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   Date: 10/4/10 Bookmark and Share

10 Minutes of Science, Once a Week

That's exactly what is provided in “Science at the Center,” a series of 10-minute lectures every Wednesday from 12:50 to 1 p.m., in McConnell foyer. Informal mini-presentations by science faculty highlight their research interests and topics of interest. The goal of the series is to provide a weekly event that brings faculty and students together over a science topic.

Check out what’s coming up. And stop by Wednesdays for some science.

Fall 2010 schedule

October 6: “Stars Outwit Gravity—Insights of Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.” Suzan Edwards, astronomy. This October marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of the great astrophysicists of the 20th century, Nobel Prize winner Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar. In anticipation of a talk on his work by Professor Emeritus R. E. White on Oct. 19, I will give an overview of how stars evolve in response to the inexorable force of gravity squeezing them down, including the brilliant insights of Chandrasekhar that led to our modern understanding of stellar corpses called White Dwarfs and Black Holes.

October 13: “It's 10 O'clock: Do You Know Where Your Liver Is?” Mary Harrington, psychology. Daily rhythms are generated by cells throughout the body. How are all these cellular circadian clocks able to agree on what time it is? The master pacemaker in the brain, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, plays a very important role in keeping everyone in sync. However, on occasion the liver can go its own way, keeping time independently of the brain. What is the liver thinking? How are the liver cells communicating? A type of camera developed by astronomers has been able to help us track rhythms in liver cells.

October 20: “Do Plants Know Math?” Chris Gole, mathematics and statistics. The phenomenon of spirals in plants coming in pairs of consecutive Fibonacci numbers (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 ...) has fascinated scientists of many disciplines for centuries. There is a certain mystic attached to the subject that pervades the Internet—and the "Da Vinci Code." Do we have to be mystical about it? I will try to show that some simple geometry may be enough to explain this phenomenon.

October 27: “Why Believe When You Can See for Yourself?” Joyce Palmer Fortune, physics. We are using consumer grade high speed video to observe very fast processes such as collisions, as well as time lapse video to observe very slow processes, such as the rotation of Foucault's pendulum. I'll show a few of the more interesting clips taken by my students in the past year. Be ready to see things you maybe had to just believe up till now.

November 3: “Symmetry: A Mathematician's Perspective.” Michael Bush, mathematics and statistics. Symmetries of various kinds show up all over the place in nature. Over the last 150 years mathematicians have developed an abstract framework for describing and investigating symmetry. In this talk I'll give a brief description and some applications (both serious and fun) of the ideas involved.

November 10: “Digging Deeper (With Shovels) Into The Story of Alaska's Shrinking Glaciers.” Mark Brandiss, geology. The growth and shrinkage of glaciers are dramatic indicators of climate change. We'll examine the results of an ongoing 60-year field study in which undergraduate students (including some recent Smithies) have been using snow shovels, dynamite, and high-precision GPS measurements to monitor changes in the alpine glaciers of Alaska's Juneau Icefield. What are these glaciers telling us about climate change, and what are some likely trends for the future?

November 17: “Dancing in the Sky: Flight Demonstration of the World’s Smallest Long-duration Controllable Balloon.” Paul Voss, engineering. Over the past 220 years, balloons have been used to explore the atmosphere, carry astronomical instruments to the edge of space, track air pollution over great distances, and make the routine measurements used by weather forecast models. I will demonstrate a new type of balloon that can remain airborne for days to weeks, change altitude on command, and relay data in near real time from almost anywhere on earth. This platform opens many new opportunities for atmospheric research.


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