2011 - 2012
University of Maryland, Department of Physics
Nothing in physics can prevent some stars and other systems from experiencing continued gravitational collapse, resulting in a "black hole" that is cut off from communication with the rest of the universe. For nearly a century this fact has often disturbed, confused, and puzzled physicists, including Einstein himself, whose general relativity theory accounts for the existence and properties of these strange objects. This talk will begin by sketching the conceptual framework of Einstein's warped spacetime theory of gravity, and will then describe the nature of black holes and the difficulty and success physicists experienced in coming to terms with them, including a bit of psychoanalysis. That will set us up to explain the famous discovery of Hawking that black holes can evaporate, and the perplexing puzzles of quantum gravity raised by the existence of black holes.
Speaker background: Theodore Jacobson is a Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is a leading researcher in the field of gravitational physics, and a devoted and accomplished educator. Dr. Jacobson’s research has focused on quantum gravity, testing the foundations of relativity theory, and the phenomenon of Hawking radiation and black hole entropy. He has authored more than 100 scientific papers, which have received over 5900 citations in other articles. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, and has served on the editorial board of Physical Review D and as a Divisional Editor for Physical Review Letters.
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Princeton University, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
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Global DNA rearrangements occur in many cells, including several forms of cancer. The phenomenon is most exaggerated in some single-celled organisms known as ciliates. I will show how RNA molecules can provide a scaffold to orchestrate these DNA rearrangements, unveiling a new role for RNA in the cell. This provides an example of epigenetics, a term that describes forms of inheritance beyond the conventional DNA genome. A complete RNA cache of the parent's genome may transfer information across generations, hinting at the power of RNA molecules to sculpt the information in our genomes and providing a vehicle for Lamarckian inheritance.
Speaker background: LAURA LANDWEBER is a Professor of Biology in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at Princeton University. She received her A.B. summa cum laude from Princeton in 1989 and her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1993 working with Walter Gilbert and Richard Lewontin. Before returning to Princeton as an assistant professor in 1994, she was a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows, where she worked with Jack Szostak. She has authored over 110 publications in molecular and evolutionary biology and edited 3 books, in areas ranging from genetics and evolution to DNA-based computers. She has served on various panels, working groups, and advisory committees for the NSF, NIH, NHGRI, and NASA and co-chaired the NHGRI Comparative Genome Evolution Working Group from 2003-2007. She is currently Co-Editor-in-Chief of Biology Direct (biology-direct.com), a new journal experimenting with open, signed peer review. She is also an associate editor of the Journal of Molecular Evolution, on the advisory board for Genome Biology, a member of Faculty of 1000, and served as Councilor for the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution from 2007-2009. A recipient of Burroughs-Wellcome Fund (1994) and Sigma Xi (1999) new investigator awards and a Blavatnik award for young scientists (2008), she was elected a 2005 Fellow of AAAS for probing the diversity of genetic systems in microbial eukaryotes, including scrambled genes, RNA editing, variant genetic codes, and comparative genomics. Her work investigates the origin of novel genetic systems. Recent discoveries include the ability of RNA molecules to transmit heritable information across generations, bypassing the information encoded in DNA.
University of California at Berekely, Astronomy
Stars are the "atoms" of the universe: although they are parts of clusters and galaxies, they themselves are indivisible. The first stars formed shortly after the Big Bang, and are still forming today. The elements that we are made of were transmuted from hydrogen in the nuclear furnaces of stars. The Earth formed shortly after the Sun, just as the formation of the many known exoplanets accompanied the formation of their host stars. How is it possible for stars to form out of the tenuous interstellar medium, which has a density so low that a liter of interstellar matter would fill the volume of the Earth? As they form, stars produce powerful jets that extend for light years. Stars much more massive than the Sun roil the surrounding medium with powerful outflows and intense radiation; how can stars form in such turbulent circumstances? We and others are using simulations on powerful supercomputers to understand these mysteries of star formation. I shall describe some of the latest results of this work.
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The universe revealed by observations is spectacularly simple: spatially flat, with nearly scale-invariant fluctuations. Nevertheless, there are major puzzles: what happened at the singularity? what are the dark energy and dark matter? where is the universe heading? Until LHC tells us otherwise, these conundra are the most important clues to new physics beyond the standard model. Inflationary cosmology is the most popular theory of the very early universe, but fails in important respects. The idea of a "Creation from Nothing" also seems problematic. A cyclical universe involving repeated big crunch/big bang transitions may be more attractive: I will explain recent progress in developing this scenario.
Speaker background: Neil Turok (Director) earned his PhD at Imperial College, London, in 1983. After a postdoc in Santa Barbara and an Associate Scientist position at Fermilab, he moved to Princeton where he was Professor of Physics. In 1997, he assumed the Chair of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge. In addition to Sloan and Packard Fellowships, he won the 1992 James Clerk Maxwell medal. In 2008, he joined Perimeter Institute as its Director and was shortly after named a Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) Fellow in Cosmology and Gravity. Neil’s work focuses on developing fundamental theories of cosmology and new observational tests. His predictions for the correlations of the polarization and temperature of the cosmic background radiation and of the galaxy-cosmic background correlations induced by dark energy have been confirmed. With Stephen Hawking, he discovered instanton solutions describing the birth of inflationary universes. His work on Open Inflation forms the basis of the now-popular “multiverse” paradigm. With Paul Steinhardt, he developed a cyclic model for cosmology, according to which the Big Bang is explained as a collision between two “brane-worlds” in M-theory. Born in South Africa, Neil founded the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS, www.aims.ac.za) in Cape Town, South Africa. For this work and his contributions to theoretical physics, he was awarded the 2008 TED Prize and a “Most Innovative People” award at the World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (WSIE). Among his many honours, he holds the Medaille de l’Ordre National du Lion, Senegal’s highest recognition, awarded in recognition of his role in the creation of the new AIMS-Senegal centre (www.aims-senegal.org).
University of Toronto, Astronomy & Astrophysics
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For five frigid weeks in 2010-11, astronomer Ray Jayawardhana –or RayJay as he is widely known-- traded giant telescopes in Hawaii and Chile for snowmobiles in Antarctica. Camping out on a remote ice field, trying to avoid frostbite and crevasses during their daily excursions on the coldest, driest and windiest continent on Earth, he and his ANSMET teammates scooped up hundreds of meteorites preserved in the polar desert environment. In this lively talk, he will recount their bone-chilling adventure, and discuss what these precious bits of cosmic flotsam reveal about the origins of planetary systems and perhaps even the building blocks of life itself.
Speaker background: Ray Jayawardhana is a professor and Canada Research Chair in observational astrophysics at the University of Toronto. A graduate of Yale and Harvard and a winner of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, he uses many of the world’s largest telescopes to explore planetary origins and diversity. He is the author of over eighty papers in scientific journals. His discoveries have made headlines worldwide, including in Newsweek, Washington Post, New York Times, Globe and Mail, Sydney Morning Herald, BBC, NPR and CBC, and have led to numerous accolades such as the Steacie Prize and the Radcliffe Fellowship.
He is an award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in The Economist, New York Times, Scientific American, Astronomy and Muse, and the author of Strange New Worlds: The Search for Alien Planets and Life Beyond Our Solar System. He is also a popular speaker and a frequent commentator for the media, and has created innovative science outreach programs such as CoolCosmos, featuring 3000 ads in Toronto’s transit vehicles. He was recently named as the University of Toronto President's Senior Advisor on Science Engagement.