on Earth.


5/7 - "Elements" of the Cosmos: Quantum Physics, the Higgs Boson, and Beyond


    Sometimes to study the biggest things in the universe like stars and galaxies, you have to go all the way back to the very building blocks of nature. In this lecture we will explore nature on the smallest of scales, look at how science has changed our perspective of the "elements" of nature and what the fundamental forces are, and hear more about that ominous sounding theory which governs it all - quantum mechanics! We will also explore how scientists study these amazing theories, where particle physicists in laboratories like CERN (home of the largest machine ever constructed by mankind - the Large Hadron Collider) are smashing subatomic particles at nearly the speed of light to recreate conditions that were similar to just moments after the Big Bang itself!


3/12 - What Can Brain Scans Tell Us About the Mind? (Special Guest Presentation)


    This month, we'll take a detour from astrophysics to neuroscience! Our guest speaker, Dr. Leo Fernandino, will tell us about what we can learn by scanning the brain. Come hear Leo talk about his work on Functional Brain Imaging and how this technique can teach us about the mind!


2/20 - Making History with Einstein's Final Prediction: The Discovery of Gravitational Waves!


    Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity revolutionized humanity's understanding of gravity. Instead of gravity acting like a rope that holds the Earth in orbit around the Sun, Einstein showed that gravity is the curvature of spacetime—the very fabric of our universe. His theory makes many predictions about the way stars, planets, and even light should travel through curved spacetime, all of which have been shown to be correct. There is one final test of Einstein's theory, which has continued to elude scientists: the direct detection of gravitational radiation, or gravitational waves.

    As some of you might now know, gravitational waves have now been directly detected! In this lecture, we will explain how scientists actually search for gravitational waves—including many of the physicists at UWM! You will hear from some of the graduate students and postdocs who are in LIGO, and who were directly involved in this historic discovery. They will tell you all about LIGO and the discovery of gravitational waves!




Summer through Fall 2015


12/5 - Galaxies!


    We've all seen beautiful pictures of galaxies from the Hubble Space Telescope. In this talk, we will tell you about how galaxies form, and how they've changed over time -- including our own Milky Way!


10/24 - 100 Years of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity

    2015 marks the 100-year anniversary of Einstein's theory of general relativity, which taught us to think about gravity in a completely different way than our everyday life experience: gravity is the curvature of spacetime. So many of the things that happen in our universe depend on the way spacetime curves. For example, the reason the planets orbit the Sun is the same reason that black holes do not shine: the fabric of spacetime becomes curved in the presence of a massive object, and we experience or observe this curvature as gravity. In the case of our Solar System, the Sun's gravity, or curvature of the spacetime around it, causes the planets to orbit it; while in the case of a black hole, spacetime is curved so much that light travels in circles and cannot escape.

    But what is spacetime, and what do we mean when we say it "curves"? These questions (and their answers!) will be the topics of this lecture.

    Watch a video from this CoffeeShop lecture!


9/19 - From Neurons to Thoughts: A Guided Tour of the Brain (Special Guest Presentation)

    We are excited to have a guest speaker join us for this event! Dr. Leonardo Fernandini is a Ph.D. neuroscientist at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He will tell us about how our brain's activity leads to thoughts -- for example, those that allow us to contemplate the universe!

    Most of us have a reasonable understanding of how organs such as the heart or the lungs work to keep us alive, but have you ever wondered how the brain -- a three-pound lump of goo -- is able to generate thoughts, memories, emotions, intentions, and voluntary actions? Science tells us that all these mental experiences result from the activity of the brain, but figuring out exactly how the brain gives rise to the mind is one of the major scientific challenges of our time. This lecture will explain how recent advances in neuroscience have brought us close to answering those questions and raised new ones, including the possibility for 'mind reading' and direct brain-machine interfaces.


8/29 - The Dark Side of the Universe: The Mysteries of Dark Matter and Dark Energy

    In our everyday lives, we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell everything in our surroundings. But did you know that everything we experience on a daily basis -- from the toast we eat for breakfast to the stars we see in the night sky -- is composed of the same material that makes up only 4% of our universe? The rest of our universe is made up of an unknown type of matter that we call ''dark matter'', and a mysterious energy that we call ''dark energy.'' In this coffeeshop lecture, we will show you scientific evidence for the existence of dark matter and dark energy, and will tell you what astronomers know so far about these two great mysteries of the universe.


7/25 - New Horizons mission to Pluto

    Pluto has long been a mysterious member of our Solar System. It is famous for its ''demotion'' from planet to dwarf planet, a decision that highlighted its peculiar properties and the need to better understand Pluto and other dwarf planets in the context of our Solar System's formation. Until the last few months, the best image we had of Pluto was a pixellated image from the Hubble Space Telescope. But, on July 14, after nine years of travel, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reached its closest approach in its fly-by mission to Pluto. In this CoffeeShop lecture, we will discuss what has been learned from the mission so far, and will show the amazing new images taken by the New Horizons mission -- our first close-up views of this distant world.




Spring 2015


03/28 - A visit from NASA (Special Guest Presentation)

    We are delighted to host Dr. Michelle Thaller, the Assistant Director for Science Communication from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, for our next installment of CoffeeShop Astrophysics!




Fall 2014

12/6 - Exoplanets and extraterrestrials: touring the exoplanet zoo

    Are we alone in the universe? This is one of the questions we are going to explore in the next installment of CoffeeShop Astrophysics. We'll look at how planets form and discuss the methods scientists use to seek out other worlds. We'll also discuss aliens: what do we expect them to look like? Have they really visited Earth? Are they even out there? Since this is our last lecture before a winter hiatus, we will be giving away prizes. We hope you can join us; otherwise, stay warm and have a happy New Year!


11/08 - Listening to the universe with dead stars and lasers: the search for gravitational waves

   Have you ever wondered how gravity works? You may picture Isaac Newton getting hit in the head by a falling apple. But Albert Einstein changed that view a bit. In this installment of CoffeeShop Astrophysics, we'll explain Einstein's view of gravity. We'll show you how this view naturally leads to a phenomenon that is near and dear to our hearts - something called gravitational waves! We will dicuss the sources of these waves, what they are and how we are trying to listen to our universe for the first time with lasers and dead stars.


10/11 - The black hole that ate my sock: strange facts about these and other dead stars

   In the run up to Halloween what better way to get you in to the spooky spirit than to talk about 'zombie stars' - objects which keep on living after the death of a star! In this installment of coffeshop astrophysics we will be discussing black holes and pulsars, as well as other eerie astrophysical objects. Come join us to find out how we see these objects, what spacetime is and why spaghettification is no fun.


09/27 - Live fast, die young: the lifecycle of stars

   The Sun is the most important star in our sky - without it, life on Earth could never exist. Have you ever wondered how the Sun has continued to shine for all these years, or what would happen if the Sun went away? In this installment of coffeeshop astrophysics, we'll talk about how stars are born, how they produce light, why some stars have shorter or longer lives, and what happens when they start to run out of fuel. Perhaps most excitingly, we'll talk about what happens when stars die, and the tiny, dense remnants (white dwarfs, neutron stars, and even black holes!) they leave behind.


09/06 - The Big Bang

   You've probably heard that our universe began in a Big Bang. But what does that really mean? And why do astrophysicists view the Big Bang as the best scientific explanation for the formation of our universe? To find out the answers to these questions and more, join us for the first meeting of Coffeeshop Astrophysics. In this informal setting, we'll show you the discoveries that led to our current understanding of the explosive birth of our universe, and we'll answer any questions you may have about how our universe came to be.