Telling Stories about the Universe
December 4, 2004. Stafford Little Lectures
Every civilization, from the time of the earliest humans to the present day, tells stories about the universe. What is known at each epoch is dictated in large measure by the available technology. Today astronomers know that luminous galaxies and clusters of galaxies populate the universe, but make up less than 10% of its matter. The remaining matter is dark, and is detected by its gravitational effect on the bright matter we study. Equally mysterious is the force that is apparently causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. I will tell our story of the bright universe we know, and the dark universe that is obscure.
About the Stafford Little Fund
Initially known as the Stafford Little Lectureship on Public Affairs, the fund was "[f]ounded in 1899 with a gift of $10,000 by Henry Stafford Little of the Class of 1844, who suggested that Grover Cleveland, ex-President of the United States, be invited to deliver before the students of the University 'such lectures as he might be disposed to give from year to year.' Mr. Cleveland was the Stafford Little lecturer until his death in 1908." Between 1954-1955 and 1970-1971, the Committee on Public Lectures expressed an intent to use this fund to address topics in the "general area of the social sciences."
Lecturers have included Theodore Roosevelt on "National Strength and International Duty" (1917-1918); Albert Einstein on "The Meaning of Relativity" (1920-1921); Henry L. Stimson on "Democracy and Nationalism in Europe" (1933-1934); Arnold Shoenberg on "Twelve-tone music composition" Thurgood Marshall on "The Constitutional Rights of the Negro" (1963-1964); and Gunnar Myrdal on "The Racial Crises in the United States in Historical Perspective" (1969-1970). A lawyer by profession, Little was active in New Jersey politics and was the first president of the New York and Long Branch Railroad Company. According to Dean Andrew West, Princeton "took the place of the wife, home, and children he never had." He died, greatly mourned, in 1904.