Director's Note

Nobel Conference 49

When we began thinking about Nobel Conference 49 a little more than two years ago, we envisioned a conference that would highlight the discovery of the Higgs Boson. But, as the committee began to meet, the topic quickly broadened to include not only new discoveries in particle physics but also cosmology—and “The Universe at Its Limits” was born. In some sense this conference is the fulfillment of a dream that I shared with 2013 conference chair Steve Mellema. In 2009 we attended a panel discussion at the joint meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Association of Physics Teachers in Chicago. Many of our speakers were members of that panel that discussed what we know and what we could know about the beginning of the universe.

Those of us who have made it to the end of an introductory astronomy course realize that the seemingly opposite lines of inquiry that began in ancient Greece over 2,000 years ago—astronomy and the study of what is “inside” matter—both provide answers to the questions of the origin, constituents, and evolution of the universe. Indeed, we need both astronomy, the study of what is “outside”, beyond the boundaries of Earth, and the study of the realm of subatomic particles and the fundamental forces in nature in order to put together a coherent picture of our universe and how it got this way. The Nobel Conference 49 committee has put together a panel of experts in both areas to help us answer questions about dark energy and the acceleration of the universe to candidates for dark matter and its role in holding the whole thing together.

Nobel Conference 49, “The Universe at Its Limits,” will be my last as director, but I expect to be involved in future conferences in many ways. I look forward to working with the new director, Dr. Scott Bur, associate professor of chemistry.

What lit the fuse that resulted in this explosion of science in the last 200 years may be debatable, but the resulting shockwave is carrying all of humanity on an incredible ride as new science and technology double and redouble our understanding of the universe, of our world, indeed of ourselves. The first 49 Nobel Conferences at Gustavus brought the science and the front of this wave, along with its understanding, to lay audiences in the Upper Midwest, across the country, and recently around the world. We hope that the speakers at the 50th Nobel Conference will look back at recent advances in their areas of science to help us gain some insight into where the wave of new exploration will take us in the next five, ten, even fifty years. “Where Science Is Going” will be an assembly primarily of previous Nobel Conference participants in all areas of science, economics, and mathematics. And, as is our tradition, the assembly will include philosophers and theologians to help us put it all in perspective.

Chuck Niederriter, Ph.D.
Director, Nobel Conference

Scott Bur
Director, Nobel Conference