Physics " and a little fishin’ |

Physics " and a little fishin’

Charles Agar
Vail, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” The physicist are coming!

Between now and Sept. 2, the Aspen Center for Physics welcomes 500 world-renowned physicists who escape the work-a-day world to meet with other big brains in the rarefied air of Aspen.

Physicist George Stranahan got hooked on Aspen in the 1950s, spending summer months in the then little-known enclave with his family; today, he owns a ranch in Woody Creek.

But Stranahan wanted someone to talk physics with, said Jane Kelly, administrative vice president of the center.

So he approached members of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, Walter Paepcke’s center for ideas in the outdoors, and along with Bob Craig and Michael Cohen started the Aspen Center for Physics in 1962.

Founders built on a four-acre campus in Aspen’s West End, adjacent to the Aspen Institute, and the Aspen Center for Physics became its own nonprofit, separate from the Aspen Institute, in 1968.

The center hosts regular summer workshops for 500 of the best and brightest physicists from around the world and welcomes 200 more participants for three one-week sessions each winter.

Attendance at the summer and winter programs is by invitation only, and the center attracts specialists from an array of disciplines ” anyone from post-doctoral students to Nobel Prize winners. Kelly called it a unique opportunity for “cross pollination” of ideas.

The board of directors includes noted physicists Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss and Lisa Randall, and the center garners large annual grants from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space Association.

“It costs $350 no matter how long you stay,” Kelly said.

The fee earns participants shared office space, space in workshops and access to a library facility. And while physicists stay an average of two weeks, Kelly encourages visitors to bring their families and stay as long as they can.

“Right from the beginning, they wanted the best and the brightest,” Kelly said of the physicist coming to the center. “An awful lot gets accomplished here.”

University professors and government scientists on campus are free of their usual administrative duties and have a chance to work on ideas they can share with their peers, all the while taking in the mountain scenery, hiking, biking, fishing and enjoying group picnics every Tuesday night.

Organizers maintain a bevy of bicycles on campus and encourage participants to leave their cars at home. And, there are no phones in offices.

“It’s like summer camp for physicists,” Kelly said. “Physics is their life’s work. It’s their hobby. They’re all passionate about physics, and most of them never really retire.”

The center offers free public lectures in summer and winter, and participants often act as local consultants to area schools and organizations.

“They’re a wonderful group you don’t often have a chance to interact with,” Kelly said.

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