On Thursday, August 6, 2015, University of Texas physicist and new Orcas Islander Roy Schwitters treated fellow islanders to an absorbing Orcas Currents lecture on “Peering into a Maya Pyramid Using Cosmic Rays.” His multimedia presentation began at 5:30 p.m. in Emmanuel Parish Hall on Main Street in Eastsound.
One of the leading high-energy physicists of his generation, Schwitters served as Director of the Superconducting Super Collider project, which was terminated by the US Congress in 1993. Since then he has applied his expertise in this discipline to archaeological work, developing a non-invasive technique to peer inside structures using highly penetrating cosmic-ray particles called muons. In a way, it resembles the use of X-rays to examine human innards in (all too) familiar CAT scans.
His Texas research team is currently applying this innovative technique to the study of a Mayan pyramid in the Belize jungle, trying to discern chambers and passages within it. To do so, they have had to build a large photovoltaic array to convert the abundant solar energy into electricity, as no convenient power source is available nearby.
Schwitters is currently Professor of Physics at the University of Texas, Austin, having served in that capacity for 25 years. Before that, he was Professor of Physics at Harvard University, where he was teaching when he received the prestigious Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation for important contributions to the discovery of quarks in the mid-1970s. A Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he also was awarded the 1996 Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky Prize of the American Physical Society for this research.
A Washington native who grew up in Seattle and served as a Mount Rainier guide during summers while an MIT student, Roy has recently returned to embrace his family roots. His mother Margaret Boyer was raised here and graduated from Orcas Island High School in 1932. Last summer he and his wife Karen purchased a second home near Olga, where they expect to retire one of these years.
Please join Orcas Currents supporters and friends to welcome Roy Schwitters to Orcas Island and for what promises to be a stimulating talk about an intriguing new way to do archaeological research.