Presented by:

Gregory Benford
Professor Plasma Physics and Astrophysics
University of California, Irvine
Woodrow Wilson Fellow
Consultant for NASA

Friday, April 15, 2005 - 8:00 p.m.
104 Keller Building - Penn State University - University Park, PA

Pictures from the 2005 Waynick Lecture

     Gregory Benford is a professor of physics at the University of California , Irvine . He is a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and was Visiting Fellow at Cambridge University. In 1995 he received the Lord Prize for contributions to science. His research encompasses both theory and experiments in the fields of astrophysics and plasma physics. His fiction has won many awards, including the Nebula Award for his novel Timescape. Dr. Benford makes his home in Laguna Beach , California.

    SAILING TO THE STARS - 2005 Waynick Lecture

     For eighty years we have dreamed of the most efficient way to travel between worlds—on sunbeams. Solar sails are big, light sheets propelled by the tiny pressure of sunlight. Weightless, they can slowly move between planets without any fuel needed. Solar sails are a grand idea—but none has yet flown. I also write fiction, including the genre that has kept up interest in the solar sailing idea—science fiction. Science fiction writers have envisioned sending sails to the stars, eventually. I shall discuss the reasons, as a scientist, I believe solar sails are possible and how pushing these sails with microwave beams in near-Earth orbit may make solar sailing a far better prospect. Experiments and theory my group does at University of California, Irvine, have pioneered this new approach to an old idea. With beamed power we might even create very fast solar sails, capable of reaching the nearby stars and thereby fulfilling the predictions of science fiction authors and the imaginings of their readers.

     SAILING TO THE STARS: Science, Technology, and Engineering Details - 2005 Colloquium Lecture

    Experiments and theory done at University of California Irvine show that this new approach to an old idea could yield a way to make sails be the fast mission craft, using “sun diver” methods. With beamed microwave power and a volatile coating on the sails as an added “propellant” we might even create very fast solar sails, capable of reaching the nearby stars.

      The recent article "Space technology: Setting sail for history," from Nature magazine, Vol.433, No. 7027, February 17, 2005, pp. 678-679, discusses the topic and mentions Dr. Benford.

     Return to Annual Waynick Lecture

For more information contact Linda Becker at 814-865-6337 or

Return to C.S.S.L. Home Page