Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

The 2015 Henry R. and Gladys V. Irons Lecture
in Physics and Astronomy

The Irons Lectures are free talks intended for the general public: high school students and teachers, college students and teachers, friends, neighbors, and anyone interested in science and science education.

Professor Sandra Faber

University of California, Santa Cruz
UCO/Lick Observatory

The Gift of Cosmic Time: Opportunity Seized or Opportunity Squandered?

2 P.M., Saturday March 28, 2015
Physics Lecture Hall, Busch Campus, Rutgers University

A hundred years ago, astronomers did not know about the Big Bang, or that our Milky Way is a galaxy in a vast sea of billions of other galaxies. Our cosmic roots were a total mystery. Since then, a host of powerful telescopes in space and on the ground have revealed our cosmic past -- how the Galaxy was formed, how the Sun and Earth were born, and how the very atoms that comprise our bodies and our planet were synthesized. Standing on this firm knowledge of the past, we can now look ahead to predict our cosmic future, and it is bright ahead. We appear to have been given the most precious gift of all -- cosmic time -- hundreds of millions of years of it. The supreme challenge is now before us: will we use this gift, or squander it? To what extent do we owe allegiance to a cause that is much larger than any of us: realizing the cosmic potential of a powerfully sentient species. Our growing cosmic understanding has finally raised the most profound moral question ever faced by our species -- where is humanity headed?

Sandra Faber is University Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a staff member of the UCO/Lick Observatory. She is an observational astronomer with research interests in cosmology and galaxy formation. Some of her major discoveries include the first structural scaling law for galaxies (called the Faber-Jackson relation), large-scale flow perturbations in the expansion of the Universe caused by superclusters of galaxies, and black holes at the centers of galaxies. In 1984, she and three colleagues from UCSC and Cambridge University presented the first detailed treatment of galaxy formation based on which has since become the standard paradigm for galaxy and cluster formation in the Universe.

Faber was one of three astronomers who diagnosed the optical flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope, and she played a major role in its repair. She established the scientific case for the twin Keck 10m telescopes, which inspired a subsequent wave of giant optical telescope building all over the world. From 1994-2005 she was Principal Investigator of the DEIMOS spectrograph, a large optical multi-object spectrograph for the Keck 2 telescope that is the most powerful instrument of its kind in the world. She and colleagues used DEIMOS to conduct the DEEP redshift survey of the distant Universe, which collected spectra of 50,000 distant galaxies and exploited the immense power of Keck to see and study galaxy formation 10 billion years back in time. She now co-leads the CANDELS project, the largest project in the history of the Hubble Space Telescope, to extend our view of galaxy formation back nearly to the Big Bang. She has co-authored over 300 scientific papers, and her work has been cited over 46,000 times.

More information:

  • Directions to the department. Free parking will be in Lots 53A, 53 and 64.
  • You may download a flyer (PDF format) for the Irons Lecture, suitable for copying and distribution.
  • For further information, contact Nancy DeHaan (nancy [at], phone 848-445-8973)

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Last revised: March 10, 2015