Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Physics in the 21st Century


In this IntroSem, we will explore the frontier of modern physics through an in-depth examination of two of the biggest physics discoveries of the 21st century: the Higgs boson and Dark Energy. Through studying these discoveries we will explore the big questions driving modern particle physics, the study of nature's most fundamental pieces, and cosmology, the study of the evolution and nature of the universe. Questions such as: What is the universe made of? What are the most fundamental particles and how do they interact with each other? What can we learn about the history of the universe and what does it tell us about its future? We will learn about the tools scientists use to study these questions such as the Large Hadron Collider and the Hubble Space Telescope. We will also learn to convey these complex topics in engaging and diverse terms to the general public through writing and reading assignments, oral presentations, and multimedia projects. The syllabus includes a tour of SLAC, the site of many major 20th century particle discoveries, and a virtual visit of the control room of the ATLAS experiment at CERN amongst other activities. No prior knowledge of physics is necessary; all voices are welcome to contribute to the discussion about these big ideas.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Lauren Tompkins

Lauren Tompkins

"I study the smallest bits of the universe, sub-atomic particles, using the highest energy particle collider on earth, the Large Hadron Collider. My research group is trying to understand how fundamental particles interact and what these interactions tell us about our universe. There is still a lot we don't understand about the universe such as what it is mostly made of, why there isn't anti-matter everywhere, and why gravity is so weak! My group builds ultra-fast electronics to help us select particle collisions that may hold the clues to solving these mysteries. We analyze the data to find the evidence. Equally important, we believe that anyone with curiosity and drive can do physics, and that all should feel welcome to do so!

Having started as an assistant professor in Fall 2014, I am a relative newcomer to campus. Before coming to Stanford I spent time in Chicago, Switzerland, and France. I got all of my degrees from our cross-bay rival, UC Berkeley. As a Golden Bear I did stints in the marching band, triathlon, and cycling teams, as well as lead the society for women in physical sciences. These days I am passionate about the physics of subatomic particles, equity and inclusion in STEM, communicating science to the public, and any activity that gets me outdoors!"