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Science at the Center Talks

Wednesdays, from 12:50 to 1 p.m., Mc.Connell foyer

Science at the Center is a weekly event organized to highlight science and the research interests of the faculty at the science center. Once a week, a short 10 minute presentation by a faculty on a topic will take place. It will be an informal presentation of an idea and/or a demonstration on a topic of interest chosen by the speaker. The goal of the series is to provide a weekly event that brings faculty and students together over a science topic.

September 28, 2014

The Energy Dashboard: Who is piloting Smith's energy use?

Judith Cardell, Engineering Program & Computer Science Department

So, you would like to use less electricity, water, steam heat, wouldn't you? You would be happy to help Smith College meet our sustainability goals, right? But how do you know what you use now, and how much is too much, just how much do you need to give up? As part of implementing our grand sustainability and climate action plan (SCAMP), we will soon have an Energy Dashboard, that will answer all these questions and more! Be one of the first to preview our dashboard and see what it can do to help our community learn to use fewer resources.

October 5, 2014

There is a story in every rock

John Brady, Geosciences Department

Even the most ordinary of rocks contains clues to its history in its shape, texture, mineralogy, and chemistry. In some cases the history that can be discovered is quite complex and provides insights into the workings of the earth and its materials. The secrets of a metamorphic rock from Greece will be revealed. If you wish, bring your own rock and stay after 1pm for a reading of its clues.

October 12, 2014

Bell's Theorem

Travis Norsen, Physics Department

Bell's Theorem, discovered in 1964 by physicist John Bell, has been described as "the most profound discovery of science." It is also regarded by many physicists as irrelevant to physics, and hence relegated to the footnotes and afterwords of most quantum physics texts. Come learn what Bell's Theorem is, why it's profound, and why many physicists are flat wrong about its significance!

October 19, 2014

How much string do you need to tie a knot?

Elizabeth Denne, Mathematics Department

This talk gives a very brief introduction to geometric knot theory. We'll look at thick knots (knots with tubes of a fixed diameter about them) and try to answer questions about the shape of thick knots when their length is minimized (when the knot is pulled tight).

October 26, 2014

Jedi Psychokinesis: A demonstration that hoodwinked scientists

George M. Robinson, Psychology Department

Magician James Randi demonstrated that although scientists are experts in analyzing evidence and critical thinking, they are easily fooled under certain conditions using “empirical Jujutsu,” in which their strengths are misdirected to become weaknesses. You will see a demonstration that baffled 60 PhD scientists at the Harvard Center for Astrophysics. Some of them even accepted a fictional explanation based on vector gauge bosons (Gluons) interacting with Gravitons. As scientists we need to understand how we can be fooled by nature, by misguided colleagues, by scientific fraud, and even our own enthusiasm.

November 2, 2104

The Bathtub Effect: Why Stabilizing CO2 emissions won't stabilize CO2 levels in the atmosphere and why that means it's long past time to call the plumber

Nathanael Fortune, Physics Department

The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is continuing to rise, and with it, the Earth's temperature. We're already at 390 ppm CO2, and we're rising by about 2 ppm/year. Several target concentrations have been proposed to avoid runaway climate change, the most common being 550 ppm, 450 ppm or even 350 ppm. Unfortunately, the most common proposed solution to this problem -- finding a way to stabilize CO2 emissions at or slightly below present levels -- won't keep atmospheric concentrations from continuing to rise. In 10 short minutes, I'll discuss why, and why that means we need a plumber.

November 9, 2014

What is cloud computing? What is it good for? How can I use it? How do I use it?

Dominique Theibaut, Computer Science Department

In this 10-minute talk I will explain what cloud computing is, why we should care about it, how we use it in our everyday life, and how cloud computing can be useful to scientists for running complex computations.

November 16, 2014

Co-Opting Nature's Strategy: Evolution of Functional Molecules by Unnatural Selection

David J. Gorin, Chemistry Department

Evolution in nature requires that traits for fitness pass from one generation to the next; the preferential survival of some traits over others occurs by natural selection. Humans have co-opted this strategy to breed organisms with particular characteristics (e.g. lap dogs). In the last half-century, we have developed methods for selection and evolution in non-living systems, enabling the discovery of molecules with desired properties. We will discuss the requirements for evolving functional molecules, notable successes in this area, and the future promise of evolved molecules.