Public Lectures

Ever wonder what goes on at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory? The SLAC Public Lecture Series is your chance to find out! The evening lectures highlight the cutting-edge science happening at the laboratory. From the nanotechnology of diamonds to the latest Higgs Boson discoveries, SLAC public lectures provide non-scientists with a unique insight into the workings of our universe.

Scheduled Lecture

Shocking Origin: Meteor Impacts and the Chemistry of Life

Arianna Gleason ,
Thursday, May 27, 2021 5:00 pm
Public Lecture: Arianna Gleason. Meteors crashing into a planet

Join us onZoom (passcode 650650)

When and where life originated on Earth – and if, or where, life exists elsewhere in the cosmos – are some of the biggest scientific questions of our time. Even the origin of the basic materials needed for life is a mystery. Meteorites and comets are often cited as potential sources of simple organic molecules. When these impact Earth, they experience extreme conditions – pressures a million times higher than the atmospheric pressure at Earth’s surface and temperatures as hot as the surface of the sun. Under these conditions, the simple molecules can reform into more complex and novel structures, including nucleotide bases for RNA and DNA. We can study how these organic fragments form and how they can build up complex products using SLAC’s X-ray free-electron laser. With observations that take place in a tiny fraction of a second, we can shock-compress materials to create extreme conditions and visualize the breaking and forming of chemical bonds. In this presentation, I will show how this technique may hold the key to revealing the origin of life via complex chemical dynamics taking place on ultrafast time scales and at ultrahigh pressures and temperatures.

About the Speaker:
Arianna Gleason

Arianna Gleason received her PhD in earth and planetary science from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010. After a postdoctoral appointment at Stanford University, she worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the shock and detonation physics group. She joined SLAC in 2018 as a staff scientist. Her passion is visualizing the behavior and response of materials across all length scales in the most extreme environments possible in nature – from planetary cores to stellar interiors. This allows her to uncover nature’s secrets of high-pressure mineral physics and planetary evolution from the atomic level up. In 2019, she received the Department of Energy Office of Science Early Career Award in fusion energy science.

As an undergraduate at the University of Arizona, Gleason worked for Spacewatch, searching for Near Earth Objects. She was fortunate to discover the short period comet now called Gleason and the Main Belt Asteroid 10639, named Asteroid Gleason in 2001. Now she seeks to understand how collisions of objects like these with Earth may initiate life.

Public Lecture Highlights

Learn more about the work that we do by watching from our collection of popular recordings from our YouTube Playlist that highlights the breadth of our research.

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Super-Human Operator: Controlling Accelerators with Machine Learning

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Giant planets can be up to 13 times the mass of Jupiter, while the least massive stars are about 80 times the mass of Jupiter.

Presenter: Eric Nielsen


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SLAC's X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source, launched a new generation of light sources when it opened 10 years ago last month, with beams 10 billion times brighter than any before.

Presenter: Sebastien Boutet


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At the center of the Earth, matter is crushed under pressures millions of times higher than we experience here on the surface.

Presenter: Emma McBride


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Solar power is a clean and renewable source of energy, but it has struggled to compete with fossil fuels on cost.

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On September 14, 2015, the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) made the first direct measurement of a gravitational wave coming from deep space.

Presenter: Brian Lantz


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Dark Matter: Detecting Gravity's Hidden Hand

Dark matter is one of the most mysterious components of the universe.

Presenter: Tom Shutt


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Viewing the Beginning of Time from the Most Remote Places on Earth

Shortly after the birth of the universe, space was filled by a plasma that was literally red-hot.

Presenter: Zeeshan Ahmed


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Catalysis: the Hidden Path to Foods, Fuels and Our Future

The high standard of living we enjoy today is made possible by catalysts ­– behind-the-scenes agents that promote chemical reactions in the vast majority of industrial processes, including production of fertilizers, gasoline and other essential products.

Presenter: Simon Bare