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Past Lectures

Dr. Janna Levin — Gravitational Waves, Black Holes and the Nature of the Cosmos (Science Salon # 5)

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space (book cover) Janna Levin (photo by Sonja Georgevich)

Photo by Sonja Georgevich

On Thursday, February 11, 2016, the National Science Foundation made a thrilling announcement: gravitational waves—first predicted by Einstein as part of his general theory of relativity in 1916—had been detected for the first time. This incredible development made front page news and was reported by outlets across the country. How was such a remarkable discovery, a long hundred years after Einstein’s prediction, made possible?

In this Science Salon based on her new book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, astrophysicist and award-winning writer Dr. Janna Levin tells the epic story of the scientific campaign to record these waves—the holy grail of modern cosmology. A handful of physicists, led by Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever at Caltech and Rainer Weiss at MIT, have been working nearly their entire careers to conceive of, design, and build an instrument sensitive enough to detect gravitational waves. Levin delves into the lives and fates of the scientists, painting compelling portraits of these very human visionaries. She journeys from Los Angeles to Boston, to the LIGO interferometers in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana, to the labs, offices, and observatories where the work in this great quest has painstakingly unfolded over the past five decades. Her account of the personalities, surprises, setbacks, and successes is a compelling and intimate portrait of the people and processes of modern science.

Order Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space from Amazon.

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Dr. Sean B. Carroll — The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters (Science Salon # 4)

How does life work? How does nature produce the right numbers of zebras and lions on the African savanna, or fish in the ocean? How do our bodies produce the right numbers of cells in our organs and bloodstream? In The Serengeti Rules, award-winning biologist and author Sean Carroll tells the stories of the pioneering scientists who sought the answers to such simple yet profoundly important questions, and shows how their discoveries matter for our health and the health of the planet we depend upon.

One of the most important revelations about the natural world is that everything is regulated—there are rules that regulate the amount of every molecule in our bodies and rules that govern the numbers of every animal and plant in the wild. And the most surprising revelation about the rules that regulate life at such different scales is that they are remarkably similar—there is a common underlying logic of life. Carroll recounts how our deep knowledge of the rules and logic of the human body has spurred the advent of revolutionary life-saving medicines, and makes the compelling case that it is now time to use the Serengeti Rules to heal our ailing planet. Order The Serengeti Rules from Amazon.

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Dr. Arthur Benjamin — The Magic of Math: Solving for x and Figuring Out Why (Science Salon # 3)

Arthur Benjamin at TED Global

Arthur Benjamin (TED Global)

The Magic of Math is the math book you wish you had in school. Using a delightful assortment of examples—from ice cream scoops and poker hands to measuring mountains and making magic squares—this book empowers you to see the beauty, simplicity, and truly magical properties behind those formulas and equations that once left your head spinning. You’ll learn the key ideas of classic areas of mathematics like arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus, but you’ll also have fun fooling around with Fibonacci numbers, investigating infinity, and marveling over mathematical magic tricks that will make you look like a math genius!

A mathematician who is known throughout the world as the “mathemagician,” Arthur Benjamin mixes mathematics and magic to make the subject fun, attractive, and easy to understand. In The Magic of Math, Benjamin does more than just teach skills: with a tip of his magic hat, he takes you on as his apprentice to teach you how to appreciate math the way he does. He motivates you to learn something new about how to solve for x, because there is real pleasure to be found in the solution to a challenging problem or in using numbers to do something useful. But what he really wants you to do is be able to figure out why, for that’s where you’ll find the real beauty, power, and magic of math.

If you are already someone who likes math, this Science Salon will dazzle and amuse you. If you never particularly liked or understood math, Benjamin will enlighten you and—with a wave of his magic wand—turn you into a math lover.

Order The Magic of Math from Shop Skeptic. We will also have Benjamin’s The Great Courses, including The Joy of Math, Discrete Mathematics, The Secrets of Mental Math, and Mathematics of Games and Puzzles, available for purchase at the event.

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Michelle Feynman — The Quotable Feynman & His Van (Science Salon # 2)

Michelle Feynman (photo by Mark Houseman)

Michelle Feynman (by M. Houseman)

The Quotable Feynman (book cover)

NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING PHYSICIST Richard P. Feynman (1918–88) was a towering scientific genius who could make himself understood by anyone and who became as famous for the wit and wisdom of his popular lectures and writings as for his fundamental contributions to science. The Quotable Feynman is a treasure-trove of this revered and beloved scientist’s most profound, provocative, humorous, and memorable quotations on a wide range of subjects edited by his daughter, Michelle Feynman, who will discuss her father’s life and legacy. In addition, physicist Seamus Blackey will bring Feynman’s van, newly restored and recently featured on The Big Bang Theory, so you can get your photograph taken with the famous vehicle featuring Feynman diagrams. Order The Quotable Feynman from Amazon.

Our special guest at this salon will be: Dr. Leonard Mlodinow, physicist and author of Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life and The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos.

Richard Feynman's van

Richard Feynman’s van. (Photo by Ed Pastor)

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Dr. Lisa Randall — Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe (Science Salon # 1)

THE RENOWNED HARVARD COSMOLOGIST and theoretical physicist explores a scenario in which a disk of dark matter—the elusive stuff in the universe that interacts through gravity like ordinary matter, but that doesn’t emit or absorb light—dislodged a comet from the Oort cloud that was ultimately responsible for the dinosaurs’ extinction. Randall teaches us an enormous amount about dark matter, our Universe, our galaxy, asteroids, and comets—and the process by which scientists explore new concepts. Order Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs from Amazon.

Lisa Randall in conversation with Michael Shermer at Science Salon, November 22, 2015

Lisa Randall in conversation with Michael Shermer at Science Salon, November 22, 2015

Lisa Randall in conversation with Michael Shermer at Science Salon, November 22, 2015

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The Upright Thinkers: The Human Journey from Living in Trees to Understanding the Cosmos

Leonard Mlodinow

From the best-selling author of The Drunkard’s Walk and Subliminal, and coauthor of The Grand Design (with Stephen Hawking): an account of scientific discovery from the invention of stone tools to theories of quantum physics. In this fascinating and illuminating work, Leonard Mlodinow guides us through the critical eras and events in the development of science, all of which were propelled forward by humankind’s collective struggle to know. From the birth of reasoning and culture to the formation of the studies of physics, chemistry, biology, and modern-day quantum physics, we come to see that much of our progress can be attributed to simple questions—why? how?—bravely asked. Mlodinow shows that just as science has played a key role in shaping the patterns of human thought, human subjectivity has played a key role in the evolution of science. At once authoritative and accessible, and infused with the author’s trademark wit, this deeply insightful book is a stunning tribute to humanity’s intellectual curiosity.

Order The Upright Thinkers from Amazon.

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How to Clone a Mammoth:
The Science of De-Extinction

Dr. Beth Shapiro (photo by Kris Krug)

Credit: Kris Krüg

COULD EXTINCT SPECIES, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? According to evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro, the science says yes. From deciding which species should be restored, to sequencing their genomes, to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild, Shapiro vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used to resurrect the past. Journeying to far-flung Siberian locales in search of ice age bones and delving into her own research and that of others, Shapiro considers de-extinction’s practical benefits and ethical challenges. Would de-extinction change the way we live? Is this really cloning? What are the costs and risks? And what is the ultimate goal?

Order the book from Amazon.

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Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions

Dr. Phil Zuckerman

OVER THE LAST 25 YEARS, “no religion” has become the fastest-growing religion in America. Around the world, hundreds of millions of people have turned away from the traditional faiths of the past and embraced a moral yet nonreligious—or secular—life, generating societies vastly less religious than at any other time in human history. Drawing on innovative sociological research, Dr. Zuckerman—a Pitzer College professor who founded a Department of Secular Studies, the first of its kind—illuminates this demographic shift with the moral convictions that govern secular individuals, offering crucial information for the religious and nonreligious alike. Living the Secular Life reveals that, despite opinions to the contrary, nonreligious Americans possess a unique moral code that allows them to effectively navigate the complexities of modern life. Zuckerman discovered that despite the entrenched negative beliefs about nonreligious people, American secular culture is grounded in deep morality and proactive citizenship—indeed, some of the very best that the country has to offer. Order the book from Amazon.

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The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter

Dr. Susan Pinker (photo by Susie Lowe)

Credit: Susie Lowe

IN THIS ENTERTAINING AND PERSUASIVE LECTURE based on her new book, psychologist Susan Pinker shows how face-to-face contact is crucial for learning, happiness, resilience, and longevity. From birth to death, human beings are hardwired to connect to other human beings. Face-to-face contact matters: tight bonds of friendship and love heal us, help children learn, extend our lives, and make us happy. Looser in-person bonds matter, too, combining with our close relationships to form a personal “village” around us. Not just any social networks will do: we need the real, in-the-flesh encounters that tie human families, groups of friends, and communities together. Marrying the findings of the new field of social neuroscience with gripping human stories, Susan Pinker explores the impact of face-to-face contact from cradle to grave, from city to Sardinian mountain village, from classroom to workplace, from love to marriage to divorce. Creating our own “village effect” makes us happier. It can also save our lives. Order The Village Effect online.

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The Moral Arc: How Science Leads Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

Michael Shermer (credit: Jeremy Danger)

Credit: Jeremy Danger

WE ARE LIVING in the most moral period of our species’ history. Ever since the Enlightenment, thinkers have consciously applied the methods of science to solve social and moral problems, and in the process created the modern world of liberal democracies, civil rights, equal justice, open political and economic borders, and prosperity the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed. More people in more places have greater rights, freedoms, liberties, literacy, education, and prosperity—the likes of which no human society in history has ever enjoyed. In this provocative and compelling talk—that includes brief histories of freedom rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and animal rights, along with considerations of the nature of evil and moral regress—Shermer explains how scientific ways of thinking have moved us ever closer to a more just world.

Order the Book on
the Official Website

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