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   Date: 9/26/11 Bookmark and Share

10 Minutes of Science, Once a Week

The weekly series “Science at the Center” continues this fall with eight more weeks of 10-minute lectures, every Wednesday from 12:50 to 1 p.m., in McConnell Hall foyer. Informal mini-presentations by science faculty highlight their research interests and topics of focus. 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 2011 schedule

October 12: “Bell’s Theorem.” Travis Norsen, physics.

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: "How much string do you need to tie a knot?" Elizabeth Denne, mathematics.

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: “Jedi Psychokinesis: A demonstration that hoodwinked scientists.” George M. Robinson, psychology.

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 Ph.D. 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: “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

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: “What is cloud computing? What is it good for? How can I use it? How do I use it?” Dominique Theibaut, computer science

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: “Co-Opting Nature's Strategy: Evolution of Functional Molecules by Unnatural Selection.” David J. Gorin, chemistry

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.


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