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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 31, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 9
Informing the Public, One Friday at a Time

Vice Adm. Richard H. Carmona, the U.S. surgeon general, gave the APL Colloquium Series' Sept. 30 lecture as part of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Since 1947, APL series has featured experts in many fields

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

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 impacts another?

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 scientific community.

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 building.

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 submarine.

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 entire world.

"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 speaker."

For more information on the series and a full schedule of upcoming talks, go to or contact the Colloquium Office at 443-778-5625.

Videos of past colloquia are available at APL's R.E. Gibson Library.


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