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Watson Lecture on February 8: Chuck Steidel (PhD ’90) on Seeing Galaxies Form in the Ancient Universe Using JWST

Published on Feb 2, 2023

On Wednesday, February 8, at 7:30 p.m. PT in Beckman Auditorium on the Caltech campus, Chuck Steidel (PhD ’90), the Lee A. DuBridge Professor of Astronomy, will continue the 100th anniversary season of the Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series with “Galactic Paleontology with JWST: Finding Living Fossils in the Ancient Universe.”

Since it began its scientific mission in July 2022, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has provided the first detailed glimpses of the most distant reaches of the observable universe, when the first galaxies were emerging more than 13 billion years ago. History suggests that opening new observational windows leads to entirely unanticipated discoveries, and JWST has already begun to fulfill that promise. In this lecture, Steidel will explore what enables the unprecedented power of JWST for studying galaxy formation in its infancy and what we can expect to learn from JWST images and spectra over the next several years.

“We’re actually seeing galaxies as they existed 10 billion, or even as high as 13 billion years ago, because light takes that much time to travel from where the galaxies are distance-wise to us,” Steidel says. “This is our access to history. We’ll be able to say we understand what galaxies looked like at this time thanks to the James Webb Space Telescope.”

Steidel earned a bachelor’s degree in astrophysical sciences from Princeton University and a doctoral degree in astronomy from Caltech. He joined the Caltech faculty in 1995 after completing his postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley as a NASA Hubble Fellow, and spending two years as an assistant professor of physics at MIT. Steidel’s research focuses on the process of galaxy formation and the nature of the intergalactic medium. He uses spectroscopic data from both land- and space-based telescopes, like JWST, to help reconstruct the history of galaxies through direct observation.

The 2022–23 season marks the centennial of The Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series, which has brought Caltech’s most innovative scientific research to the public since the Friday Evening Demonstration Lectures premiered in October 1922. The series is named for Earnest C. Watson, a professor of physics at Caltech from 1919 until 1959.

The Watson Lectures, which are geared toward a general audience, spotlight a selection of the pioneering research conducted by Caltech’s faculty as part of the Institute’s ongoing commitment to benefiting the local community through education and outreach. All Watson Lectures are free and open to the public.

Many past Watson Lectures are available on YouTube.

No advance registration is required for the Watson Lectures, but you may sign up for event reminders here.

For more information, please contact the Caltech Ticket Office by email at

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