2014 - 2015

Reversing Climate Change: Using Carbon to Fight Carbon

Professor Frank Shu - UC San Diego
When Oct 14, 2014
from 08:00 PM to 09:00 PM
Where CIBC Hall
Contact Name
Contact Phone 23180
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Frank Shu

Prof. Frank Shu (UC San Diego)
Hooker Distinguished Visiting Professor at McMaster University

 

Download the official lecture poster (PDF).

Download a PDF version of the presentation.

Watch the video recording of this lecture here.

 

Skeptics claim that the Earth's climate has always changed and question calls to mitigate the current event.  We begin therefore by recounting the history of the Earth's atmosphere beginning with its formation over 4.5 billion years ago to the present.  We explain why carbon dioxide and methane are worrisome greenhouse gases (GHGs) despite being minor constituents of the Earth's atmosphere, and how the natural trend to locking up these GHGs over geologic time involved the conversion of rock oxides into rock carbonates and the production of fossil fuels.  The human conversion of carbonates back into oxides in cement-making and burning of these fuels since the industrial revolution represent an attempt to undo in a few centuries what it took nature hundreds of millions of years to accomplish.   This disparity gives civilization little time to adapt to the resultant changes if left unchallenged. 

The past cycles of ice ages and interglacial periods suggest that the state of the current climate is currently on the brink of instability, with great sensitivity to the exact amount of GHG in the atmosphere.  In particular, the increase of extreme climate-related events is exponentially sensitive to seemingly small increases in the mean temperature of the surface of the Earth.  We argue that climate mitigation now requires not only emitting less GHG, but actually creating sources of negative carbon.  We suggest that the safest way to perform this task is to use carbon (technology) to fight carbon (emission).

We then present two technologies researched by our group, supertorrefiers (STRs) and molten salt breeder reactors (MSBRs) that taken together can result in a systematic lowering of GHG levels in the Earth's atmosphere.  STRs have the potential of creating solid, liquid, and gaseous biofuels that are economically competitive with coal, petroleum, and natural gas.  MSBRs can replace, over the long-term, the light water reactors in current usage with a walk-away safe, less expensive, more proliferation-resistant form of nuclear power, with acceptable solutions for the problems of high-level and low-level nuclear waste.  Molten salt constitutes only one technical approach towards achieving the overall goal of using carbon to fight carbon, so an effort to reverse climate change
may be sufficiently broad-based to attract global support.

Prof. Shu will also give a more specialized colloquium to  the  Department of Physics and Astronomy on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014, entitled "Fifty Years of Spiral Density-Wave Theory".

Speaker background: Professor Shu has made many fundamental contributions to astrophysics - from galactic dynamics to star and planet formation. His work on the origin of spiral structure in galaxies - the well known "Lin-Shu Hypothesis" - is one of the keystones of studies of galactic dynamics. Professor Shu will review the current stage of this important theory in his accompanying more specialized colloquium in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy entitled "Fifty Years of Density Wave Theory", given on Oct. 15. Professor Shu has won a very large number of distinguished awards, including the Shaw Prize (2009), the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal (2009 -Astronomical Soc. of the Pacific), the Heineman Prize (2000, Americal Astronomical Society), Brouer Award (1996, Div. of Dynamics, AAS),  and many prestigious lectureships. He has been elected to many august bodies including the National Academy of Science (1987), American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1992), and the Royal Astronomical Society. 

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A telegram from the early Universe?

Professor Marc Kamionkowski - Johns Hopkins University
When Dec 02, 2014
from 08:00 PM to 09:00 PM
Where MUMC - 1A1
Contact Name
Contact Phone 23180
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Marc Kamionkowski

Prof. Marc Kamionkowski
Johns Hopkins University


Watch the video recording of this lecture here.

Abstract: In March 2014, a small group of scientists working at a new observatory at the South Pole announced the detection of a new relic from the early Universe. The observations they made were of a particular pattern in the cosmic microwave background, the remnant heat left over from the Big Bang. These results are interpreted as a propagating ripple in the fabric of spacetime created within the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.  If this result holds up, it will likely come to be viewed as one of the most significant advances in cosmology in several decades. Some cosmologists, however, still need more information to be convinced.

Dr. Kamionkowski will explain what these scientists may have found and what still needs to be done to establish the results more firmly.  He will explain the implications for our understanding of the origin of the Universe, and where we go from here.

Prof. Marc Kamionkowski will also give a more specialized colloquium in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy on Dec 3rd..

Brain Bugs: The Causes and Consequence of the Brain’s Flaws

Professor Dean Buonomano - UCLA
When Feb 24, 2015
from 08:00 PM to 09:00 PM
Where MUMC - 1A1
Contact Name
Contact Phone 23180
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Dean Buonomano

Professor Dean Buonomano
UCLA

The human brain is the most complex device in the known universe, yet it is an imperfect one. Our memory is unreliable and poorly suited for long lists of names or numbers; our actions are influenced by a host of arbitrary and irrelevant factors—which makes us susceptible to marketing and prone to making decisions that are not in our own best interest. These flaws or “bugs” are not only a consequence of the fact that we currently live in an environment that we did not evolve to live in, but reflect the fundamental architecture and building blocks of the brain. Neurons and synapses are computational elements that are incredibly well-suited for certain tasks, but poorly suited for others. Thus as with any other computational device, the brain has limitations and flaws, and these have a wide range of consequences: from simple illusions, to annoying memory glitches, to irrational decisions whose effects can be either innocuous or fatal.

Speaker backgroundDr. Dean Buonomano is a professor in the Departments of Neurobiology and Psychology and a member of the Brain Research Institute and the Integrative Center for Learning and Memory at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Using a combination of experimental and computational methods, his laboratory investigates how brain functions emerge from the activity of networks of interconnected neurons. He is particularly interested in understanding how the dynamics of neural networks enable the brain to keep track of time, an ability that is fundamental to many brain functions.

Professor Buonomano's work has received widespread acclaim in scientific circles and in the popular press. He has held an Alfred P. Sloan fellowship, is Associate Editor of the Journal Timing and Time Perception, and author of the acclaimed popular science book, "Brain Bugs: How the brain’s flaws shape our lives.”

 

 

Evolutionary Foundations of Economic Behavior, Bounded Rationality, and Intelligence

Andrew Lo - MIT
When Mar 26, 2015
from 08:00 PM to 09:00 PM
Where MUMC 1A01
Contact Name
Contact Phone 23406
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Andrew Lo


Rational economic behavior in which individuals maximize their own self-interest is only one of many possible types of behavior that arise from natural selection. Given an initial population of individuals, each assigned a purely arbitrary behavior with respect to a binary choice problem, and assuming that offspring behave identically to their parents, only those behaviors linked to reproductive success will survive, and less successful behaviors will disappear exponentially fast. This framework yields a single evolutionary explanation for the origin of several behaviors that have been observed in organisms ranging from bacteria to humans, including risk-sensitive foraging, risk aversion, loss aversion, probability matching, randomization, and diversification. The key to understanding which types of behavior are more likely to survive is how behavior affects reproductive success in a given population’s environment.

From this perspective, intelligence is naturally defined as behavior that increases the likelihood of reproductive success, and bounds on rationality are determined by physiological and environmental constraints.

More about Andrew Lo here.

Life’s Engines - How Microbes made Earth Habitable

Professor Paul Falkowski - Rutgers University
When Apr 02, 2015
from 08:00 PM to 09:00 PM
Where MUMC-1A1
Contact Name
Contact Phone 23180
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Paul Falkowski

Professor Paul Falkowski



Watch the video recording of this lecture here.

There are two fundamental questions in science that almost all of us ask as children: “Where did we come from?” and “Are we alone?”. In this talk, I will explore the first question by looking “under the hood” of microbial life on Earth today, and how the core nanomachines that drive all life on this planet arose to create a global electronic circuit. Life’s engines are ancient and very highly conserved, from the simplest microbe to the most recently evolved animals and plants. I will explain that microbes are the true stewards of life on Earth, and we tinker with these organisms at our peril. Finally, I will examine the second question in the context of how we might fi nd compelling evidence of life on planets far from our solar system.