Media Contact: Ron Walli

Nobel Laureate launches Wigner Distinguished Lecture Series


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OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Oct. 28, 2013 – Four Nobel Laureates are among nine lecturers who will be participating in the new Eugene P. Wigner Distinguished Lecture Series in Science, Technology, and Policy at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Albert Fert, recipient of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Physics, opens the series on Nov. 4 at 10 a.m. in the Iran Thomas Auditorium at ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source.

“The Wigner lectures aim to invigorate scientific discovery and technological innovation and to initiate productive scientific policy debate,” said Thom Mason, laboratory director.

The lecture series is being hosted by ORNL’s Corporate Fellows.

“We’re fortunate to have tremendous interest from leading scientists who want to visit Oak Ridge to engage our researchers in dialogue about significant discoveries in a variety of fields,” said Amit Goyal, chair of the Corporate Fellows Council.

The inaugural lecture by Fert, a condensed matter physicist at Thales Group International, will occur 70 years, to the day, after ORNL’s Graphite Reactor reached criticality on Nov. 4, 1943. His lecture, titled “Novel Directions for Spintronics: Spin-orbitronics and Magnetic Skyrmions,” will focus on recent advances in materials research. Fert won the Nobel Prize – along with Peter Grünberg – for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance, a phenomenon that launched the field of spintronics and revolutionized the electronics industry.

Fert’s agenda will include small group discussions with senior researchers, early career scientists and postdoctoral fellows, as well as visits to the lab’s research facilities, to provide staff the opportunity to engage one-on-one.

Other lecturers who have confirmed their participation in the new ORNL series come from a variety of disciplines:

  • Frances Arnold, protein engineering and biocatalysis, California Institute of Technology
  • Craig Barrett, education reform; former chairman of the board, Intel Corporation
  • Steven Chu, atomic physics, Stanford University; former secretary of energy (1997 Nobel Laureate in Physics)
  • Siegfried Hecker, plutonium science and nuclear weapons policy, Stanford University
  • Arun Majumdar, energy innovation,; former director of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
  • Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, biochemistry and structural chemistry, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (2009 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry)
  • C.N.R. Rao, solid state and materials chemistry, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research
  • Ada Yonath, biochemistry and structural chemistry, Weizmann Institute (2009 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry)

Majumdar will continue the series on Jan. 27, 2014, followed by Chu on Feb. 12 and Barrett on April 7. The lectures will be streamed live to the public at the Toyota Auditorium at the University of Tennessee Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, as well as the ORNL website, Questions for the lecturer may be submitted via ORNL social media sites.

Eugene Wigner, who received the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics, was both a towering figure in theoretical physics and a key contributor to the development of nuclear reactors. As ORNL’s first research director, he established an enduring vision for the laboratory and laid the foundations for programs that continue to this day. His remarkable ability to couple basic science and applied research remains a touchstone for ORNL’s mission to deliver scientific discoveries and technical breakthroughs for clean energy and global security.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some the most pressing challenges of the time. For more information, please visit

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