Upcoming Colloquia

Monday, October 22

4:00 PM, C215 ESC

Z. Johnson

U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

Finance from a Physics Perspective: Pricing, Risk, and Pitfalls

In the early 1960's, Benoit Mandelbrot saw in the financial industry a ready laboratory for the testing of his ideas on randomness, and his study of financial futures contributed to his breakthrough work on randomness and fractals. But the financial industry in turn has seen in science and mathematics the potential for developing quantitative methods for pricing and risk management. In my presentation, I will discuss the intersection of the fields of finance and science - the history of the interactions between the two, and why quantitative methods have become increasingly prominent in the world of finance. But I will also discuss the challenges posed by attempting to use methods developed for the study of the physical world to the human world of finance, notorious for its volatility and its bouts of deeply irrational behavior. I will also discuss the role that quantitative methods play in my work as a regulator, as we turn to quantitative analysis to better understand a large and complex industry.

Zerubbabel (Z.) Johnson received his BS in Physics from BYU and his MBA from American University. He works at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, in a risk and analysis group. At the SEC, he monitors the financial industry to identify emerging risks, assists in the development of quantitative risk models, carries out examinations of financial institutions, and advises on proposed rules. Previously, he worked as a consultant with Deloitte Consulting, and as a software engineer with Siemens Medical Systems.

Monday, October 29

4:00 PM, C215 ESC

Eric Hudson

UCLA Physics

Your Grandkid’s Quantum Computer

Governments around the world are jockeying to secure their place in the coming quantum industrial revolution. Large, multinational corporations are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop quantum computers. One may wonder what role physicists can play now that the technology has moved from proof-of-principle to large scale integration. I’ll argue that the role of physicists is now more important than ever if we are to prevent a “quantum bust” from following the current “quantum boom”.

Monday, November 5

4:00 PM, C215 ESC

Mike Joner

Brigham Young University, Physics & Astronomy

Small Telescope Research Observations

We live in an era where ambitious telescope projects such as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope are expected to come into service soon. Even larger projects, such as the European Extremely Large Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope, have made it through the approval process and started construction. With this new generation of giant telescopes now on the horizon, questions have arisen regarding the usefulness and future of smaller observatories scattered around the world. 

One of these modest sized facilities is the West Mountain Observatory operated by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Brigham Young University. WMO has been used for student and faculty research since it started operations in 1981. The observatory at West Mountain is convenient to the main BYU campus and at the same time it is a relatively dark site with excellent seeing conditions that provide a high quality research site equipped with modern instrumentation. I will discuss the history, current research efforts, and reasons why the future is promising for smaller observatories like WMO. I will present examples of current projects that range from studies of objects within our solar system to projects in observational cosmology.


Dr. Michael Joner is a research professor of Physics & Astronomy at Brigham Young University. He is an observational specialist with hundreds of nights of experience at various observatories, and has observed around the world at major facilities that include the South African Astronomical Observatory in Africa, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, and the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in British Columbia. His numerous research experiences include the opportunity to fly a mission on the now retired NASA Kuiper Airborne Observatory in order to study the infrared sky.  While specializing in several different areas of astrophysics ranging from planetary science to cosmology, Dr. Joner has been the Director of the BYU West Mountain Observatory since it opened in the fall of 1981.


Monday, November 12

4:00 PM, C215 ESC

Steve Elliott

Engineering and the Environment, University of Southampton

The Active Control of Sound Fields

The pressure variations we experience as sound are very small perturbations of the atmospheric pressure and so are governed by a linear wave equation. Superposition then suggests that the acoustic field due to one “primary” source of sound could be suppressed by another, controllable, “secondary” source of sound, using destructive interference. This intuitive concept is complicated by the differences in the spatial variation of the sound fields from the two sources, but significant control is generally possible if the spatial separation of the sources is not too great compared to the acoustic wavelength. Examples of active sound control in the free field and in enclosed sound fields will be considered, together with practical applications in reducing the low frequency noise in aircraft and cars. The relationship will also be discussed between the active attenuation of sound, using destructive interference within a spatial region, and the reproduction of spatial audio. Some recent developments will be described in both areas, where the performance at a listener’s ears is significantly improved by head tracking techniques.


Professor Steve Elliott graduated with first class joint honours in physics and electronics from the University of London, in 1976, and received his PhD from the University of Surrey in 1979 for a dissertation on musical acoustics.  He was appointed Lecturer at the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR), University of Southampton, in 1982, was made Senior Lecturer in 1988, Professor in 1994, and served as Director of the ISVR from 2005 to 2010.  His research interests have been mostly concerned with the connections between the physical world, signal processing and control, mainly in relation the active control of sound using adaptive filters and the active feedback control of vibration.  This work has resulted in the practical demonstration of active control in propeller aircraft, cars and helicopters.  His current research interests include modular systems for active feedback control and modelling the active processes within the cochlear.  He has published over 250 papers in refereed journals and 500 conference papers and is co-author of Active Control of Sound (with P A Nelson 1992), Active Control of Vibration (with C R Fuller and P A Nelson 1996) and author of Signal Processing for Active Control (2001).  He is a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, was jointly awarded the Tyndall Medal from the Institute of Acoustics in 1992 and the Kenneth Harris James Prize from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 2000.  He was made a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2009.

Monday, November 26

4:00 PM, C215 ESC

Kipton Barros

Los Alamos National Laboratory


Monday, December 3

4:00 PM, Provo

Matthew Memmott

Brigham Young University, Chemical Engineering


Monday, December 10

4:00 PM, C215 ESC

Jared Chapman

Utah Valley University, Woodbury School of Business

Academic performance gains through optimizing courses for student engagement and motivation

To improve student performance in a class, educators may try improve by making the content and pedagogy experiences more effective. While there are likely always ways to improve content and pedagogy, this avenue may not represent the lowest hanging fruit. This approach is sometimes based on the false assumption that poor performers perform poorly because they are less capable to complete the current course design. In this case, the course may be made easier to accommodate lesser performing students. The unintended consequence is that excellent performers are incentivized to learn less when their learning experiences demand less of them than their potential to perform. In addition, due to a lack of motivation, the poor performers may still not engage more in the easier course than the previous course design. This approach likely reduces learning for all learners and jeopardize the academic integrity of a class.

We welcome anyone who wish to attend, and typically serve refreshments ten minutes before the colloquium begins. Speakers generally keep their presentation accessible to undergraduate physics students.