For nearly six decades, the headlines and scientific
breakthroughs of the day have come alive Friday afternoons
at Johns Hopkins' Applied
Physics Laboratory. Where else but the APL Colloquium
series can one hear about the capture of Saddam Hussein
from the tactical commander of the manhunt operation one
week, and how the Earth can be defended from asteroid
The weekly APL Colloquium, started in 1947, is one of
the oldest and most popular continuing scientific lecture
series in the Baltimore/Washington area. Each year the
series, which is free and open to the public, attracts
leading scientific scholars, technical innovators, industry
leaders, historians, military officers and policy-makers to
inform, educate and enlighten the university and greater
Today, the tradition continues as audiences ranging
from 100 to 500 gather in either the Lab's Parsons
Auditorium or the Kossiakoff Center to hear a speaker
prominent in his or her field, some from Johns Hopkins but
the majority from outside the institution.
The next speaker in the series will be strategic
planner and author Thomas P.M. Barnett, who will discuss
"War-fighting in the 21st Century."
Barnett's talk will focus on how terrorism and
globalization have combined to end the "great power" model
of war that developed over 400 years. He will contend that
the new global model calls for a transformed military, one
that integrates political and economic elements, in order
to deal with new and expanding threats.
Barnett has worked in national security affairs since
the end of the Cold War, most recently as a consultant and
a senior strategic researcher and professor in the U.S.
Naval War College's Warfare Analysis and Research
Department. He is perhaps best known as the author of The
Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First
Century (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2004), which landed on The New
York Times bestseller list. To accommodate his schedule,
Barnett's talk will be held on a Wednesday, Nov. 2, from
2:30 to 3:30 p.m. in Parsons Auditorium in the Lab's main
The APL Colloquium was founded by Big Bang theorist
Robert Herman in 1947, a year before the Applied Physics
Laboratory became a permanent division of the university
and seven years before the Lab moved to its current
location in Laurel, Md.
In a small lecture room at 8621 Georgia Ave. in Silver
Spring, Md., the original APL site, staff would gather at
3:30 p.m. to take part in the "colloquium tea" and then
hear from national experts on the latest scientific
research. The colloquium's list of early speakers included
George Gamow, a professor of physics at George Washington
University, who speculated about the genetic code shortly
after the landmark discovery of DNA structure; and U.S.
Navy Adm. Hyman Rickover, who discussed the prospects of
missile-carrying, nuclear-powered submarines. Rickover is
now commonly referred to as the father of the nuclear
In 1966, the talks were moved to a 2 p.m. start time,
with the tea held afterward. Talks today are scheduled when
possible at 2 p.m. on Fridays, but other days of the week
or hours of the day are chosen when necessary.
Past colloquium speakers include a succession of Nobel
laureates, best-selling authors, cutting-edge scientists
and high-ranking military leaders. Nearly a third of the
presenters come from Johns Hopkins' ranks.
In keeping with APL's core mission, space, medical and
exploration breakthroughs have been a consistent source of
subject matter. However, the topics sometimes veer off into
unexpected territory, such as a 1964 colloquium on the
physics of violins and a 1986 talk from legendary audio
engineer Paul W. Klipsch on distortion in loudspeakers.
The series this year has featured, among others, Kay
Jamison, professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine;
Thomas C. Voltaggio, deputy regional administrator of the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and James P. Blair, a
longtime photographer with the National Geographic Society.
Recent colloquia have featured talks on counterterrorism,
United States-India relations, the space shuttle Columbia
accident, cryptography, the search for extraterrestrial
intelligence and the geography of religion.
David Silver, chair of the colloquium committee and a
principal staff member at APL, said that for each talk the
Lab wants to address timely issues and important subjects
that have an impact on a great many people, if not the
"We try to ask ourselves such questions as, What is
currently exciting and of value? What is out there that is
really interesting? And what is out there that enlightens
us to the critical challenges that the country is facing?"
said Silver, who has been at APL since the 1970s and has
chaired the committee since 2002. "People learn something
at each of our colloquia. Bottom line, we have good
speakers who know a lot about the subject matter. The
colloquium series is a real plus activity for the Lab, and
we hope a stimulating one for both the audience and the
For more information on the series and a full schedule
of upcoming talks, go to
www.jhuapl.edu/colloquium or contact the Colloquium
Office at 443-778-5625.
Videos of past colloquia are available at APL's R.E.