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Symposium Featuring Distinguished Renaissance Historians to Inaugurate Year-Long Project on the Life and Work of Galileo

Lectures to be Followed by Star-Gazing with Replicas of Galilean Telescopes

Life, culture and science in the time of Galileo Galilei -- sixteenth-century astronomer, mathematician and physicist -- is the theme uniting three public lectures to be held at Smith September 24-25.

The speakers -- Mario Biagioli of Harvard University, George Saliba of Columbia University, and Albert Van Helden of Rice University -- are visiting fellows of the college's recently established Kahn Liberal Arts Institute, a forum for broadly based research projects, organized by Smith faculty, that involve collaboration among faculty, students and visiting scholars.

The Institute's current project, titled "Star Messenger: Galileo at the Millennium," employs the perspectives of astronomy, music, literature, history and theatre to investigate and celebrate of the work of Galileo and his contemporaries in the context of their times and from the vantage point of the year 2000.

Biagioli, an historian of science, will present "Between Invention and Discovery: The Sidereus Nuncius and Artisanal Culture" at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, in Seelye Hall 201. Biagioli is the author of "Galileo, Courtier: The Practice of Science in the Culture of Absolutism," (1993), described by the New Yorker as "a brilliantly original reexamination of Galileo [that] frames the mathematician within the intricate play of etiquette, rhetoric and patronage at Italian princely courts." The talk will be followed by a reception in Seelye 207.

Saturday's events will begin at 9 a.m. with Saliba's lecture, titled "Islamic Background of the Scientific Revolution." A professor of Arabic and Islamic Science, Saliba studies the development of planetary theories from late antiquity to the Renaissance. He is the author of six books, among them "The Origin and Development of Arabic Scientific Thought" (1998) and "A History of Arabic Astronomy: Planetary Theories During the Golden Age of Islam" (1995). Saliba will speak in Seelye 106.

At 10:45 a.m. Saturday Van Helden will present the symposium's closing lecture titled "Galileo's Telescope: Looking at the Heavens With New Instruments and New Eyes." An authority on the invention of the telescope, Van Helden is the author of "Measuring the Universe: Cosmic Dimensions from Aristarchus to Halley" (1985) and "A Catalogue of Early Telescopes" (in press). He is also translator and editor of Galileo's book "Sidereus Nuncius," an account of the astronomer's discovery of the mountains and valleys of the moon and of the moons of Jupiter. Van Helden directs the Galileo Project at Rice, a comprehensive on-line compendium of scholarship on Galileo and his times.

The three lecturers will participate in a panel discussion on the historical context of Galileo's discoveries at 1:45 p.m. Saturday in Seelye 106.

In conjunction with the symposium, Kahn Institute Fellow and Smith College Professor of Astronomy Richard White will host a stargazing session at the college's observatory on the roof of McConnell Hall on Friday, September 24, from 9:30-10:30 p.m., weather permitting, and will feature observation of the moon, planets and other celestial objects with modern telescopes and with replicas of Galileo's telescopes made by Smith history of science students. The star-gazing will be repeated 9:30-10:30 p.m. Friday, October 22, and 9-10 p.m. Friday, November 19, weather permitting. The star-gazing dates have been chosen to coincide with the visibility of Jupiter's moons.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information or to confirm conditions for star-gazing, call (413) 585-3721.

September 10, 1999


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