Season

Paul Fuchs

A remarkable set of molecular mechanisms converts sound waves into electrical signals and encodes frequency content within the inner ear. “Feedback” by tiny cellular amplifiers can cause the ear to produce sound, while the brain employs a unique mode of neuronal inhibition to partially deafen the ear. These and other observations have led to important insights into how we hear, how this process can go wrong, and what we hope to do about it.

Streaming video on demand:

Sten Grillner (left) and Louis E. Brus( right)

In these inaugural Kavli Lectures in Washington, D.C., two of the 2008 Kavli Prize laureates will take us on a journey from the small scale of nanoscience to the complex world of neuroscience.

Maxine Singer, president emerita of the Carnegie Institution for Science, will moderate a dialog that explores fundamental questions about life and matter all the way down to molecules and atoms, where nanoscience and neuroscience meet.

Co-hosted with the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Noam Elkies

In a musical canon – be it “Three Blind Mice” or the climax of a Bach fugue – a tune acts as its own harmony. Thinking about how canons work leads us to look at musical structure from points of view usually associated with science and mathematics rather than the arts. The lecture will be illustrated with diagrams as well as musical examples (including recordings, live performance and improvisation), and will require no technical background in either music or mathematics.
Streaming video on demand:

Wallace Broecker

Balzan Lecture Reversing the rise of atmospheric CO2 will be a monumental task. Despite  our best efforts to conserve energy, to substitute non-fossil fuel sources, and to capture CO2 produced in power plants, the level of CO2 will almost certainly reach double its pre-industrial value. Halting the CO2 buildup will require direct capture of CO2 from the atmosphere. Once the CO2 level has stabilized, there will almost certainly be a drive to reduce it. Fortunately, it appears that CO2 capture can be achieved at an acceptable cost. If we fail to act aggressively, however, we will be faced with risky remedial measures.
Co-hosted with the Embassies of Italy and Switzerland
Streaming video on demand

A documentary film about Nicolas Copernicus

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus, one of the world’s greatest astronomers, was buried in an unmarked grave in Frombork, Poland. The exact location of his grave remained a mystery until recently, when a joint Polish/Swedish team of scientists announced that they had matched DNA extracted from bones unearthed in Frombork with DNA extracted from hair discovered in a book once owned by Copernicus but now in Uppsala, Sweden. After Dr. Wiesiek Bogdanowicz and Dr. Marie Allen make presentations about their groundbreaking research, a 50-minute documentary film will be shown that tells the story of this fascinating scientific mystery.

Co-hosted with the Embassies of Poland and Sweden

Jenny Graves

Comparisons between distantly related mammals and other vertebrates – including kangaroos and platypuses, devils (Tasmanian) and dragons (lizards) – can help explain how human sex chromosomes evolved and explain why they are so weird. The human X chromosome is full of “brains-and-balls” genes that were important in the rapid evolution of humans, while the human Y is a pathetic little chromosome that lost most of its genes, other than a sex determining gene. It is degrading rapidly and may be entirely lost in the next few million years, with unexpected consequences to the human race.
Streaming video on demand:

Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado

What good is long life without youthful vigor? When the goddess Eos fell in love with Tithonus, a mere mortal, Zeus granted him the imperfect gift of immortality: Tithonus lived forever but did not stop aging, thus condemning his existence to one of eternal decrepitude. In Nature, organisms exist that can be said to remain perennially youthful, and consequently die young as late in life as possible. Learn what fundamental lessons such an organism is teaching us about our own biology.

Cancelled because of weather.

Robert Hazen

Evolution has long been a lightning rod for anti-science rhetoric. Such attacks are usually reserved for discussions of Darwinian evolution by natural selection, but evolving systems also operate in many other contexts, including the formation of chemical elements in stars following the Big Bang, diversification of minerals on Earth-like planets, development of languages, and more. Although each of these complex systems evolves through selective mechanisms, they fundamentally differ from each other. Comparisons point to general principles of emergent complexity, and underscore the power and plausibility of biological evolution.

Streaming video on demand:

Raymond Jeanloz

Diamonds and lasers are used to re-create the extreme conditions present when planets are born – conditions that remain, billions of years later, deep inside giant and super-giant planets. These experiments reveal new information not only about chemical bonding between atoms, but also about how planets form and create opportunities for life to start, perhaps many times over.

Streaming video on demand: