Scholars' Association News
Issue 43
August 2017


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The Onassis Lectures Series 2017 focus on Computer Science and Physics

Two series of Onassis Lectures on Computer Science and Physics were held in July at the Foundation for Research and Technology (FORTH) in Heraklion, Crete. World acclaimed scientists, MIT Professor and Turing award winner Michael Stonebraker, and Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Serge Haroche, were the keynote speakers. Twelve leading scientists were also invited to give lectures in this year’s Onassis Foundation Science Lecture Series.


The 2017 Onassis Lecture in Computer Science was held on July 10-14. Its title was “Big Data and Applications”. For many years Data were only valuable for their initial and original purpose. The moment the transaction completed, they were considered a burden, good only for off line archiving and eventual controlling. The last few years there was a cataclysmic change. First, cloud storage enabled to keep all past data on line. Second, data mining technology was able to combine and correlate data and produce extraordinary results. Third, Analytics were able to sift through great amounts of data and come to surprising and valuable conclusions. Most important, since every aspect of the economy and our daily routine was captured directly and produced data automatically, Data were not only Big but mirrored every action, every move and generally anything happening in our lives.

Six leading experts from around the world gathered at FORTH to sketch not only the Technology, but the earth shaking consequences that will inevitably affect our lives and will influence the way we produce, consume, be informed, act and maybe even think in the future.

Professor Michael Stonebraker from the MIT was the keynote speaker of the event. He has been a pioneer of data base research and technology for more than a quarter of a century. He was the main architect of the INGRES relational DBMS, the object-relational DBMS, POSTGRES, and the federated data system, Mariposa. All three prototypes were developed at the University of California at Berkeley where Stonebraker was a Professor of Computer Science for twenty-five years. He is the founder of three successful Silicon Valley startups, whose objective was to commercialize these prototypes.

Professor Stonebraker is the author of scores of research papers on data base technology, operating systems and the architecture of system software services. He was awarded the prestigious ACM System Software Award in 1992, for his work on INGRES. Additionally, he was awarded the first annual Innovation award by the ACM SIGMOD special interest group in 1994, and has been recognized by Computer Reseller News as one of the top five software developers of the century. Moreover, Forbes magazine named him one of the 8 innovators driving the Silicon Valley wealth explosion during their 80th anniversary edition in 1998. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1998 and is presently an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at M.I.T.

Speakers at the Onassis 2017 Lecture Series in Computer Science also included 6 other world renowned scientists: Dimitris Bertsimas (Professor, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA), Michael Brodie (Research Scientist, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA), Yannis Ioannidis (Professor, Department of Informatics, University of Athens, Athens, Greece), Nick Koudas (Professor, Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada), Nikos Kyrpides (Program Head, DOE Joint Genome Institute, USA) and Yannis Vassiliou (Professor, School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, National Technical University of Athens, Athens, Greece).


The second series of Onassis Lectures in Physics was held between the 24th and the 28th of July 2017. The theme was: “Quantum physics frontiers explored with cold atoms, molecules and photons” and Nobelist Serge Haroche, one of the leading scientists in the experimental study of quantum phenomena was the keynote speaker.

Optical methods to manipulate atoms, molecules and photons have revolutionised atomic physics and quantum optics. Atoms and ions can now be cooled with lasers to extremely low temperatures in tailor-made environment and with controlled inter-particle couplings, emulating situations encountered at different scales in condensed matter physics. The interaction of individual atoms with single photons can be studied under well-controlled conditions in Cavity Quantum Electrodynamics experiments.

These advances have numerous applications in quantum information science (quantum communication and computing) and for the development of new devices probing and measuring physical parameters with unprecedented precision (novel atomic clocks, magnetometers and electrometers operating below the standard quantum limit). Quantum simulators open the way to the exploration of new quantum phases of matter in strongly interacting and highly correlated quantum systems, with potential applications to the synthesis of novel materials. Fundamental tests of quantum and relativistic effects can be performed with these systems. This new frontier will be described in the 2017 Onassis Lectures in Physics by scientists who are contributing to its exploration.

Serge Haroche was born in 1944 in Casablanca. He graduated from Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS), receiving his doctorate from Paris VI University in 1971 (thesis advisor: Claude Cohen-Tannoudji). After a post-doctoral visit to Stanford University in the laboratory of Arthur Schawlow (1972-73), he became full professor at Paris VI University in 1975, a position he held until 2001, when he was appointed Professor at Collège de France (in the chair of quantum physics). He has also been Maître de Conference at Ecole Polytechique (1974-1984), visiting professor at Harvard (1981), part time professor at Yale University (1984-1993), member of Institut Universitaire de France (1991-2000) and chairman of the ENS Department of Physics (1994-2000). In September 2012, he has been appointed “Administrateur du Collège de France” (equivalent to President of this institution).

Serge Haroche’s research has mostly taken place in the laboratory Kastler Brossel at ENS, where he works with a team of senior coworkers, postdocs and graduate students.

His main research activities have been in quantum optics and quantum information science. He has made important contributions to Cavity Quantum Electrodynamics (Cavity QED), the domain of quantum optics which studies the behaviour of atoms interacting strongly with the field confined in a high-Q cavity, a box made of highly reflecting mirrors. An atom-photon system isolated from the outside world by metallic walls realizes a very simple experimental model which Serge Haroche has used to test fundamental aspects of quantum physics such as state superposition, entanglement, complementarity and decoherence. Some of these experiments are actual realizations in the laboratory of the “thought experiments” imagined by the founding fathers of quantum mechanics.

Serge Haroche’s main achievements in cavity QED include the observation of single atom spontaneous emission enhancement in a cavity (1983), the direct monitoring of the decoherence of mesoscopic superpositions of states (so-called Schrödinger cat states) (1996) and the quantum-non-demolition counting of photons (2007). By manipulating atoms and photons in high-Q cavities, he has also demonstrated elementary steps of quantum information procedures such as the generation of atomatom and atom-photon entanglement (1997)and the operation of quantum logic gates involving photons and atoms as “quantum bits” (1999). Serge Haroche has received many prizes and awards, culminating in the 2012 Nobel Prize in physics, shared with David Wineland.

The other lecturers of the series are: Alain Aspect (Institut d'Optique Graduate School and Ecole Polytechnique, Université Paris-Saclay, Palaiseau, France), Immanuel Bloch (Ludwig-Maximilians-University and Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics Munich, Germany), Jean Dalibard (Laboratoire Kastler Brossel, College de France, Paris, France), Luiz Davidovich (Instituto de Fisica, Universidade Federal do Rio De Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Nikolaos Proukakis (Joint Quantum Centre (JQC) Durham-Newcastle, Newcastle University, Newcastle, U.K.) and Jun Ye (JILA, NIST and University of Colorado, Boulder, USA).


The Onassis Lecture Series has now been held for the 17th consecutive year in Heraklion, Crete, in partnership between the Onassis Foundation and FORTH. The Onassis Lectures relate to branches of the sciences (physics, biology, chemistry, IT, mathematics) and always focus on issues in the front line of research. Lectures are in English and are given by outstanding figures from the world of science, complemented by lectures from outstanding Greek scientists in the relevant disciplines. This has enabled the lecture series to become firmly established as a top-level event.

22 weekly lecture series have been held so far since 2001 in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and IT. Internationally renowned scientists have spoken including 17 Nobel Prize winners, 4 Turing Prize winners (the top IT prize), and 1 Fields Medal holder (the top Mathematics prize).

Overall, more than 1,500 students (1,200 from Greece and 300 from other countries approximately) have been allowed to attend the lectures. In addition to special lectures for students, the keynote speakers have also traditionally given a public lecture open to all. All lectures are recorded and then posted to The public lecture given by each Nobel Prize winner is streamed live across the Internet. What makes the Onassis Lecture Series special is that the world class scientists (who hold Nobel Prizes or similar awards) don’t merely give a lecture, as happens at other similar events, but stay for the whole duration of the lecture series in the FORTH Amphitheatre interacting with students. A 10-member scientific committee comprised of internationally acclaimed Greek professors has been set up to select the guest speakers.

Lectures are intended to provide further education and encouragement to young, talented scientists, post-graduate and final year students in the sciences. Each lecture series lasts a week. The Onassis Foundation covers travel and accommodation expenses in Heraklion, Crete for speakers and students allowed to attend. The sole criterion for selecting students is academic excellence. This is based on certificates of studies and two letters of reference sent directly by professors familiar with the students and their work in general.

The contribution the Onassis Lecture Series has made to promoting Greece’s international reputation became clear in 2012 when 23 world-class scientists (21 of whom were Nobel Prize laureates) submitted a memo to leaders of the European Union in support of Greece, requesting heartfelt support for Greece and its academic and research foundations. 12 of the Nobel Prize winners who signed the memo are former Onassis Lecture Series speakers. Important factors in them agreeing to sign the memo were that they got to know Greece’s research community at FORTH and that they came away from their visit with an extremely positive impression.

For more information about the Lecture Series at FORTH please visit the relevant website.

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