Maria Goeppert-Mayer Lectures

These lectures are annually given by outstanding women physicists, in honor of Maria Goeppert-Mayer. Goeppert-Mayer was a theoretical physicist who developed the nuclear shell model while at Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago from 1946 to 1959. She received the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics for her “discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure”.

2023: Hidden Order in Amorphous Materials: From gravitational wave detectors to topological materials

Thursday, October 5, 2023, 3:30 pm
Frances Hellman, University of California, Berkely


Frances is an experimental condensed matter physicist. As the recipient of the APS (American Physical Society) Keithley Award in 2006, her primary research focus has been the study of the thermodynamic properties of novel solid materials, especially thin film semiconducting, superconducting, and magnetic materials. She was Chair of the Physics Department between 2007 and 2013 and Dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences between 2015 and 2021 at UC Berkeley. She was the President of the American Physical Society in 2022.


Amorphous (glassy) materials lack structural order, making them difficult to describe or to calculate their properties compared to crystalline materials, which consist of spatially repeated atoms.  This difficulty, however, does not preclude their applicability or scientific impact.  Various properties, including topological electronic states, seem to rely on the periodicity of the lattice for their derivation, yet are found in amorphous materials; recent advances have enabled explanation. Intriguingly, there exists the notion of an "ideal glass", which, while remaining thoroughly disordered, lacks imperfections in that disorder and thus approaches the uniqueness of a crystal, including low entropy.  LIGO (laser interferometric gravitational observatory) relies on amorphous coatings for their mirrors; mechanical losses in these coatings are the limiting noise factor and are associated with universal yet poorly understood atomic motions associated with defects in the amorphous structure.  Amorphous silicon (a-Si) is the single material where these losses can be tuned over several decades, from below detectable limits to high in the range commonly seen in glassy systems, in a way seemingly connected with creating a near-ideal glass. I will discuss the underlying phenomena of these results, which lie in a hidden order. 

Lecture recording

2022: Listening to Cosmic Symphonies Above the Quantum Din

Thursday, October 13, 2022, 3:30pm
Nergis Mavalvala, MIT

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves for the first time in 2015. Since then dozens more astrophysical observations have been confirmed.  To detect these spacetime ripples requires measurement with attometer precision. I will describe the quantum technologies that make such a measurement possible and enable present and future discoveries.

2021: The Dark Energy of Quantum Materials

Thursday, October 7, 2021, 3:30pm

Laura Greene, Florida State University

In addition to her role as chief scientist at the National MagLab, Greene is the Krafft Professor of Physics at Florida State University. Her research is on quantum materials, focusing on fundamental studies to determine the mechanisms of unconventional superconductivity by planar tunneling and point contact electron spectroscopies and developing methods for predictive design of new families of superconducting materials.

Greene plays an active leadership role in numerous science organizations. In 2017, as president of the American Physical Society (APS), her presidential theme was science diplomacy on national and international scales and its application to human rights. She currently co-chairs the Decadal Survey for Materials Research for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and serves on the Board of Directors for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is a vice president of the Executive Council of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics, and chairs the organization’s Commission on the Structure and Dynamic of Condensed Matter Physics (C10) and its U.S. International Liaison Committee.

A champion for diversity and equal rights for women and minorities, Greene is a member of the U.S. Department of State-supported COACh team, which promotes the success and impact of women and all young scientists, particularly in developing countries.

Greene is a member of the NAS, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Institute of Physics (U.K.), and the APS. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow and garnered numerous awards, including the E.O. Lawrence Award for Materials Research from the U.S. Department of Energy, the APS Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award, and the Bellcore Award of Excellence. She has co-authored over 200 publications and presented over 600 invited talks.

2020: The Monster at the Heart of our Galaxy

MGM Lecture Poster

Thursday, October 22, 2020, 3:30pm
Andrea Ghez, UCLA

If you wish to attend, please send request to Tiffany Kurns to receive the Zoom link.

Watch the recording here


Andrea M. Ghez has been awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physics!

Andrea M. Ghez, professor of Physics & Astronomy and Lauren B. Leichtman & Arthur E. Levine chair in Astrophysics, is one of the world’s leading experts in observational astrophysics and heads UCLA’s Galactic Center Group.   Best known for her ground-breaking work on the center of our Galaxy, which has led to the best evidence to date for the existence of supermassive black holes, she has received numerous honors and awards including the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science (she is the first woman to receive a Crafoord prize in any field), Bakerian Medal from the Royal Society of London, a MacArthur Fellowship, election to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.  

Her work on the orbits of stars at the center of the Milky Way has opened a new approach to studying black holes and her group is currently focused on using this approach to understand the physics of gravity near a black hole and the role that black holes plays in the formation and evolution of galaxies.

Advances in high resolution imaging technology enabled Ghez’s work and her group continues to work on pushing the frontiers of these technologies forward.   She serves on several leadership committees for the W. M. Keck Observatory, which hosts the largest telescopes in the world, and the future Thirty Meter Telescope.

Ghez is also very committed to the communication of science to the general public and inspiring young girls into science. Her work can be found in many public outlets including TED, NOVA’s Monster of the Milky Way, Discovery’s Swallowed by a Black Hole, TED, and Griffith Observatory.

Ghez earned her B.S from MIT in 1987, and her PhD from Caltech in 1992 and has been on the faculty at UCLA since 1994.

2019: Generating High-Intensity, Ultrashort Optical Pulses

Thursday, October 24, 2019, 3:30pm
Donna Strickland, University of Waterloo, Canada
Nobel Laureate, Physics 2018

With the invention of lasers, the intensity of a light wave was increased by orders of magnitude over what had been achieved with a light bulb or sunlight.  This much higher intensity led to new phenomena being observed, such as violet light coming out when red light went into the material.  After Gérard Mourou and I developed chirped pulse amplification, also known as CPA, the intensity again increased by more than a factor of 1,000 and it once again made new types of interactions possible between light and matter.  We developed a laser that could deliver short pulses of light that knocked the electrons off their atoms.  This new understanding of laser-matter interactions, led to the development of new machining techniques that are used in laser eye surgery or micromachining of glass used in cell phones.

2018: Science, Engineering and Art as well — why is it hard to teach Science well?

Thursday, November 8, 2018, 4pm
Helen Quinn, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Helen Quinn, SLAC, is a particle theorist and science educator. Helen's honors include the Dirac Medal, the Oskar Klein Medal, the Sakurai Prize, the Karl Taylor Compton Medal, and the Benjamin Franklin Medal. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society. She was President of the American Physical Society in 2004. She has been focusing on K-12 science education in the recent years and she would like to give a talk on this subject. As Chair of the Board on Science Education of the National Academy of Sciences, she led the effort that produced A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas — the basis for the next generation science standards adopted by many states.

I will reflect on what we know about teaching science for k-12 students and for undergraduates, how we know it, and what it tells us about good teaching. To teach well you must engineer the right learning conditions with careful design goals for what is to be learned, you must understand both the subject area you wish to teach and something of what research on learning tells us about critical aspects of learning that area (this is known as pedagogical content knowledge or content knowledge for teaching) and then you must be a skilled improvisational performance artist to pull off the lessons as intended, responding to the needs of students who enter your classroom with a wide range of prior knowledge, engaging them all as active participants in the learning.

This talk is based on work I have been doing in the area of science education since my retirement in 2010 from physics research, summarizing what I have learned in the process. Illinois and approximately 30 other states have adopted new science standards based on the NAS study “A Framework for k-12 science education” that I led. This study tried to capture the learning about learning from science education research as well as to shift the goals for what needs to be learned. I will discuss how it, together with research studies focused on teaching physics or other sciences at the undergraduate level, suggests changes in undergraduate teaching approaches as well.

2017: Dear Maria, Oh My, How Particle Physics has Changed

Thursday, October 19, 2017, 4pm
Melissa Franklin, Harvard University

Melissa Franklin is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics at Harvard University . She is an experimental particle physicist who studies proton-proton collisions produced by Large Hadron Collider(LHC). She is a collaborator on the ATLAS experiment at the LHC where she works in collaboration with over 3000 physicists.  Franklin was co-discoverer of the top quark and the Higgs boson. She is presently studying the properties of the Higgs boson and searching for new physics beyond the Standard Model.  Professor Franklin, born and raised in Canada, received her B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and her Doctorate from Stanford University. She worked as a post-doctoral fellow at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, was an assistant professor at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana and was a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard, before joining the Harvard faculty in 1989. In 1992 she became the first woman to receive tenure in the Physics department  and she served as Chair of the Physics department from 2010-2014.

This talk will in effect be a letter to Maria Goeppert-Mayer and other pioneering women particle physicists, describing both a brief  history of  the particle accelerators that have made remarkable discoveries in particle physics possible and the slow turn of experimentalists attention from the discovery of the building blocks of matter to the study of  the universe with nothing in it, the so-called vacuum.