Karlis Kaufmanis Lecture Series

Karlis Kaufmanis Lecture Series

The Kaufmanis Lecture is presented in memory of beloved Professor of Astronomy Karlis Kaufmanis. One of the U’s greatest teachers, he taught more than 26,000 students and is often remembered for his popular “Star of Bethlehem” lectures. Professor Kaufmanis’ enthusiasm for astronomy affected everyone who came into contact with him.

To listen to the Star of Bethlehem lecture, click here

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Future Lecture

Check back for future lectures! 

Past Lectures


How to Take a Photo of a Black Hole

Sheperd Doeleman (Principal Investigator, next-generation EHT, Founding Director, Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), Harvard University Senior Research Fellow, Center for Astrophysics, Harvard & Smithsonian)

Picture of a man

Black holes are cosmic objects so small and dense, that nothing, not even light can escape their gravitational pull. Until recently, no one had ever seen what a black hole actually looked like. Einstein's theories predict that a distant observer should see a ring of light encircling the black hole, which forms when radiation emitted by infalling hot gas is lensed by the extreme gravity near the event horizon. The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is a global array of radio dishes, linked together by a network of atomic clocks to form an Earth-sized virtual telescope that can resolve the nearest supermassive black holes where this ring feature may be measured. On April 10th, 2019, the EHT project reported success: we have imaged a black hole, and have seen the predicted strong gravitational lensing that confirms the theory of General Relativity at the boundary of a black hole. In 2022, our team again saw this phenomenon towards the supermassive  black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.  This talk will cover how this was accomplished, the impact, and what the future holds for the study of black holes.

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The Weirdest Galaxies in the Universe

Dr. Julianne Dalcanton (Director, CCA, Flatiron Institute)

Penguin Galaxy - a galaxy resembling the shape of a penguin

The Universe is filled with wonders, great and small.  In many cases, these wonders arise out of the order that the laws of physics imprint on the stars and galaxies that populate our universe.  But sometimes, this remarkable order is disturbed, producing truly outlandish departures from what astronomers consider to be “normal”.  In this talk, Dr. Dalcanton will highlight some of the weirdest galaxies in the universe, many of which are best revealed with the Hubble Space Telescope and its successors.

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Cosmic Gold: Neutron Star Mergers, Gravitational Waves, and the Origin of the Elements

Dr. Eliot Quataert, UC Berkeley

Illustration of two merging neutron stars.

Scientists have recently developed a new way to ‘see’ the universe, using gravitational waves predicted by Einstein nearly a century ago. These waves can teach us about some of the most exotic objects known, including dead stars known as black holes and neutron stars. Remarkably, they have also helped solve a longstanding puzzle about where in the Universe some of the elements we know and love here on Earth are produced, including uranium, platinum, and even gold. Eliot Quataert will describe the exciting and remarkable new results coming out of our first steps into this new era.


Astronomy's Newest Extragalactic Mystery: Fast Radio Bursts!

Dr. Victoria Kaspi, McGill University

An artist's impression of a fast radio burst (FRB) reaching Earth, with colors signifying different wavelengths.

In 2007, astronomers discovered a new mysterious cosmic phenomenon: Fast Radio Bursts. These events consist of short, intense blasts of radio waves arriving from far outside our Milky Way galaxy. Their origin is unknown; however, Fast Radio Bursts appear ubiquitous in our Universe, with roughly 1000 arriving every day over the full sky. I will discuss the Fast Radio Burst mystery and what is presently known about it, and describe a revolutionary new radio telescope being built in Canada that will soon enable astronomers worldwide to make major progress in our understanding of the Fast Radio Burst puzzle.


Supernovae and the Discovery of the Accelerating Universe

Dr. Adam Riess, Johns Hopkins University


How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

Dr. Michael Brown, Caltech


The solar system most of us grew up with included nine planets, with Mercury closest to the sun and Pluto at the outer edge. Then, in 2005, astronomer Michael Brown made the discovery of a lifetime: a tenth planet, Eris, slightly bigger than Pluto. But instead of adding one more planet to our solar system, Brown's find ignited a firestorm of controversy that culminated in the demotion of Pluto from real planet to the newly coined category of "dwarf" planet. Suddenly Brown was receiving hate mail from schoolchildren and being bombarded by TV reporters—all because of the discovery he had spent years searching for and a lifetime dreaming about.



Dark Energy and the Runaway Universe

Dr. Alex Filippenko, University of California, Berkeley

The galaxy cluster Abell 1689 is famous for the way it bends light in a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Study of the cluster has revealed secrets about how dark energy shapes the universe.

Observations of very distant exploding stars (supernovae) show that the expansion of the Universe is now speeding up, rather than slowing down due to gravity as expected. Other, completely independent data strongly support this amazing conclusion. Over the largest distances, our Universe seems to be dominated by a repulsive “dark energy” — an idea Einstein had suggested in 1917, but renounced in 1929, anecdotally as his “biggest blunder.” Dark energy stretches the very fabric of space itself faster and faster with time. But the physical origin of dark energy is unknown, and is often considered to be the most important unsolved problem in physics; it probably provides clues to a unified quantum theory of gravity.


2005  Dr. Carolyn Porco, Space Science Institute
2004Dr. Jill Tarter, SETI
2001Dr. Kirpal Nandra, Universities Space Research Association
2000Dr. Robert Kirshner, Harvard University
1999Dr. Andrea Ghez, University of California, Los Angeles
1997Dr. Geoff Marcy, University of California, Berkeley
1992Dr. Barbara Smuts, Psychology and Anthropology, University of Michigan
1991Dr. Robert Ballard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
1990Dr. Clyde Tombaugh, New Mexico State University (the discoverer of Pluto)
1989Dr. John Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies
1987Dr. George “Pinky” Nelson, astronaut