Since 1991, the Carnegie Institution has hosted extraordinary researchers from a wide range of scientific disciplines as part of the Capital Science Evenings lecture series. The lectures provide a unique opportunity to connect with some of the most gifted investigators in science and hear the stories behind their discoveries.

These hour-long lectures, followed by a brief question and answer period, go beyond the media accounts for a firsthand look at the “ah-ha” moments, the setbacks, and the triumphs that drive brilliant minds and fundamentally change our understanding of the world around us. Most of the lectures are livestreamed and recorded.  

Capital Science Evenings, free , and open to the public. Join us as we redefine the pursuit of what is possible. 

Beyond Pluto: The Hunt for a Massive Planet X

Thursday, February 21, 2019 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

The Kuiper Belt, which has Pluto as the largest member, is a region of comet-like objects just beyond Neptune. Over the past few years, Dr. Sheppard and his team have been performing the largest and deepest survey ever attempted of our Solar System’s fringes. In December 2018, he announced the most-distant object ever observed in our Solar System. His team’s work has shown that the farthest-out-there objects—beyond the Kuiper Belt and the influence of the known major planets—are strangely grouped together in space. This suggests the existence of a yet-unobserved planet, sometimes called Planet X or Planet 9, more massive than the Earth, which is shaping the current orbits of these objects. Dr. Sheppard will discuss the most-recent discoveries at the edges of our Solar System.

(Viewing note: if the stream freezes, please reload your browser page.)

Dr. Scott Sheppard: Staff Scientist, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution for Science


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Biology at the Extremes: How Studies of the Extraordinary Lead to Discoveries About the Ordinary

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 6:45pm to 7:45pm

Dr. Douglas Koshland,
University of California Berkeley, Department of Molecular & Cell Biology
Remarkable organisms exemplify extremes in the spectrum of life, like transparent embryos that allow visualization of the first heartbeat, or plants, animals and fungi that can survive for years in the absence of water. How and why have the studies of these extreme "weirdos" been critical to almost every advance in basic biological and biomedical research? Dr. Koshland will discuss these "believe-it -or-not" organisms and their contributions to science – past, present, and future.

Can We Learn (Again) From Neuroscience About How to do Computing?

Thursday, September 17, 2020 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm


In 1981, David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel received the Nobel Prize for their breakthrough research on visual processing in vertebrate brains. Their work also provided the inspiration for “neural network” computing methods of pattern recognition, which have recently become the omnipresent face of artificial intelligence and machine learning. However, these algorithms, which are typically run on conventional electronic computers, are in most cases much less effective than the brains of even very simple animals, and use vastly more energy than we can support. Dr. Peter Littlewood will lead a discussion that will bring together different expertise on this topic. Dr. Eve Marder will discuss what the simplest organisms have taught us about neural connections. Dr. Bobby Kasthuri will explain what we can glean from experimental measurements of more-complex animals. And Dr. Sadasivan Shankar will illustrate how computing itself may need to be reassessed in terms of hardware, software, and information processing for a “brain-like” computer.

Moderator and Convener

Dr. Peter Littlewood: Professor of Physics, University of Chicago


Dr. Bobby Kasthuri:  Neuroscience Researcher, Argonne National Laboratory; Assistant Professor of Neurobiology, University of Chicago

Dr. Eve Marder: Victor and Gwendolyn Beinfield Professor of Biology, Brandeis University

Dr. Sadasivan Shankar: Applied Physics Associate, Harvard Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Former Senior Principal Engineer and Program Leader for Materials Design, Intel Corporation








Dr. Alison Gopnik - The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life

Thursday, April 30, 2015 - 6:45pm to 8:00pm

Humans have a longer childhood than any other animal—our children are more vulnerable and dependent than other species’ infants. Why is this so? In the last thirty years there has been a revolution in our scientific understanding of infants and young children. Dr. Gopnik will show that even the youngest babies have learning abilities that are more powerful than those of the smartest scientists and most advanced computers.

Dr. Alison Gopnik, University of California Berkeley, Department of Psychology

Dr. Ayanna Howard - Pediatric Robotics: A Journey from Lab Innovations to Social Impact

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

There are an estimated 150 million children living with disabilities worldwide. Thanks to recent advances in robotics, therapeutic intervention protocols using robots are now ideally positioned to make an impact on this issue.  Dr. Howard will discuss the role of robotics and related technologies for therapy and highlight methods that bring us closer to the goal of integrating robots more fully into our lives.

Dr. Ayanna Howard, Professor, Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Endowed Chair, School of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology; Chief Technology Officer, Zyrobotics


The Capital Science Evenings are made possible with support from Margaret & Will Hearst and Whole Earth Films.


Dr. Diana Roman - When the Volcano Stirs

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

Volcanic eruptions pose an increasing threat to human lives and infrastructure in today's rapidly globalizing world, leading to a need for more-sensitive and accurate tools for detecting and interpreting signs of volcanic unrest. Fortunately, most volcanoes give subtle indications of their future eruptive potential that can be detected using state-of-the-art seismic instrumentation. Dr. Roman will explore the recent development of several new paradigms for eruption forecasting and their implications for our understanding of how volcanoes work.

Dr. Diana Roman, Staff Scientist, Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, Carnegie Institution of Science



Dr. Dominique Bergmann - Making a Difference: How to Create Stem Cells and Have their Products Change the World

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 - 6:45pm to 8:00pm

Standing strong and silent, plants are all around us, both shaping our world and responding to it.  Plants can live for hundreds, if not thousands of years, continuously renewing themselves through active stem cells, yet also avoiding cancer. What lessons might we learn about our own biological potential from a closer look at their life strategies?

Dr. Dominique Bergmann, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Department of Biology, Stanford University
Adjunct staff member, Department of Plant Biology, Carnegie Institution for Science

Dr. Elaine Ostrander - Dog Genes Tell Surprising Tales: Understanding the Genetics of Breed Behavior, Shape and Disease

Thursday, April 6, 2017 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

Dr. Ostrander’s team has taken advantage of naturally occurring variations in dog populations in order to reveal the genetic mechanisms underlying both simple and complex traits. She will show how findings related to the genetic basis for canine disease, behavior, and morphologic traits frame our thinking of human growth regulation, disease, and population migration.

Dr. Elaine Ostrander, Chief, Cancer Genetics and Comparative Genomics, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health

The Capital Science Evenings are made possible in part by the generous support of Margaret and Will Hearst.

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus - The Fiction of Memory

Monday, December 5, 2016 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

For several decades, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus has been manufacturing memories in unsuspecting minds. Sometimes this involves changing details of events that someone actually experienced.  Other times, it involves planting entire memories of events that never happened—something called “rich false memories.” People can be led to believe that they have done implausible things. They can be led to falsely believe that they had experiences that would have been emotional or traumatic had they actually happened.  False memories, like true ones, also have consequences for people, affecting later thoughts, intentions, and behaviors.  Can we tell true memories from false ones?  In several studies, Loftus created false memories in the minds of people, and then compared them to true memories. Once planted, the false memories look very much like true memories, in terms of behavioral characteristics, emotionality, and neural signatures.  If false memories can be so readily planted in the mind, do we need to think about “regulating” this mind technology?   And what do these pseudo-memories say about the nature of memory itself?

Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor, University of California Irvine

Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with the Council of Scientific Society Presidents and The Kavli Foundation.

The Capital Science Evenings are made possible in part by the generous support of Margaret and Will Hearst.



Dr. George M. Church - Engineering Human Genomes & Environments

Monday, May 8, 2017 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Naturally occurring gene drive systems rig the inheritance game and cause some genes to be preferentially inherited, “driving” them out into the population. CRISPR gene-editing tools can be used to create a gene drive in the lab, enabling scientists to promote the inheritance of desired traits over undesirable ones. This opens up the possibility of using this technology to address urgent humanitarian problems, including the spread of insect-borne diseases like malaria, Lyme disease, and Zika. But the potential risks mean that it is crucial that officials develop and enforce safety protocols for employing this technology.

Dr. George M. Church, Professor
Genetics, Harvard Medical School
Health Sciences & Technology, Harvard-MIT 

The Capital Science Evenings are made possible in part by the generous support of Margaret and Will Hearst.

Dr. Greg Asner - Exploring and Managing Earth from the Sky

Wednesday, November 2, 2016 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm


Due to unforeseen circumstances, Dr. Piers Sellers can no longer attend the November 2nd lecture "Creating the Science of Global Ecology."

Carnegie Science will instead feature Dr. Greg Asner from our Global Ecology Department in Stanford, California, who will discuss “Exploring and Managing Earth from the Sky.”

Exploring and Managing Earth from the Sky: Human activities are rapidly changing the Earth’s biosphere, calling for innovative ways to measure, monitor and manage ecosystems at large geographic scales. Fortunately, the science and technology landscape is also evolving fast to meet the challenge of better managing the biosphere in the coming decades. This lecture will explain one of the world’s most advanced Earth mapping projects, and how it supports environmental conservation and decision-making around the world.

DR. GREG ASNER, Staff Scientist, Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science

Dr. Harry Klee - Why doesn’t my supermarket tomato have any flavor and why should I care?

Thursday, September 17, 2015 - 6:45pm to 8:00pm

Modern tomatoes lack the intense flavor of heirloom, grown-in-your-back-yard varieties. What exactly is “tomato flavor”? Where did it go and what can we do about it? We believe that better flavor leads directly to better, healthier food choices. So we have systematically taken apart the chemistry and genetics of flavor in order to understand and restore it to its former glory. Along the way we’ve learned some amazing things about the way we taste and smell that have major implications for foods.

Dr. Harry Klee, University of Florida, Horticultural Sciences Department

Dr. Heidi Cullen - Seeing Climate, Seeing Change: Communicating climate science in a changing media landscape

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 - 6:45pm to 8:00pm

The financial collapse of 2009 brought with it major changes in the economic, political, as well as media landscape. This talk will explore how these ongoing changes have affected the public’s perception of climate change as well as discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the United States as world leaders gather in Paris later this year for United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-21). One of those challenges will require creating new models for science journalism and one of those opportunities may require a redefinition of what it means to be a scientist.

Dr. Heidi Cullen, Chief Scientist, Climate Central

Dr. James E. Rothman - How Vesicles in Our Cells Allow Communication in the Body and the Brain - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Thursday, September 28, 2017 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Membrane fusion is a universal process that allows cells to deploy tiny, enclosed, fluid-filled structures called vesicles to store and release packets of active substances.  This system allows the organs in the body to use hormones to communicate with each other and for the brain to use neurotransmitters to send messages.  Similar vesicle packets distribute proteins within a cell, enabling the specialized organelles contained in each cell to function properly and to propagate in cell division.  Imbalances in these pathways contribute to diabetes and cancer, as well as immune and neurological diseases.

Dr. James E. Rothman, Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine & Kavli Prize Laureate in Neuroscience; Sterling Professor and Chair, Department of Cell Biology, Yale University School of Medicine

Dr. Rothman's talk will be followed by a Q&A moderated by Frank Sesno, an Emmy winning American journalist and former CNN Washington bureau chief who is the director of George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs. 


Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

The Capital Science Evenings are made possible with support from Margaret and Will Hearst and Whole Earth Films.


Dr. Jane Lubchenco - Hope for People and the Ocean

Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Oregon State University, Joy Leighton
Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

Can we use the ocean without using it up? The task is daunting given current trajectories in fisheries, plastics, and other pollutants, and the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.  However, new scientific insights, tools, and partnerships are providing hope that it’s not too late to transition to more-sustainable practices and policies.  Dr. Lubchenco will draw on her four years as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and the Administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), her two years as the first U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean, and her decades of research around the world to summarize the importance to people of sustainable use of the ocean, and approaches that are working.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco: Distinguished Professor, Oregon State University


Image credit: Joy Leighton

Dr. Julia Clarke - The Secret Lives of Dinosaurs

Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, Julia Clarke, University of Texas
Thursday, March 29, 2018 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

How do we go beyond the bones to bring dinosaurs to life? Dr. Clarke will explain the new toolkits she uses to  study what dinosaurs might have sounded or looked like when they roamed the Earth.

Dr. Julia Clarke: Wilson Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology & HHMI Professor, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin


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Dr. Kwabena Boahen - Neuromorphic Computing

Thursday, June 22, 2017 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

An electronic current is made up of the flow of electrons. As engineers shrink electrical transistors down to nanoscale dimensions, electrons get trapped, making it difficult for digital computers to work as well as they should. In contrast, our brains have nano-sized channels through which tiny charged particles pass freely when they are opened. Dr. Boahen’s team creates computer technology that mimics the way our brains are wired.

Dr. Kwabena Boahen, Professor, Bioengineering and Electrical Engineering, Stanford University

Dr. Matthew P. Scott - Designer Genes: Ancient Switches that Shape our Bodies, Brains, and Health

Thursday, October 16, 2014 - 6:45pm to 7:45pm

Why do we look like our parents? We inherit particular versions of genes that shape our growth. For a long time these genes were unknown and it was suspected that each class of animals would have distinct “designer genes.” Explosive progress has identified hundreds of genes that work together to shape animal growth, sculpting their tissues and organs, even the instincts embedded in brains. Surprisingly, scientists have found that many designer genes have been highly conserved during evolution. Some genes play similar roles, like controlling heart or eye development, in diverse animals. Different animals use related genes for related purposes because their common ancestors did. Damage to the designer genes can lead to birth defects, cancer, and neurodegeneration, so exploring how body-shaping genes function leads to new types of medical diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Michael Walter - Deep Earth Through a Diamond Looking Glass

Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, University of Bristol
Wednesday, May 9, 2018 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

Looking upward, the vastness of the heavens is accessible through giant telescopes that collect light from the beginning of time. Turn a telescope downward and the opaqueness of our planet conceals the secrets of its origin and evolution. Diamonds, those translucent rarities, illuminate the depths of our planet and reveal connections between the deep Earth and the surface of our planet through both time and space.

Dr. Michael Walter: Director, Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Science 


Dr. Nadrian C. Seeman - DNA: Not Merely the Secret of Life

Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm


Everyone learns in school that DNA is the genetic coding material  found in all organisms. However, the information storage capacity that enables DNA to function in the world of biology can also be exploited to control the creation of 3D molecular structures. Dr. Seeman will talk about how DNA can be programmed readily to make objects, crystals, and even nanomechanical devices!

Dr. Nadrian C. Seeman, Margaret and Herman Sokol Professor of Chemistry, New York University

Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science

Dr. Neil Shubin - Finding Your Inner Fish

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 6:45pm to 8:00pm

What do fish fossils tell us about the human body? Ancient fossils, like the Tiktaalik roseae that Dr. Shubin discovered, illustrate the transitional form between fish and land animals.  They teach scientists about how our limbs came into being, among other things. But how can scientists predict where to find such transitional fossils? Dr. Shubin will take us from the anatomy laboratory to the Canadian Arctic in search of answers. 

Dr. Neil Shubin, Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, The University of Chicago

Dr. Pamela Conrad - A Tale of Two (Cities) Planets: What Earth and Mars are teaching us about the evolution of habitable worlds

Thursday, January 21, 2016 - 6:45pm to 8:00pm

The Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars for more than three years, measuring the past and present habitability potential of our nearest planetary neighbor. We’ve also been busy on Earth, exploring the harshest environments we could find on this planet, not only to help us understand what makes them habitable, but also how to measure it. Dr. Conrad will tell us about what we’ve learned on and from both planets about the evolution and decline of habitable environments.

Dr. Pamela Conrad, Planetary Environments Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Dr. Pierre Cox - ALMA: In Search of Our Cosmic Origins

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

Since releasing its first images of space 5 years ago, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has produced many exciting and fundamental results, enabling transformational science in a wide range of astronomy and planetary science subjects, from the Solar System to the early universe. Dr. Cox will present a selection of the most-remarkable ALMA scientific discoveries, compare the array’s original fundamental science with its current results, and outline the future evolution of ALMA. 

Dr. Pierre Cox, Director, ALMA

The Capital Science Evenings are made possible in part by the generous support of Margaret and Will Hearst.

Dr. Rainer Weiss - Probing the Universe with Gravitational Waves - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, MIT
Tuesday, June 12, 2018 - 6:30pm to 8:00pm

The direct measurement of gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago has opened a new field of science – gravitational wave astrophysics and astronomy. The recent discoveries and the prospects for the new field will be presented.

Dr. Rainer Weiss: Nobel Laureate in Physics & Kavli Prize Laureate in Astrophysics; Emeritus Professor of Physics, MIT, on behalf of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration


Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and LettersThe Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.



Dr. Sean Carroll - The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Nature Works & Why It Matters

Thursday, September 29, 2016 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Everything in nature is regulated—from the number of vital molecules found in our bloodstreams to the number of lions living on an African savanna. Over the past 50 years, two revolutions have occurred in the study of biology that help scientists understand how life is regulated on both of these scales. Dr. Carroll will discuss the discovery of the so-called "Serengeti Rules," which govern the number and kinds of animals and plants that are found in any given place, and talk about how these rules can be applied to restoring ecological health.

Dr. Sean B. Carroll, Professor, Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Wisconsin; Vice President for Science Education, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Dr. Sean Solomon - First Rock from the Sun: Exploring Mercury by Spacecraft

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - 6:45pm to 8:00pm

The MESSENGER spacecraft, the first to orbit the planet Mercury, overcame many technical challenges to survive the harsh environment of the inner solar system. Along the way, the mission's discoveries about one of our nearest planetary neighbors have changed our understanding of how the inner planets – including Earth – formed and evolved.

Dr. Sean C. SolomonDirector, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Associate Director for Earth Systems Science, Earth Institute
William B. Ransford Professor of Earth and Planetary Science, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University


Drs. Giada Arney and Shawn Domagal-Goldman - Pale Rainbow Dots: The Search for Other Earths

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

What does it mean to be a habitable planet? How can we find life if it’s truly “alien” and different from life on Earth? And what techniques can we use to search for life on worlds orbiting distant stars? Drs. Arney and Domagal-Goldman will discuss the science behind these questions and the future telescopes that may provide the answers.

Drs. Giada Arney and Shawn Domagal-Goldman, Astrobiologists, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center


The Capital Science Evenings are made possible with support from Margaret & Will Hearst and Whole Earth Films.


Drs. Peter and Rosemary Grant - 40 years of Evolution of Darwin’s Finches

Tuesday, January 16, 2018 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Charles Darwin said evolution was too slow to be observed, but modern studies have corrected this assertion. The Grants will discuss their decades of work studying Darwin’s finches on the Galápagos Island of Daphne Major, as chronicled in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time. Their research showed that Darwin’s finches evolve repeatedly when the environment changes. They have even observed the initial stages of new species formation!

Drs. Peter and Rosemary Grant, Professors emeriti, Princeton University


The Capital Science Evenings are made possible with support from Margaret & Will Hearst and Whole Earth Films.

Exoplanets and the Search for Habitable Worlds

Tuesday, March 30, 2021 - 5:00pm to 6:00pm

Thousands of exoplanets are known to orbit nearby stars and small rocky planets are common. Now, observations of exoplanet atmospheres looking for water vapor or gases that might signify the existence of life put the ambitious goal of identifying a habitable or inhabited exoplanet within reach. The field has accelerated with the realization that upcoming telescopes—including the James Webb Space Telescope, large ground-based telescopes now under construction (such as the Giant Magellan Telescope at Carnegie's Las Campanas Observatory), and potential future space-based observatories—offer distinct opportunities for observing the atmospheres of small exoplanets. Dr. Seager will discuss what it will take to identify or infer using the telescopes available to us that a planet is habitable or inhabited.

Dr. Sara Seager: Class of 1941 Professor of Planetary Science, Professor of Physics, and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, MIT

Fluorescence microscopy: the resolution revolution - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Tuesday, June 8, 2021 - 2:00pm to 3:00pm

Professor Hell received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2014 "for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy," and the Kavli Prize in nanoscience that same year for his "transformative contributions to the field of nano-optics that have broken long-held beliefs about the limitations of the resolution limits of optical microscopy and imaging.”

The discussion will be moderated by Emmy Award-winning journalist Frank Sesno, the Director of Strategic Initiatives at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

Dr. Stefan Hell: Director, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research & Head, Department of Optical Nanoscopy; 2014 Kavli Prize Laureate in Nanoscience; 2014 Nobel Prize Laureate in Chemistry. 

The Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

This event is co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. 

In Search of Memory: Documentary by Petra Seeger, Question and Answer Session

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 - 8:00pm

A documentary film about Eric Kandel by Petra Seeger FilmForm Köln, 2008

Join us for a screening of producer/director Petra Seeger’s documentary film about the life and accomplishments of neuroscientist Eric Kandel, who won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his research on how our brains create memories. Dr. Kandel and Ms. Seeger will engage in a Q&A session after the screening.

Co-hosted by the Embassy of Austria, Office of Science and Technology, and the Austrian Cultural Forum Washington

Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture - Dr. Marcus Raichle - The Restless Brain

Tuesday, December 8, 2015 - 6:45pm to 8:00pm


Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture - The Restless Brain 

Traditionally studies of brain function have focused on task-evoked responses.  By their very nature such experiments tacitly encourage a reflexive view of brain function.  While such an approach has been remarkably productive at all levels of neuroscience, it ignores the alternative possibility that brain functions are mainly intrinsic involving information processing for interpreting, responding to and predicting environmental demands.  Dr. Raichle will argue that the latter view best captures the essence of brain function.  Understanding the nature of this intrinsic activity will require integrating knowledge from all levels of neuroscience.  The reward for doing so will be a much better understanding of human behavior in health and disease.

Dr. Marcus Raichle, Washington University in Saint Louis, School of Medicine

Meltwater On, In, and Under the Greenland Ice Sheet

Wednesday, February 26, 2020 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Each summer, a volume of water equivalent to 10 Chesapeake Bays melts off of the Greenland Ice Sheet. Much of this meltwater reaches the ocean, but its path is neither direct nor simple. On its way, the meltwater interacts with the glacier itself in ways that can affect ice flow and further sea-level rise. Dr. Poinar uses numeric models and remotesensing observations to understand the water-ice interactions that affect the glacier’s long-term behavior. She will discuss her analyses of water systems—including large meltwater lakes and rivers that form on top of the ice, aquifers within the ice, deep crevasses that move water from these systems through the glacier to its base, and the water flow networks that develop under the glacier—which change the flow speed and patterns of the ice on its slow, or sometimes not-so-slow, journey to the ocean. Ultimately, Dr. Poinar wants to discover: how much is the Greenland Ice Sheet likely to raise sea levels and how fast will it happen?

Dr. Kristin Poinar: Assistant Professor, Department of Geology and RENEW Institute, University at Buffalo, New York



Our Origins in Space - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Wednesday, October 28, 2020 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm

One of the most exciting developments in astronomy is the discovery of thousands of planets around stars other than our Sun. But how do these exoplanets form, and why are they so different from those in our own Solar System? Thanks to powerful new telescopes built in large international collaborations, astronomers are now starting to address these age-old questions scientifically.  With the new Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), we can zoom in on the dusty clouds between the stars where new stars and planets are born to find water and a surprisingly rich variety of organic materials. In conversation with Emmy Award-winning journalist Frank Sesno, the Director of Strategic Initiatives at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, 2018 Kavli Prize Laureate in Astrophysics Dr. Ewine van Dishoeck will discuss whether these pre-biotic molecules end up on new planets and thus form the building blocks for life elsewhere in the universe.

Dr. Ewine F. van Dishoeck: Professor of Molecular Astrophysics, Leiden Observatory, Leiden University; 2018 Kavli Prize Laureate in Astrophysics

The Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

This event is co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. 

Personal Perspective on Turning Moonshots into Earthshots

Tuesday, March 5, 2019 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Entrepreneur and inventor Dr. Rothblatt cofounded Sirius Satellite Radio and then pivoted to establish biotech company United Therapeutics in an effort to save her daughter’s life from pulmonary arterial hypertension. The company now has five drugs on the market—which have drastically improved survival outcomes for the disease—and it is currently innovating to reduce the number of patients who die waiting for a lung or kidney transplant. Her guiding philosophy is finding ways to “turn a Moonshot into an Earthshot,” in this case how to tackle the goal of an unlimited organ supply by developing procedures to increase the number of donated organs that are in good enough condition to be used for a transplant.

Dr. Martine Rothblatt: Chairman & CEO, United Therapeutics


Ray Rothrock - The Future of Cybersecurity: Winning the War

Carnegie Science, Carnegie Institution, Carnegie Institution for Science, RedSeal
Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - 6:30pm to 8:30pm

The new reality is that all digitally networked enterprises and organizations will fall under cyberattack and be breached.  RedSeal CEO Ray Rothrock will be speaking about his new book Digital Resilience, which explores the threats we face, how to assess the resiliency of networks, how to identify and address weaknesses, and how to respond to exploits swiftly and effectively.  He will be joined by cybersecurity expert and former U.S. National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism  Richard A. Clarke for a discussion about the future of cybersecurity.

Ray Rothrock: CEO, RedSeal


Image    Pre-order your copy from Politics and Prose for pickup at the event and receive a 20 percent discount! Order here.

Restoring and Protecting Earth’s Wild Beauty

Wednesday, October 17, 2018 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Why create national parks? Although the process of designating new parkland is lengthy and complex, national parks offer ecological, cultural, and economic benefits, while also guaranteeing longterm conservation of fragile ecosystems. Founded by Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and her late husband, Douglas, Tompkins Conservation and its partners have protected approximately 13 million acres of parkland in Chile and Argentina. Mrs. Tompkins will answer the question of why national parks are a worthwhile investment by drawing on her years as the CEO of Patagonia, Inc., in addition to her more than two decades leading initiatives to rewild and restore biodiversity in South America.

Kristine McDivitt Tompkins: Co-founder, Tompkins Conservation; Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy recipient


Serendipities of Acquired Immunity

Tuesday, September 17, 2019 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm


Cancer kills millions of people every year and is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. By stimulating the inherent ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells, Dr. Honjo helped establish an entirely new principle of cancer therapy that is often compared to the revolutionary discovery of penicillin for the treatment of infectious diseases. In 1992, he discovered a protein on immune cells called PD-1 and revealed that it operates as a brake, preventing the immune system from perceiving its own body as a threat— which is called an autoimmune response. But it also holds the body back from fighting cancer as hard as it can. The FDA approved the first PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor, pembrolizumab, to treat melanoma in 2014. Since then, the agency has approved at least four more PD-1 inhibitors for the treatment of nine types of cancer. Last year, Dr. Honjo shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this breakthrough work.

Dr. Tasuku Honjo: Deputy Director-General and Distinguished Professor, Kyoto University Institute for Advanced Study; Professor of Immunology and Genomic Medicine, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine; Chairman of the Board of Directors, Foundation for Biomedical Research and Innovation at Kobe; 2018 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology or Medicine



Shining a Light on Gravitational Waves

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

In August 2017, a team of four Carnegie astronomers provided humankind’s first-ever glimpse of two neutron stars colliding—opening the door to a new era of astronomy. Along with colleagues at UC Santa Cruz, Carnegie’s Anthony Piro, Josh Simon, Maria Drout, and Ben Shappee used the Swope Telescope at our Las Campanas Observatory to discover the light produced by the explosion, pinpointing the origin of a gravitational wave signal less than 11 hours after it was detected by the LIGO Collaboration. They followed the radioactive glow of the debris over the next few weeks, unlocking the secret of how some of the world’s most-valuable elements, such as gold and platinum, are created. Drs. Drout, Piro, and Shappee will walk us through their unforgettable night of discovery and update us on the science that their fast-thinking response has enabled over the past year.

Dr. Maria Drout: Assistant Professor, Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto; Research Associate, Carnegie Observatories, Carnegie Institution for Science
Dr. Anthony Piro: Staff Scientist, Carnegie Observatories, Carnegie Institution for Science
Dr. Ben Shappee: Assistant Professor, University of Hawaii

The conversation will be moderated by Observatories Director Dr. John Mulchaey. 


Slow, Energy-efficient, and Mysterious Life Deep Within Earth’s Crust

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Microbial life does not always depend on access to sunlight. In fact, most microbial cells on Earth are buried
in our continental crusts and hidden beneath our oceans. These life forms have only been discovered within the past few decades. So far, research has revealed that these microbes are diverse as well as distinct from the life that is abundant on the surface, which implies that they may be native to these depths, rather than the “leftovers” of what has trickled down from the top. Many of these subsurface organisms make do with far less energy than was previously thought possible to support life. What can their existence teach us about Earth’s geologic history? Can elucidating their biological processes advance human technologies or help us sequester carbon pollution?

Dr. Karen Lloyd: Associate Professor, University of Tennessee


Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with the Deep Carbon Observatory

The Age of Data: Visualizing the Revolution

Tuesday, April 2, 2019 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

One of our greatest scientific challenges is to effectively understand and make use of the vast amount of data being produced in a variety of fields. Visual data analysis will be among our most-important tools for understanding such large-scale, complex data sets. Visualization facilitates the reasoning process by supporting the human capacity to perceive, understand, and discuss complex data. In this talk, Dr. Johnson will present visual analysis techniques, insights, and examples of how visualization can enable understanding in the fields of biology, astronomy, medicine, and engineering.

He will be joined for a discussion of how data visualization can drive scientific discovery by Carnegie’s Robert Hazen, who uses network analysis to better understand the relationships among minerals on an evolving planet, and Carnegie’s Juna Kollmeier, who is working to incorporate visualization and machine-learning techniques in next-generation sky surveys to answer pressing questions about the evolution of the universe.

Dr. Chris Johnson: Faculty Member, Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, Distinguished Professor, School of Computing, University of Utah

Dr. Robert Hazen: Staff Scientist, Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution for Science

Dr. Juna Kollmeier: Staff Scientist, Carnegie Observatories, Carnegie Institution for Science



Reference to Person: 

The Big Ones: The Natural Disasters That Have Shaped Our Science and Our Culture

Thursday, December 6, 2018 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, and volcanoes—they all stem from the very same forces that give our planet life. It is only when these forces exceed our ability to withstand them that they become disasters. Science and engineering can be used to understand extreme events and to design our cities to be resilient, but we must overcome the psychological drive to normalization that keeps humanity from believing that we could experience anything worse than what we have already survived. As climate change increases the intensity of extreme storms and and urban population growth increases the complexity of our life-sustaining systems, we must examine the history of natural disasters to understand how we can make our society more resilient.

Dr. Lucy Jones: Founder and Chief Scientist, Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society


The Day We Found the Universe

Thursday, December 5, 2019 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

On New Year’s Day in 1925, a young Edwin Hubble released his finding that the Milky Way was not alone but instead accompanied by billions of other galaxies. Six years later, in a series of meetings at Carnegie’s Mount Wilson Observatory in California, Hubble and others convinced Albert Einstein that the universe was also expanding. Bartusiak will reveal the key players, battles of will, and clever insights that led to these discoveries, which were among the most-startling in scientific history. Dr. Mulchaey will explain how astronomers are using modern telescopes to study distant galaxies and the expansion of the universe in ways Edwin Hubble would never have imagined possible.

Marcia Bartusiak: Author

Dr. John Mulchaey: Director and Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair of the Carnegie Observatories



The Transformative Power of CRISPR-Cas9 - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Thursday, October 10, 2019 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

The discovery that genome engineering could be accomplished by harnessing the bacterial CRISPR-Cas9 immune defense system is one of the most-important scientific breakthroughs of our time. Like a high-precision, programmable pair of molecular scissors, this incredible tool can be used to edit any genetic sequence—deleting, exchanging, and inserting. It has ushered in a new era in which genomic manipulation is no longer a bottleneck to discovery, transforming plant and animal biology, biotechnology, and human therapeutics.

Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier: Founding Scientific and Managing Director, Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens, Berlin; Honorary Professor, Humboldt University, Berlin; 2018 Kavli Prize Laureate in Nanoscience


The conversation will be moderated by George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs Director and Emmy winning journalist Frank Sesno.

Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and LettersThe Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

Photo Credit: Hallbauer Fioretti

Universe or Multiverse? - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Thursday, June 27, 2019 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Cosmological observations show that on the largest scales accessible to our telescopes, the universe is very uniform, and the same laws of physics operate in all the parts of it that we can see. Rather paradoxically, the theory that explains this uniformity also predicts that on extremely large scales, the situation may look totally different. Instead of being a single spherically symmetric balloon, our universe may look like a multiverse—a collection of many different exponentially large balloons with different laws of physics operating in each. In the beginning, this picture looked more like a piece of science fiction than a scientific theory. However, recent developments in inflationary cosmology, particle physics, and string theory provide strong evidence supporting this new cosmological paradigm.

Dr. Andrei Linde: Professor of Physics, Stanford University; Kavli Prize Laureate


The conversation will be moderated by George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs Director and Emmy winning journalist Frank Sesno.

Submit your question in advance and vote on other questions at:

Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.


What Can the Developing Brain Teach Us About Alzheimer’s Disease? - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Wednesday, October 3, 2018 - 6:30pm to 7:45pm

Adult brain connections are precise, but such precision emerges during critical developmental periods when synapses—the delicate contacts between neurons that relay and store information—are either pruned or grow as part of a learning driven process. Understanding the molecules and mechanisms of this synapse pruning may lead to treatments for developmental disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Carla Shatz: Sapp Family Provostial Professor & Professor of Biology and Neurobiology, Stanford University; David Starr Jordan Director, Stanford Bio-X James H. Clark Center; Kavli Prize Laureate

The conversation will be moderated by George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs Director and Emmy winning journalist Frank Sesno. To submit a question for Sesno to ask Shatz, go to and enter the passcode BRAIN. 


Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and LettersThe Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.


Why the World Needs Geospatial Now More than Ever

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm

It is perhaps a huge understatement to say that our human footprint upon planet Earth is creating a host of challenges for all of usas individuals, organizations, broader societies, and species of all kinds.  We're losing biodiversity at a rapid rate. Our destruction of habitat is becoming more closely linked to the appearance of disease pandemics. We're facing the challenges of water and food shortages. Unconstrained development, as projected into the near future, is just not sustainable. The clock is against us on the climate change front. Hence, it is under the rubic of “use-inspired” that many of us undertake science today, believing in its mandate to assist in solving the world’s biggest problems and fostering resilience along the way. At the same time, our digital technologies are enabling us as humans to make huge advancements in science, communication, and connectivity accelerating everything andreshaping our very existence. This talk will focus on the category of geospatial digital technologies as an enabler of scienceproviding continually better frameworks for measurement, visualization, predictive mapping, and interpretationbut also of intelligent planning, systematic decision-making, and collaborative action.

Dr. Dawn Wright: Chief Scientist, Esri; Professor of Geography and Oceanography, College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University

Your Biological Hearing Aid - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Wednesday, June 24, 2020 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm

Hearing is the gateway to verbal communication. It commences with the capture of sound energy by the ear's sensory receptors, called hair cells, which convert that energy into electrical signals that the brain can interpret. Unique among our sensory receptors, the hair cell is not a passive recipient of stimuli, but instead uses an active process to enhance the input it receives—amplifying acoustical stimuli, sharpening frequency selectivity, and broadening the range of audible sounds. In conversation with Emmy Award-winning journalist Frank Sesno, the Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University, 2018 Kavli Prize Laureate in Neuroscience Dr. Jim Hudspeth will discuss the ear's operation and efforts to restore hearing by regenerating hair cells. 

Dr. Jim Hudspeth: Director, F.M. Kirby Center for Sensory Neuroscience, The Rockefeller University; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; 2018 Kavli Prize Laureate in Neuroscience

Co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. The Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

Image courtesy Peter Badge

Your Brain's Cognitive Map - Kavli Prize Laureate Lecture

Wednesday, September 29, 2021 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm

Embedded deep in the brain's temporal lobe, the hippocampus plays a major role in learning and memory. Dr. John O'Keefe’s research was critical to revealing its importance for spatial memory and navigation, the loss of which is prominent in Alzheimer's disease and other disorders. Several decades ago, he discovered that the hippocampus contains cells that selectively signal an animal's spatial location and suggested that these so-called "place cells" might enable the hippocampus to serve as a cognitive map. Dr. O'Keefe describes this as a device for representing the current environment, the animal's location within it, and the locations of desirable objects and threats to be avoided. Later work revealed that the timing of electrical signaling between place cells is vital to the accuracy of the hippocampus' mapping abilities. In conversation with Emmy Award-winning journalist Frank Sesno (photo on the left), the Director of Strategic Initiatives at George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs, Dr. O'Keefe (photo on the right) will discuss his work, which was foundational to the field of cognitive neuroscience and earned him both the Nobel Prize and the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience in 2014.  

Dr. John O'Keefe: Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, Inaugural Director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre

The Kavli Prize is a partnership between The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, The Kavli Foundation (United States), and The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

This event is co-hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science with The Kavli Foundation, the Royal Embassy of Norway, and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters