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Laura Plummer

Last modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Astrophysicist Neta Bahcall discusses the universe in next Patten Lecture

Oct. 16, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Professor Neta Bahcall, a pioneering astrophysicist in the field of observational cosmology, and Eugene Higgins Professor at Princeton University, will present evidence yielded by her research in two Patten lectures -- "The Dark Side of the Universe," Tuesday (Oct. 23), and "Will the Universe Expand Forever?" Thursday (Oct. 25). Both lectures will be held in Ballantine Hall, Room 109, at 7:30 p.m., and are free and open to the public.

Bahcall's first lecture will question what makes up the universe. Recent observations suggest surprising new results. Not only is most of the matter in the universe dark and unconventional, but more surprisingly, the major component of the universe may be in the form of 'dark energy' -- a form of energy that opposes the pull of gravity and causes the expansion of the universe to accelerate.

Her second lecture will discuss the ultimate fate of the universe -- will it expand forever or will it eventually collapse in a 'Big Crunch'? The answer to this fundamental question depends on two critical observations: How much matter or gravity exists in the universe? And, does the universe contain other forms of energy that affect its expansion? Observations suggest that the expansion rate of the universe is speeding up.

Neta Bahcall's background

Originally from Israel, Bahcall received her bachelor's in physics and mathematics at Hebrew University, a master's in physics from the Weizmann Institute of Science and her Ph.D. in astrophysics from Tel Aviv University.

Bahcall is best known for her work in cosmic cartography, divining the structure and properties of the universe on large scales from massive sets of data accumulated through deep surveys of the sky and with the Hubble Space Telescope. She has been a pioneer in developing innovative techniques to interpret astronomical data, including a statistical approach to understanding how giant clusters of galaxies are distributed in the universe. For more information on Bahcall, visit

Patten Lecture Series History

Since 1937, the William T. Patten Foundation has provided generous funds to bring to IU Bloomington people of extraordinary national and international distinction. Since the first Patten lecture, more than 180 world-renowned scholars have lectured at Indiana University under the auspices of the Patten Foundation. Noted specialists in their fields, speakers have been chosen for their ability to convey the significance of their work to a general audience. Chosen by a campus-wide faculty committee, Patten Lectures have represented more than 50 academic departments and programs.

William T. Patten received his A.B. degree in history from IU in 1893. After graduation he settled in Indianapolis, where he made a career in real estate and politics, including serving as county auditor. He remained appreciative of the educational opportunities that IU had afforded him, and toward the end of his life, in 1931, made a gift to the university in the form of liberty bonds and Indiana municipal and county bonds. The gift was to be held as an endowment bearing his name, and the income used for bringing to the campus eminent leaders in their fields for residence and lectures to enrich the intellectual life of the campus.

Remaining lectures in the Patten series, include:

  • Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics, University of Chicago will speak on Tuesday, Feb. 12 and Thursday, Feb. 14
  • Gillian Beer, King Edward VII Professor of English Literature and President of Clare Hall (retired), University of Cambridge will speak on Tuesday, April 8 and Thursday, April 10.

For a more complete history on William T. Patten and further details on the upcoming lecture series, visit