Ewan Lecture invites Nobel Laureate Jim Peebles to Queen’s

‘Star scientist’ delivers lecture on expanding universe

The McDonald Institute and Ewan Lecture Series present Jim Peebles.

The George and Maureen Ewan Lecture Series brought Jim Peebles, co-recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics for theoretical discoveries in physical cosmology, to Queen’s University last week.

On Sept. 21, the community welcomed Peebles to the Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts to discuss his work on the expanding universe. Students from across faculties gathered in anticipation for his talk.

The Ewan Lectures are funded by a donation of $100,000 allowing the McDonald Institute and Queen’s physics department to invite leading scientists to discuss their work in astrophysics and inspire scientific conversation. The Ewans’ vision was to foster a rich scientific environment accessible to the public, not requiring a doctorate degree to understand or enjoy.

“It is nice to see someone who has achieved the highest accolade in their field. It’s a rare sight, and it is amazing that Queen’s provided this opportunity to students,” Sudeepta Talukdar, Sci ’24, said at the event.

The event began with an opening speech from Tony Noble, scientific director of the McDonald Institute, introducing Queen’s Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald. In this speech, Noble highlighted the comradery between McDonald and Peebles.

Peebles began his talk with a picture of planet earth, explaining that a turning point in space science was the confirmation the earth was round. He engaged the audience by going through an overview of the history of physics and how each discovery led to the current understanding of the universe.

His multimedia approach included photographs, scientific figures, handwritten letters, and newspaper articles. When showing a photograph of his peers working on an experiment at the University of British Columbia, Peebles joked that the picture didn’t inspire confidence.

At one point, Peebles demonstrated differences in wavelengths by blowing into water bottles, giving the necessary background knowledge for a general audience to enjoy the talk.

During the question-and-answer period, questions ranged from the theoretical to the philosophical.

Instead of opposing criticism of his theory, Peebles explained that he welcomes discrepancies as it only leads to the creation of a better theory of the universe. Peebles’ career advice for students was to plan a career that one would feel good about what they’re doing.

When The Journal asked Peebles if, 50 years ago, he would’ve wanted to know the future of cosmology, he said no.  The prospect of not being challenged in his research disappointed him.

Peebles’ lecture invited discourse on the various topics he presented, ranging from the theory of relativity to Hubble’s law.

The McDonald Institute’s community events aren’t restricted to the Ewan Lecture Series. The Institute frequently collaborates with other groups to host events.

The Queen’s Observatory will be hosting an open house on Oct. 14 to view the annular solar eclipse.


astrophysics, Ewan lecture series, McDonald Institute, Nobel Prize, universe

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