This lecture by Dr. Pål Brekke, of the Norwegian Space Center, celebrates physicist Kristian Birkeland alongside spectacular images and video of the Earth’s most amazing light phenomena: the Northern Lights.

Widely regarded as the leading scientist and inventor in Norwegian history, Kristian Birkeland’s legacy still stands strong, 150 years after his birth and 100 years after his death. The first scientist to explain that the sun was the source of the Northern Lights, Birkeland founded much of today’s modern space research. He was also the man behind the fantastic invention that enabled the making of artificial fertiliser by harvesting nitrogen from the air, which was the foundation of Hydro (today called Yara), the world’s largest fertiliser company, operating production in more than 50 countries.

During his lifetime, Birkeland’s theories about the northern lights and electrical currents in the atmosphere met great opposition among internationally renowned scholars, and it took over sixty years to confirm his theories through the availability of satellites. In 1994, Birkeland was deservedly honoured: His portrait was chosen for the front side of the Norwegian 200-kroner banknote and he now also features on the tail of a Norwegian Airlines plane.


Dr. Brekke received a Ph.D. in 1993 from the Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics, University of Oslo. His work focused on observations of the Sun from instruments on sounding rockets and the space shuttle Challenger. After the launch of Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) in December 1995 he was part of the science operation team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). In 1999 he joined the European Space Agency (ESA) as the SOHO Deputy Project Scientist stationed at NASA GSFC. His responsibility included being in charge of outreach and media activities, making SOHO to one of the most well known current satellite projects. Dr. Bekke is a Norwegian delegate to several ESA Programme Board and WMOs Space Weather programme. He is also a Prof. II at the University Center at Svalbard (UNIS).

He received a Fulbright Fellowship in 1994, ESA´s´Eceptional Achievement Award in 2002, Laurels for Team Achievements from the International Academy of Astronautics in 2003. Served on several NASA Review Panels and as referee for various scientific journals. Dr. Brekke is also an author of several international popular science books about the sun and the Northern Lights, translated into seven languages. He has recently produced the award-winning documentary The Northern Lights – A Magic Experience (2015). In 2017 he published a new book about the amazing story of Kristian Birkeland.



Image courtesy of Dr. PÅL BREKKE

TUE—MARCH 13—7 PM, free