New Horizons in Science

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New Horizons in Science 2019 Program

PSU Sunday Breakfast

PSU Sunday Session 1

A call for radically new tactics on the evolutionary battlefield of medicine

27 Oct 2019 -
8:45am to 10:00am
Biology: Molecular/cellular
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and a dead human neutrophil. Image: NIAID (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Do we need more cancer drugs and antibiotics? Andrew Read isn't sure new drug development is the weapon needed for victory on the battlefields of cancer and infectious disease. As an evolutionary biologist, he sees both challenges as arms races where populations of cells raid their storehouses of genetic variation to evolve resistance. The strongest cancer drugs, by rapidly killing weaker tumor cells, are almost certainly accelerating evolution and leaving the most adept, resistant cells behind.

Andrew Read

director, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences; Evan Pugh University Professor of biology and entomology; Eberly Professor in biotechnology,

PSU Sunday Session 2a

An upside-down "lab rat" for studying coral reef ecology

27 Oct 2019 -
10:00am to 11:00am
Biology: Conservation
Upside down jellyfish (Cassiopea).

Corals are full of complexity, surprise and mystery. And they are threatened. Mónica Medina has found a way to study important questions about corals without disturbing these fragile systems: a model organism. Her "lab rat" is Cassiopea xamachana, the upside-down jellyfish, also known for its use in models of computational fluid dynamics and neuromechanics. Like their cnidarian cousins the corals, Cassiopea jellies are dependent on symbionts — photosynthetic dinoflagellate algae — for key parts of their life cycle.

Curing disease with cellular circuits

27 Oct 2019 -
10:00am to 11:00am
Synthetic biology

From where Hana El-Samad sits, much of human disease looks like a problem of malfunctioning feedback loops. Take traumatic brain injury. The brain needs inflammation to heal, but runaway inflammation causes cognitive impairment. How can a doctor know when to start and stop anti-inflammatory medication? El-Samad and her collaborators have a solution: replace traditional drug delivery with programmable molecular toolkits that deliver a payload inside the diseased organ only when their built-in sensors tell them it’s needed.

Hana El-Samad

Kuo Family Endowed Professor and vice chair
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics

PSU Sunday Break 1

PSU Sunday Session 3a

New data and new ideas about the Big Bang and black holes

27 Oct 2019 -
11:20am to 12:30pm
The black hole, Cygnus X-1.

Theorists who work on big questions in relativity and quantum physics are awash in new data these days. Observations arrive continually from instruments measuring gravitational waves, neutrinos and cosmic microwave background fluctuations, testing ideas about black holes, the Big Bang, spacetime and the building blocks of physics. One of the leading theorists is Abhay Ashtekar, a pioneer of a theory called loop quantum gravity, in which space and time are quantized and the building blocks of the universe are expressed through geometry.

Abhay Ashtekar

Evan Pugh Professor of Physics and director, Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos

Science + Science Writing: Going there: Tackling genetics and racism

27 Oct 2019 -
11:20am to 12:30pm
Science + Science Writing
Abstract DNA art

As ancestry and genetic testing services proliferate — a total of 26 million people have taken such tests in the past year, according to data compiled by MIT Technology Review — the public's understanding of race, heredity and DNA remains muddled. The history of the study of heredity is intertwined with racist pseudoscience, and present-day research can get hijacked by white supremacists looking to further their cause. What role do scientists and journalists have in actively combating misinformation on genetics and race?

PSU Sunday Lunch

PSU Sunday Session 4

Patrusky Lecture: Spirit and Opportunity: The Mars Exploration Rover Project

27 Oct 2019 -
2:00pm to 3:10pm
Space Exploration
Mars explorers Spirit and Opportunity

In January of 2004, twin robotic explorers named Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars. Planned to operate for just 90 days, their mission lasted for more than 14 years. Its objective was to search for evidence of past water on Mars, and to determine if Mars ever had conditions that would have been suitable for life. Steven Squyres will provide a summary of the missions of Spirit and Opportunity, from their initial conception through their development, launch, landing, and operations on the surface of Mars, and his thoughts on planetary exploration in the 21st century.


PSU Sunday Break 2

PSU Sunday Session 5a

Is Antarctica collapsing? An update on the science behind rising seas

27 Oct 2019 -
3:30pm to 4:30pm
Early melt on the Greenland Ice Sheet 2016. Image: NASA

Far from State College, the West Antarctic ice sheet holds the future of the world's coastal cities in its icy grip. Will Thwaites Glacier unzip, as Greenland's Jakobshavn Glacier did in the 1990s? Will it disintegrate like the Larsen B Ice Shelf to its north?

Richard Alley

Evan Pugh University Professor of geosciences and associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute

Smart textiles: Transforming our relationship with the space around us

27 Oct 2019 -
3:30pm to 4:30pm
Textured Shima knitted textile. Image: Felecia Davis.

Most of us know a bit about wearable technology through devices like the Fitbit and Apple Watch. Felecia Davis looks far beyond consumer applications in work knitting together embedded electronics and soft textiles, seeing a transformation of our relationship to the space around us. Her textile systems can sense their environment and be programmed to use the quality of the material itself in connection with environmental cues such as humidity, temperature and light.

Felecia Davis

assistant professor
Stuckeman Center for Design Computing

PSU Sunday Session 6a

A report from the front lines of multimessenger astronomy

27 Oct 2019 -
4:30pm to 5:30pm
Gravitational-wave signals detected by LIGO-Virgo network

Although half a century in the making, the field of gravitational wave astrophysics is suddenly moving rapidly and contributing to the flowering of so-called multi-messenger astronomy, where signals from many wavelengths combine to paint a vivid picture of a massive event in the universe. By the end of their second observing run in 2018, the US-based LIGO gravitational-wave observatory and the Virgo observatory in Italy were detecting these subtle distortions in spacetime roughly every two weeks.

Chad Hanna

associate professor of physics and astronomy and astrophysics

The end of statistical significance

27 Oct 2019 -
4:30pm to 5:30pm

This March, readers of Nature were greeted by the headline "Scientists rise up against statistical significance." More than 800 signatories had joined in a call to retire the term "statistically significant," and the case was argued in 43 articles published in a special issue of The American Statistician the same week. What's up, and what's next? Nicole Lazar is a leader in the movement away from hypothesis testing and arbitrary thresholds in scientific statistics.

PSU Monday Breakfast

PSU Monday Session 1

Science + Science Writing: The #CRISPRtwins story

28 Oct 2019 -
8:30am to 9:30am
Science + Science Writing

Two journalists who reported the year's most startling story in science — the birth of genetically modified human twins in China — reflect on the story's lessons with an expert who consulted with both outlets. Come for a discussion of the science, ethics, and journalism behind a story that shook science to its foundations and is still reverberating.

Kiran Musunuru

associate professor of cardiovascular medicine and genetics
Perelman School of Medicine

PSU Monday Session 2a

A troubled planet warms to solar geoengineering

28 Oct 2019 -
9:30am to 10:30am
Sun over Earth's horizon from the ISS.

Science-based policies have succeeded in moderating many of the hazards humans have inflicted on themselves, from the ozone hole to leaded gasoline. And David Keith is optimistic that science can play that role again on the climate front. He heads a research group working on a controversial technology: solar geoengineering, or blocking or reflecting some of the sun's radiation to slow warming. Public discussion of this once-taboo topic is now heating up. Keith will share an update on the research and his thoughts about the role of journalism in shaping the discussion.

David Keith

professor of applied physics, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
professor of public policy, Harvard Kennedy School
founder, Carbon Engineering

SETI: Bringing a neglected field of astronomy in from the cold

28 Oct 2019 -
9:30am to 10:30am
Allen Telescope Array.

The search for extraterrestrial life (SETI) has long been treated as a problem child of astronomy, and it has been deprived of significant government support for decades. But SETI made a move into the mainstream last winter when U.S. astronomers came together to prepare a report for the National Academies describing how the NSF and NASA could support the field next decade. One of those orchestrating that move was Jason Wright.

Jason Wright

associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics

PSU Monday Break 1

PSU Monday Session 3a

A new fungus stalks the amphibian world

28 Oct 2019 -
10:50am to 11:50am
Biology: Conservation
Emperor newt (Tylotriton sp).

Earlier this year, a major paper laid out the dimensions of the ongoing "amphibian apocalypse," a worldwide loss of amphibian populations accelerated by a chytrid fungus. Biologist Karen Lips has been studying the ecosystem and human health effects of this crisis, but meanwhile she is preparing for the next one. A chytrid fatal to salamanders and newts has been wiping out wild populations in Asia and now in Europe.

What changes in primate brains can tell us about ours

28 Oct 2019 -
10:50am to 11:50am

What can we learn about the evolution of the human brain by studying our nearest relatives? A great deal, says Chet Sherwood, who is applying new tools such as MRIs and genome analysis to questions about human brain evolution. Comparative studies of the human brain have emphasized its remarkable size, but Sherwood believes more interesting insights lie elsewhere. He is investigating how the organization and composition of great ape brains varies with ecological and behavioral factors, even when brain size stays the same.

Chet Sherwood

professor and chair, Department of Anthropology, and codirector of the Mind-Brain Institute, George Washington University
codirector, National Chimpanzee Institute

PSU Monday Lunch

PSU Monday Session 4a

Science + Science Writing: When ideology or special interests hijack science topics

28 Oct 2019 -
12:50pm to 1:50pm
Science + Science Writing
Opinion does not equal science protest sign

What's a science writer to do when ideologues or economic and political interests construct narratives that "hijack" discussions of science-based policy issues? How to report accurately on public questions when belief and misinformation swamp evidence and scientific consensus? Climate change is probably the most publicized example, with religious, economic and political concerns contending against scientific conclusions for the public's attention and concurrence. But the same dynamic also plays out in other issues.

Using physics to root out error and bias

28 Oct 2019 -
12:50pm to 1:50pm
Information validations neon sign

As science and industry become more and more dependent on complex numerical models for making predictions and designing structures and devices, how can we know whether a model is an accurate representation of reality? Sez Atamturkur's work aims to measure uncertainty and systematic error in these models. Modelers often focus on building logical algorithms and incorporating massive amounts of data, but Atamturkur says that process can introduce systematic error or bias, which are exacerbated when models are coupled.

Sez Atamturkur

Harry and Arlene Schell Professor and head of the department of architectural engineering

PSU Monday Session 5

Clearing the air on global climate and greenhouse gases

28 Oct 2019 -
1:50pm to 2:50pm
Hong Kong air pollution

As another presidential election approaches, it's unlikely that the debate about climate will remain on the back burner as it did in 2016. Rob Jackson's Global Carbon Project continuously synthesizes and analyzes data on what's happening with greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in order to recommend actions on climate. Jackson and colleagues are currently looking at options for removing and reducing both methane and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Other studies are assessing the connection between climate change and wildfires.

PSU Monday Break 2

PSU Monday Session 6

Food security and climate: Attacking problems at the roots

28 Oct 2019 -
3:10pm to 4:10pm
Biology: Agriculture

How will we feed ourselves in 2050? The linked challenges of world food security and climate change, Jonathan Lynch notes, confront both rich and poor countries. U.S. food production is dependent on the costly, polluting use of nitrogen fertilizers and has a huge carbon footprint, while farmers in Africa and elsewhere struggle with poor soils and droughts. Lynch hopes the solutions to these problems can be found at their roots, a part of the plant that's been hard to include in breeding programs because it's unseen.

PSU Monday Session 7

Why do we fall for fake news, and what can be done about it?

28 Oct 2019 -
4:10pm to 5:00pm
Fake news through a magnifying glass

Fake news can be deadly. During 2017 and 2018, 46 people were lynched by vigilante mobs after false rumors of child kidnappings and organ harvesting spread through rural India in the form of doctored videos shared via the WhatsApp encrypted message system. Government efforts to encourage people to think critically about news sources had little effect, and WhatsApp had few tools to control the spread of fake videos in an encrypted environment. S. Shyam Sundar, with funding from WhatsApp, is engaged in understanding this tragic example of the viral nature of fake news transmitted by video.

S. Shyam Sundar

James P. Jimirro professor of media effects
co-director, Media Effects Research Laboratory
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