Started in 1922 to share modern scientific advances with the public, Caltech’s Watson Lectures have opened a window on cutting-edge research and discovery for more than a century. Now, in its 101st season, the series will introduce a variety of community engagement activities in addition to the stimulating lectures for which it is known.
Free and open to the public, the Earnest C. Watson Lecture series offers monthly opportunities to hear how Caltech scientists and engineers are tackling society’s most pressing challenges and inventing the technologies of the future. New this season, guests are invited to arrive an hour and a half before each lecture to enjoy food, drinks, and music together outside Beckman Auditorium. Interactive displays related to the evening’s topic are also being planned to give audience members additional context and information for each talk.
A question-and-answer session—moderated by neuroscientist, science communicator, and Caltech alum Crystal Dilworth (PhD ’14)—will close the lectures, and guests are encouraged to stay for post-talk coffee and tea, and the chance for conversations with neighbors and researchers alike.
The 2023–24 Watson season will open on October 18 with Hosea Nelson (PhD ’13), professor of chemistry, whose talk, “The Chemistry of Everything: Uncovering new treatments in the natural world,” will explore the search for new drugs within nature. Later talks will feature research on wearable sensors for monitoring health, the Lunar Trailblazer mission to investigate water on the moon, using fiber optic cables to better detect earthquakes, and much more.
“We have an outstanding group of scientists and engineers presenting their research this season,” says John Eiler, the Robert P. Sharp Professor of Geology and Geochemistry and chair of Caltech’s Institute Programs Committee, which oversees the Watsons. “Providing an opportunity for the public to engage directly with Caltech research is one of the most important ways we can contribute to the intellectual life of the community.”
Originally known as the “Friday Evening Demonstration Lectures,” the series was started by Earnest C. Watson, a professor of physics at Caltech from 1919 to 1959, to help foster public appreciation for the impact of fundamental research. During the talks, Watson would stand in front of a packed lecture hall to deliver his famed “liquid-air” demonstration, in which he would open a bottle of air that had been cooled to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The contents would then appear to “boil” out of the bottle and engulf Watson in white fumes. While Watson’s famed demonstrations would no longer meet current safety guidelines, the spirit of his talks and his interest in inspiring an appreciation and understanding of science remains and has motivated generations of faculty to share the details of their work with the public.
Eventually renamed in his honor, the Watson Lectures continue to spotlight pathbreaking Caltech research.
A full listing of this season’s lectures, including registration details, is available on the series webpage.