Colloquia Series

Our Home in the Material Universe

October 28

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

7–8:30 PM

Presented by Alan Lightman, MIT professor and author of international bestsellers including Einstein’s Dream.

Award-winning novelist (Einstein’s Dreams) and theoretical physicist Alan Lightman has bridged the worlds of science and the humanities. He is one of the first professors to receive a dual faculty appointment in science and humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

An international bestseller, Einstein’s Dreams is one of the most widely read books on university campuses. Lightman’s most recent book of essays, The Accidental Universe: The World You Thought You Knew, features work focused on modern physics and philosophy.

At Pennsylvania College of Technology, Lightman will introduce a presentation developed specifically for the Centennial Colloquia Series. “Our Home in the Material Universe” will examine the significance, potential, and limitations of major scientific and technological discoveries.

Our Home in the Material Universe

While the advances of science and technology have yielded many benefits, less beneficial has been the separation from a direct and immediate experience with the world (and the people) around us. Consider, for example, the use of smartphones while walking through a nature preserve; consider also the many layers of virtual reality on the Internet.

In addition, there is the ambivalent attitude toward an increasingly orderly and lawful cosmos. On the one hand, order, predictability, and control over nature are attractive. On the other, the human preference is to avoid predictability: not to be constrained by the same laws that govern atoms and molecules, not to be reduced to equations.

A positive response to the current human condition is to live more proactively in this scientific and technological age, to use technology more thoughtfully and selectively, and to recognize and honor our own humanity.

Presenter Biography

Educated at Princeton and California Institute of Technology, Alan Lightman began his career on the faculty of Harvard University; he went on to serve as a research scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

He was appointed professor of science and writing and senior lecturer in physics at MIT in 1989. During his MIT career, he helped to create a communication requirement at MIT – requiring all undergraduates to have writing or speaking courses each of their four years – and cofounded MIT’s graduate program in Science Writing.

A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, Lightman is the author of six novels – including the bestselling Einstein’s Dreams which has been translated into 30 languages – as well as nonfiction essays, articles, and poetry published in scientific and popular periodicals; editor of essay collections; and a memoirist with the upcoming publication of Screening Room: Family Pictures, to be released early in 2015.

Alan Lightman


  • Einstein’s Dreams (1993)
  • Good Benito (1995)
  • The Diagnosis (2000)
  • Reunion (2003)
  • Ghost (2007)
  • Mr g (2012)
Essays, Fables, and Poetry
  • Time Travel and Papa Joe’s Pipe (1984)
  • A Modern Day Yankee in a Connecticut Court (1986)
  • Dance for Two (1996)
  • Best American Essays 2000, (guest editor) (2000)
  • Living with the Genie, (coedited with Christina Desser and Daniel Sarewitz) (2003)
  • Heart of the Horse (with Juliet von Otteren) (2004)
  • A Sense of the Mysterious (2005)
  • Song of Two Worlds (2009)
  • The Accidental Universe (2014)
Books on Science
  • Problem Book in Relativity and Gravitation (with W. H. Press, R. H. Price, and S. A. Teukolsky) (1975)
  • Radiative Processes in Astrophysics (with G. B. Rybicki) (1979)
  • Origins: the Lives and Worlds of Modern Cosmologists (with R. Brawer) (1990)
  • Ancient Light. Our Changing View of the Universe (1991)
  • Great Ideas in Physics (1992, new edition in 2000)
  • Time for the Stars. Astronomy for the 1990s (1992)
  • The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science (November 2005)