The Department of Physics has established the Howard L. Schultz Undergraduate Prize Lecture, an annual speaker series that provides opportunities for undergraduates to engage with a well-known physicist.

The Prize Lecture will offer multiple events with the chosen speaker, from large talks to intimate dinners. Led by the boards of Society of Physics Students and Women in Physics, two undergraduate physics groups, the prize’s organizational committee hopes to announce the speaker at the start of the spring semester and host the inaugural Prize Lecture in late spring.

“This year’s inaugural Howard L. Schultz Undergraduate Prize Lecture is an annual day of fun — in the form of lectures, tea, dinner and informal chats with our chosen speaker,” said Sophia Sanchez-Maes ’19, co-president of Society of Physics Students and a member of the organizational committee. She added that the committee is still in the process of selecting a speaker.

Traditionally, the Howard L. Schultz Prize has been given to around 10 seniors graduating with a physics degree. When physics faculty realized that the prize endowment exceeded the money necessary for the senior distinction, they proposed the new initiative to hold an endowed lecture, according to Paul Tipton, chair of the Physics Department.

Tipton explained that the program, by enriching the scientific environment at Yale, would keep with the spirit of the original endowment — named after former Yale professor Howard Schultz GRD ’37.

According to Tipton, speakers will come to the Yale campus for a day, first giving a lecture open to the public. They would then have a lunch or tea for undergraduates only, before breaking into smaller group sessions with students — possibly limited to physics majors at Yale. Finally, the speaker will hold an intimate dinner with the seniors in the major or with the student organization committee running the speaker selection process, Tipton said.

Tipton noted that undergraduates are often unable to interact at length with renowned people who are brought to the Yale campus. Through the Prize Lecture, he said, the department hopes to address this issue by having the speaker spend a majority of their time with undergraduates.

“For the students to have a day with someone important in the field like a recent Nobel laureate could change the trajectory of an undergraduate’s career,” Tipton said. “We view this as a really exciting possibility — it could inspire and inform.”

The committee first met with Tipton and Director of Undergraduate Studies in physics Simon Mochrie about a month ago to discuss the budget and potential speakers for this event, according to Sanchez-Maes. She noted that the student groups have been involved in the project since its inception and that the department’s support of their leadership emphasizes the commitment that the physics department has for its undergraduates.

The committee is currently in the process of reaching out to potential speakers, said Aaron Hillman ’18, a board member of Society of Physics Students and a member of the organizational committee. He added that the committee should be able to get a speaker of the highest caliber, given Yale’s prestige and the high amount of departmental funding for an honorarium for the speaker.

“In physics, it’s often hard to tell in the moment — especially by the broader public — how pivotal a certain stride will be,” Hillman said. “So, we really hope that this spring, we can bring in an ‘Einstein’ of today and set a precedent for hosting extremely impressive speakers.”

Julia Wei ’19, a former copy editor for the News, explained that the Prize Lecture is a unique opportunity for students interested in physics to learn from the guest speaker because the individual is chosen based on student input.

According to Tipton, there are few lecture series opportunities like the Prize Lecture across the nation, although Harvard offers a similar program that brings in leading scholars in science to speak with undergraduates.

The six senior recipients of last year’s Howard L. Schultz Prize each received $1,000.

Amy Xiong | amy.xiong@yale.edu