New Horizons in Science

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New Horizons in Science 2015 Program


Boston 2015 Sunday Session 1

Lighting up biology: The quest to see every molecule in every cell

11 Oct 2015 -
8:15am to 9:30am
blue lit up cells

It may seem that 21st-century biologists have a fantastic array of tools for probing the workings of molecules, cells and organisms. But optogenetics pioneer Ed Boyden won't be satisfied until there are ways to map all the molecules in every cell of the body, simulate their dynamics and learn the "native language" of all cell types. His lab is coming up with new kinds of microscopy in the quest for a complete map of the molecules in an organism. In "expansion microscopy," they apply fluorescent tags to molecules in a cell, infuse the cell with a superabsorbent polymer, and add water.

Ed Boyden

associate professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences
MIT Media Lab and McGovern Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston 2015 Sunday Session 2a

Pluto's close-up: The latest from the New Horizons mission

11 Oct 2015 -
9:30am to 10:30am
image of pluto

In July, after a nine-year, 3 billion-mile journey, the New Horizons spacecraft reached the Pluto-Charon double-planet system and the outer reaches of the solar system—the first NASA mission to reach an unvisited planet since Voyager more than 30 years ago. The mission's instruments were designed to capture and transmit to Earth abundant data about not just Pluto but also the mysterious icy objects of the distant Kuiper Belt, the comet-generating "third zone" of our solar system.

Alan Stern

associate vice president for research and development
Space Science & Engineering Division, Southwest Research Institute

The tiny cell with a big-genome "app store"

11 Oct 2015 -
9:30am to 10:30am

Technology inventors could learn a thing or two from Prochlorococcus. Long before smartphones came along, the smallest and most abundant photosynthetic cell on the planet evolved a collective gene pool of at least 80,000 genes (compared to the human gene pool of about 20,000)—effectively an app store full of tools for keeping the genus going. Just as each mobile electronic device runs a selected set of apps, each individual cell has about 2,000 genes, and the core operating system might be about 1,200.

Boston 2015 Sunday Break 1

Boston 2015 Sunday Session 3a

The genome's mysterious UCE surveillance system

11 Oct 2015 -
11:00am to 12:00pm

Genomes are dynamic, rearranging themselves as they function and evolve. Ting Wu's lab studies the parts of the animal genome that resist change. Called ultraconserved elements, or UCEs, these chunks of DNA have been maintained essentially unchanged for 300 million to 500 million years—appearing today exactly as they were when birds, reptiles, and mammals diverged from each other. Since UCEs were discovered in 2004, many ideas about their function and significance have been proposed, and yet they remain a mystery.

Ting Wu

professor of genetics; director, Personal Genetics Education Project
Harvard Medical School

Next in space: spray-on microthrusters for miniature satellites

11 Oct 2015 -
11:00am to 12:00pm

One of the hottest items in space these days is the cubesat, a miniature satellite that you can build with off-the-shelf parts at home. Outfitted with miniature computers, cameras and equipment for laser communications, a fleet of cubesats can be lofted on a single rocket into space to do many of the things traditional satellites do. Unfortunately, the ion engines that provide propulsion for satellites don't miniaturize, so cubesats can't move about once in space, and they may contribute to the space debris problem since they cannot push themselves out of orbit.

Paulo Lozano

associate professor and chair of the graduate program
Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston 2015 Lunch with a Luminary

Sunday MIT tour

Boston 2015 Sunday Session 4

Patrusky Lecture: The Earth's Microbiomes

11 Oct 2015 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm

Thanks to an explosion of knowledge about microbiomes—the communities of microorganisms specific to varied habitats—scientists now realize that microorganisms control the health of virtually every ecosystem on Earth. The effects of microbiomes are far-reaching. The human microbiome is associated with chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, depression, and asthma, conditions long blamed on other causes. Microbiomes influence crop productivity, climate change, and ocean health.

Jo Handelsman

associate director for science
U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor and Frederick Phineas Rose Professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology (on leave) Yale University

Boston 2015 Sunday Session 5a

Lessons from the lives of older homeless adults

11 Oct 2015 -
3:30pm to 4:30pm

An improving economy and local services may be making a dent in homelessness nationwide, but Margot Kushel is finding troubling developments on the streets. As a physician and researcher who has treated homeless patients in the San Francisco Bay area since the 1990s, she works with a population that is rapidly aging and carrying a heavy burden of chronic illness. Kushel and her research group are studying the lives of homeless older adults and their families, focusing on the growing numbers of 50-and-older adults who lost their homes as affordable housing disappeared in many cities.

Margot Kushel

professor of medicine
University of California San Francisco

Can computer science help physicists resolve the firewall paradox?

11 Oct 2015 -
3:30pm to 4:30pm

A bit like a black hole itself, a lively debate about something called the firewall paradox is inexorably sucking in theoretical physicists who venture near it. And now it's tugging at computer scientists, who may have novel approaches to help physicists unscramble the problem. The firewall paradox is a challenge to quantum mechanics uncovered in 2012 by a group of physicists who showed that black holes may generate unresolvable contradictions between fundamental laws of physics.

Scott Aaronson

associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston 2015 Sunday 6a

Vaccines and vaccine hesitancy: Lessons for science writers

11 Oct 2015 -
4:30pm to 5:30pm

Increasing measles and pertussis outbreaks, as well as state vaccine-related legislation, have put the spotlight on vaccines, vaccination rates, anti-vaccination sentiment and vaccine refusal, yet the quality and accuracy of coverage has been spotty at best, sometimes irresponsible and reckless. This panel will elucidate some poorly understood facts about vaccines, disease resurgence and vaccine hesitancy. Participants will critique reporting on real and perceived risks of vaccines and vaccine injury claims and assess what lessons science writers can draw from the controversy.

Ari Brown

founder and chief executive officer
411 Pediatrics, Austin TX

Daniel Salmon

associate professor
deputy director
Institute for Vaccine Health Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University

Seth Mnookin

associate professor and associate director
Graduate Program in Science Writing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Controversy in the "Goldilocks zone" as the search for habitable exoplanets intensifies

11 Oct 2015 -
4:30pm to 5:30pm

The explosion of known exoplanets has energized the quest to discover a habitable or "Earth-like" planet in a distant solar system. Exoplanet pioneer Sara Seager is one of many scientists building space- and Earth-based instruments to search for signs of life on planets far, far away. She expects that the next few years will bring a number of possible discoveries of the "first Earth-like planet" to rival the discovery of Earth "cousin" Kepler 452b in July.

Sara Seager

Class of 1941 professor of planetary science and physics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Breakfast 2

Boston 2015 Monday Session 1a

Money and medicine: challenges and opportunities for science writers

12 Oct 2015 -
8:30am to 9:30am

Science writers are comfortable covering the most complex and arcane topics, but when it comes to corporate science they often don't engage. Yet amid a flurry of advances in biology, a major story today is how discovery is translated into new medicines—the province of entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and pharmaceutical companies.

Ron Winslow

deputy editor, health and science
senior medical and health care writer
Wall Street Journal

William N. Hait

global head, research and development
Janssen Research & Development, Johnson & Johnson

Applying science to poverty

12 Oct 2015 -
8:30am to 9:30am

In the fight against poverty, what actually works? An MIT-based network of academics is applying science to answer that question. The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab uses randomized controlled trials to advise policymakers and non-governmental organizations on every kind of intervention that might be deployed to reduce poverty. Recently they conducted six experiments on microfinance in different countries, asking whether microloans were effective in boosting people out of poverty by enabling them to start businesses.

Abhijit Banerjee

Ford Foundation international professor of economics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston 2015 Monday tour 1

Boston 2015 Monday Session 2a

Mercury, fisheries and human health: Local threats and global challenges

12 Oct 2015 -
9:30am to 10:30am

Although scientists know much about mercury poisoning in fish and those who eat them, there's still plenty of mystery about the processes that capture mercury from industrial pollution of air and rivers, as well as natural sources, and convert it in the sea to toxic, bioavailable methylmercury. Elsie Sunderland is among the scientists putting together the pieces of this puzzle even as it is changing. The Pacific tuna in US stores and restaurants is just part of the story.

Elsie M. Sunderland

associate professor of environmental science and engineering
Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Gathering big data on tiny devices: A path to better medical diagnosis?

12 Oct 2015 -
9:30am to 10:30am

With today's sequencing techniques, every individual's genotype can be precisely described. But genetic information is useful to medicine only when it can be related to the same individual's actual condition, or phenotype. Michael Cima is one of a growing number of engineers looking for better ways to gather phenotypic data to enable comparisons of genetic patterns with patterns of disease and dysfunction, in many cases using wearable electronics.

Michael J. Cima

David H. Koch professor of engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston 2015 Monday Break 1

Boston 2015 Monday tour 2

Boston 2015 Monday Session 3a

How technology designers will dictate our civic future

12 Oct 2015 -
11:00am to 12:00pm

Technology designers are the new policymakers. No one elected them, and most people do not know their names, but the decisions they make when producing the latest gadgets and online innovations dictate the code by which we conduct our daily lives and govern our country. Challenges to the privacy and security of our personal data are part of the first wave of this change; as technology progresses, says Latanya Sweeney, every demographic value and every law comes up for grabs and will likely be redefined by what technology does or does not enable.

Latanya Sweeney

professor of government and technology in residence
Harvard University

Air pollution and hurricanes: a connection?

12 Oct 2015 -
11:00am to 12:00pm

Armed with supercomputers and vast and varied troves of data, meteorologists and climate scientists can now continually ask new questions about how human activity affects earth systems. Kerry Emanuel has been studying the forces behind cyclonic storms on Earth and other planets for decades.

Kerry Emanuel

Cecil and Ida Green professor of atmospheric science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston 2015 Monday Lunch with a Scientist

Boston 2015 Monday Session 4

New observations and new ideas about cosmic inflation

12 Oct 2015 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm

Proposed 35 years ago, the inflationary hypothesis is one of cosmology's sturdiest ideas and a continuing source of speculation and testing. Inflation inserts into the earliest instant of the big bang a period when space itself expanded exponentially, explaining why different regions of space have temperatures and curvatures that are nearly equal. In recent years there have been attempts to confirm inflation and look for evidence supporting different versions of the theory.

Alan Guth

Victor F. Weisskopf professor of physics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Boston 2015 Monday tour 3

Boston 2015 Monday Break 2

Boston 2015 Monday Session 5

Merchants of Doubt film screening and discussion

12 Oct 2015 -
3:30pm to 5:30pm

The formal program for New Horizons in Science program and ScienceWriters2015 wraps with a screening of a documentary that asks whether the U.S. public, journalists and policymakers have been taken in by a corporate spin machine bent on shaping the debate over climate change. Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the book on which the film is based, has drawn comparisons with the tobacco industry's manipulation of the cigarette-cancer story. She will join us for a short follow-up discussion. Social media handle: @MerchantsDoubt

Naomi Oreskes

professor of the history of science
affiliated professor of earth and planetary sciences
Harvard University

Boston 2015 Monday tour 4

Boston 2015 hosted events Mon-Tues

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