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.

Future Lecture

The Kaufmanis lecture is postponed until Spring 2022 (speaker TBD). Stay tuned for more updates.

Past Lectures


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

Dr. Eliot Quataert, UC Berkeley

Illustration of two merging neutron stars.
Photo credit
NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

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.
Photo credit
Jingchuan Yu, Beijing Planetarium

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

Photo credit

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.
Photo credit

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