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Plenary Speakers

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The conference will host three plenary lectures, one for each morning of the conference:

Joe Taylor, Princeton University

Tuesday, May 10th, 8:30 AM
Reflections on an Astrophysical Clock-Comparison Experiment

Abstract: Pulsars are rapidly spinning, strongly magnetized neutron stars, the collapsed remnants of supernova explosions.  They are sometimes described as nature's most precise clocks.  The 1974 discovery of an orbiting pulsar provided a unique opportunity to explore the fundamental nature of gravity beyond the weak-field, slow-motion regime that exists everywhere in the solar system. The resulting clock-comparison experiment firmly established the existence of gravitational waves as predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity, and lent strong support to the case for ambitious efforts to detect such waves directly.

Bio: Using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in 1974, Joe Taylor and his student Russel Hulse made the first discovery of a pulsar in a binary system. The orbit of this binary system slowly shrinks as it loses energy from emission of gravitational radiation. Over a thirty-year period Taylor and his colleagues made measurements of the rate of shrinkage of the orbit that match the prediction of General Relativity to much better than 1% accuracy. Together Taylor and Hulse received the 1993 Nobel Prize for Physics "for the discovery of a new type of pulsar, a discovery that has opened up new possibilities for the study of gravitation". 

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Professor Taylor has been recognized with many other awards, including the first Heineman Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the Henry Draper Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the Tomalla Foundation Prize, the Magellanic Premium, the Carty Award for the Advancement of Science, the Einstein Prize, the Wolf Prize in Physics, and the Schwartzchild Medal. He was also among the first group of MacArthur Fellows. 

Professor Taylor is the James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor in Physics, Emeritus, at Princeton. Joe Taylor is also known by his amateur radio call sign K1JT.


Nergis Mavalvala, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wednesday, May 11th, 8:30 AM
Gravitational wave detection using precision interferometry

Abstract: Laser interferometer gravitational wave detectors are poised to launch a new era of gravitational wave astronomy and unprecedented tests of general relativity. I will describe experimental efforts worldwide to detect gravitational waves, and the progress to date. Terrestrial gravitational wave detectors must be sensitive to displacements of less than 1e-19 m/rtHz in their most sensitive band around 100 Hz. The limits to the sensitivity of the present generation of interferometric gravitational wave detectors and the path to higher sensitivity future gravitational wave detectors will also be discussed.

Bio: Nergis Mavalvala is a physicist whose research links the world of quantum mechanics, usually apparent only at the atomic scale, with some of the most powerful, yet elusive, forces in the cosmos.  She received a B.A. from Wellesley College in 1990 and a Ph.D.  from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1997. She was a postdoctoral fellow and research scientist at the California Institute of Technology between 1997 and 2002. Since 2002, she has been on the Physics faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she is now a Professor of Physics and recipient of a 2010 MacArthur "genius" award. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America. In her spare time, she loves to bicycle long distances, play sports, and hang out with her family.

Alexander Rose, The Long Now Foundation

Thursday, May 12th, 8:30 AM
Designing for Longevity

Abstract: How do you build a monument scale astronomical machine that will last as long as civilization?  For the last fifteen years Alexander Rose has been working on building this icon of long-term thinking with The Long Now Foundation.  Rose is currently managing the 10,000 Year Clock project underway in West Texas where they have used giant custom robots and explosives to excavate over 500 vertical feet through solid rock to house the Clock. He will discuss the building of the Clock as well as the research and design process that has taken him as far as the arctic Seed Vault in Svalbard, and deep underground to the ultra-secret Mormon genealogical vaults in Salt Lake City.  

Bio: Alexander was hired in 1997 to build the 10,000 Year Clock with computer scientist Danny Hillis. Alexander speaks about the work of The Long Now Foundation all over the world at venues ranging from the TED conference to corporations and government agencies.

As the director of Long Now, Alexander founded The Interval and has facilitated projects such as the 10,000 Year Clock, The Rosetta Project, Long Bets, Seminars About Long Term Thinking, Long Server and others. Alexander shares several design patents on the 10,000 Year Clock with Danny Hillis, the first prototype of which is in the Science Museum of London, and the monument scale version is now under construction in West Texas.

Alexander curates speaking series' at The Interval and The Battery SF, has been a part of the Thiel Fellowship Network, and founded the Robot Fighting League.

Alexander graduated with a bachelor of arts honors degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Industrial Design in 01995, as well as attended the Art Center College of Design. He was an artist in residence at Silicon Graphics Inc., and a founding partner of the robotics company Inertia Labs.

Alexander's combat robots have won over six world championship titles appearing in the hit ABC TV show BattleBots. He has also built large pyrotechnic displays for the Burning Man festival, robotic bartenders and other dangerous machines. Alexander was also a world champion paintball player holding multiple world titles with his team the Ironmen from 1990 through 1995. At Carnegie Mellon University Alexander was the lead designer for a record setting human power vehicle team.

Alexander lives in California on the Sausalito waterfront and enjoys mountain biking, climbing and mountaineering whenever he can get out.