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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellow's Public Lecture - From Light to Light: a Journey in Observational Astronomy, to the Limits of Knowledge

11th February 2014, 17:30 to 18:30, Senate Suite, University College, Dr Ulisses Barres de Almeida, Brazilian Center for Research in Physics, Brazil


Modern astrophysics has taken us to the extremes of the Cosmos, to testimony environments and processes that are far beyond our normal experience, such as stellar explosions, black holes and jets of relativistic particles emanating from the center of distant galaxies. It has also revealed the potential existence of elements that a few decades ago were completely out of the horizon of our imagination, such as dark matter and dark energy - and today we are on the verge of detecting at least the first of the two. A journey through modern astrophysics is an exciting and surprising path of discovery running through two major avenues. The first takes us from Earth to the depths of the Cosmos, exploring the constituents of the Universe, all the way to its most exotic places. The second is that of the technical prodigy, where at every new step we can follow the successive developments of new instruments that, from Galileo's first telescope to the most modern satellite observatories, have allowed us to undertake this journey of knowledge. In this talk Dr Barres de Almeida will take you through those which are for him some of the highlights of this adventure, until we arrive at his own field of work: high-energy astrophysics. But there is a third avenue which he also wants to follow in parallel: "What is the value of all this knowledge?", "What does it serve, when it serves nothing from a pragmatical point of view?", or "Why do we people do science to start with?" In his 2009 BBC documentary "Why beauty matters?" Roger Scruton noted that "Nothing is more useful than the useless", and Dr Barres de Almeida thinks this works for art as it works for science, in a sense, whose real motor and foundation is human curiosity, not "necessity". By following this third avenue, he hopes to introduce a view of scientific progress and purpose which is a bit different from that usually emphasised in public discourse. Dr Barres de Almeida’s best summary of what that is can be found in the last of Eliot's "Four Quartets": "We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time." 

Directions to University College (Castle)

Map - University College is denoted as building No: 23

This lecture is free to attend and open to all.

Contact enquiries.ias@durham.ac.uk for more information about this event.