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K-State Today

March 18, 2013

Fantastic voyage: University physicist invited as speaker on South American cruise

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

A Kansas State University physicist recently said "bon voyage" to the traditional classroom environment in favor of one on the high seas.

Christopher Sorensen, Cortelyou-Rust university distinguished professor of physics and university distinguished teaching scholar, spent Feb. 20-March 5 as a guest lecturer on board a cruise ship in South America. The cruise, called the Bright Horizons 16, was sponsored by Scientific American magazine.

Sorensen was one of five speakers invited by Scientific American to lecture to an audience of 150 people. Audience members included medical doctors, inventors, retired engineers and professors -- all whom enrolled in the exotic lecture series after learning about the 2013 speaker lineup and destinations from advertisements in the magazine.

"It was a nerd holiday," Sorensen said. "We all came from different walks of life, but our common tie was that we were all intellectually interested in science. It was a great group. I had a wonderful time and had a great response from the crowd."

Throughout the voyage, Sorensen presented five 55-75 minute lectures that focused on physics and humanity's understanding of science. His lectures were "Fire, Fractals and the Divine Proportion"; "A Universe of Light"; "Nanoparticles. The Technology"; "Nanoparticles. The Science"; and "How We Know What We Know."

In addition to Sorensen, the speaker lineup included a particle physicist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, who helped discover the Higgs boson; an oceanographer and the principle investigator for NASA's Aquarius mission; a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute who spoke about the search for extraterrestrial life; and a South American geologist who spoke about the geology of Patagonia.

The cruise was more than an opportunity to talk science, Sorensen said.

Growing up, Sorensen subscribed to Scientific American, which appealed to his curiosity for science. Similarly, the ship's path through Cape Horn, the Strait of Magellan and several Patagonian channels on its voyage from Santiago, Chile, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, appealed to his imagination.

"From my point of view, the route was fantastic," Sorensen said. "I grew up reading all of these great sea and sailing stories, like 'Moby-Dick' and 'Two Years Before the Mast,' so to go around Cape Horn and visit lots of those areas where many of those stories took place was a high adventure for me."