Writer and scientist Alan Lightman explores Einstein’s dreams of relativity for the Assembly Series

As a distinguished theoretical physicist and as an accomplished writer, Alan Lightman has successfully bridged the gap between science and the humanities, helping his lay audience to understand the often foreign culture of science. In his talk on “Einstein and Relativity,” he will provide an understanding of one of the greatest triumphs of the human imagination. The Department of English Hurst Visiting Professorship Lecture will be held at 4 p.m. on Wed., Sept. 19 in Graham Chapel. In addition, he will conduct a reading from his work at 8 p.m. on Tues., Sept. 18 in Anheuser-Busch Hall, Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom.

Alan Lightman

From an early age, Lightman has pursued his two passions: science and the arts. While in high school, he began independent science projects and writing poetry.

His first novel, Einstein’s Dreams (1993), was an international bestseller and has been translated into 30 languages. It is an account of the unconscious musings of a young Einstein on the verge of a great discovery, exploring many different psychological perceptions of space and time.

More than two dozen independent theater and musical productions have been based on Einstein’s Dreams. It has become one of the most widely used books on college campuses, including the 2007 selection for Washington University’s Freshman Reading Program.

Lightman received his AB degree in physics from Princeton University in 1970, Phi Beta Kappa, and his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1974. From 1974 to 1976, he was a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics at Cornell University. He was an assistant professor of astronomy at Harvard from 1976 to 1979 and for 10 years was a research scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

In 1989, he became the first professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to receive a joint appointment in the sciences and the humanities. In 1995, he was appointed the John E. Burchard Professor of Humanities and later cofounded the graduate program in science writing. He also helped create a new communication requirement for all MIT undergraduates to have a course equivalent in writing or speaking each of their four years. He resigned his chair in 2002 to allow more time for writing, and now serves as an adjunct professor of humanities.

His essays and stories have appeared in many national publications. His novel The Diagnosis was a finalist for the 2000 National Book Award for fiction. Among his non-fiction books are Origins: the Lives and Works of Modern Cosmologists (with R. Brawer, 1990), Ancient Light: Our Changing View of the Universe (1991), Great Ideas in Physics (new edition 2000), The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science (2005). His research articles have appeared in The Physical Review, The Astrophysical Journal, Nature, and other journals.

He has received numerous awards and honors and is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

In 1999, he and his wife Jean founded the Harpswell Foundation, which provides educational opportunities to disadvantaged children and young people.

The event is free and open to the public. Graham Chapel is located north of Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd., on the Washington University Danforth campus.

For more information, call (314) 935-4620 or visit the Assembly Series Web page (http://assemblyseries.wustl.edu).