Street Smart Chicago

Dim the Lights: An evening with astrophysicist Rocky Kolb

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Gold Coast/Near North Add comments

Walking into the Newberry Library is like walking into some secret society. The Newberry Library offers a lecture every first Wednesday of the month, this day being “The Dark Side of the Universe,” with astrophysicist Rocky Kolb. The free alcohol helps.

Opera plays softly through the speakers, and a mixed crowd of college students, artists, freelance writers and graying professionals all linger by the alcohol and snacks tables. A sea of people with beers or small plastic cups of wine in hand all passionately engage in conversation over topics that range from politics to their personal theory of the universe. The lights eventually dim and Kolb takes his place at the podium.

The first thing you notice about Rocky Kolb is his mustache—then his sense of humor. The audience titters over his first joke, which includes Americans spending more money on Botox and cosmetology than on cosmology, and the giggling fits don’t stop. He’s much more a funny uncle than a dry scientist, even when he talks about the idea of the space/time dynamic, a brief history of humanity’s quest to understand the cosmos, how dark energy and matter came to be, Einstein’s rings and the distortion of the fabric of space, the quantum uncertainty principle and the quantum vacuum and the unbearable lightness of nothing. Incredibly, you don’t feel dumb.

Once the presentation ends, people hasten down the marble foyer as if the stimulating atmosphere never really existed at all. The lightness of nothing is unbearable. (Fruzsina Eordogh)

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