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In hosting the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Northwest Section of the American Physical Society (APS), Sept. 30–Oct. 2, Whitman College invokes the name of one of its most accomplished alumni and former professors – Walter Houser Brattain ’24, a Nobel prize-winning physicist who helped invent the transistor.

Now, more than 85 years after Brattain’s graduation from Whitman, his name is being honored at the conference, which opens with the Brattain Lecture.

Free and open to the public, the Brattain Lecture will be delivered by invited speaker, Dr. Barry Barish, Cal Tech physics professor emeritus, on Thursday, September 30 at 7:30 p.m. in Maxey Auditorium. Barish’s presentation, titled, "Einstein’s Legacy: General Relativity, Our Best Description of the Universe,” kicks off a three-day conference that includes approximately 150 physicists and students from the northwestern United States and western Canada – including 18 Whitman faculty and students.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that Whitman has hosted such a large meeting of a professional society,” said Mark Beck, professor of physics, who chairs the local organizing committee. “It gives the college a platform to show itself off to a large number of faculty and students from the region. It also gives Whitman students the chance to present their research and to see presentations on research being conducted throughout the Northwest.”

The conference features a variety of presentations and discussions divided among 13 different sessions. Session topics range from “Particle and Nuclear Physics” to “Physics Education and Outreach” and feature ten to 30 minute talks by attending physicists and students.

The Northwest Section of the APS was officially founded in 1998 includes more than 1,100 members. Its purpose is to “facilitate the exchange of physics information and discussion among members living in the rather large area of the Pacific Northwest (primarily Alberta, British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming and Alaska).” The Section places emphasis on including students and physicists who work in education, research and in industry.

Known as one of Whitman’s “Four Horsemen of Physics,” Brattain links the college to an impressive scientific legacy. After graduating from Whitman with degrees in physics and math, Brattain went on to complete advanced education and training that eventually led him to Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he, along with colleagues, John Bardeen and William Shockley, were celebrated for inventing the transistor, a key active component in most modern electronics.

But Brattain and his colleagues received more than just praise for developing, what is thought by many to be, one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century. Their combined efforts were rewarded with the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics for “research on semiconductors and the discovery of the transistor effect.”

See the full conference schedule here.

— Joe Gurriere