The School of Science and Engineering sponsors a series of lectures on major topics of current scientific interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). These lectures, each designed for a general scientific audience, are given by recognized scholars from around the country who will also be available to meet faculty and students on the days of their visits. The public is cordially invited to these lectures at no charge. For further information, please call 845-257-3784.

Location: SUNY New Paltz, Coykendall Science Building Auditorium
Time: Selected Tuesdays at 5 p.m., preceded by a reception at 4:30 p.m. in the Coykendall Science Building, Room 110

February 28, 2017 - Hidden Ecosystems Beneath the Antarctic Ice Sheet
John C. Priscu, Professor of Ecology, Montana State University

Abstract: Antarctica is the highest, driest and coldest continent on earth. It holds 90% of our world's ice and 70% of its freshwater. If the ice melts sea level will rise about 60 m (about 200 ft.) and inundate more than five million square miles of land. The early explorers referred to it as a place devoid of life. The idea that the Antarctic ice sheet was lifeless persisted for more than 80 years. Recent research has now shown that huge river basins and some of our planets largest lakes exist beneath more than 2 miles of Antarctic ice. Discoveries over the past few years have now proven that subglacial ecosystems in Antarctica form the largest wetland on our planet. Given the dark and cold conditions presented by this environment, we do not find cattails and red winged blackbirds, common to Montana's wetlands; instead the environment is completely microbial. These organisms mine the energy in rocks to obtain energy to support their existence, while at the same time mobilizing nutrients that fuel life in the coastal regions of Antarctica. Professor Priscu will present the events leading up to these discoveries and how they have transformed the way we view the Antarctic continent.

March 7, 2017 - The Higgs Boson:  What, How, and Why We Care
Matthew Deady, Professor of Physics, Bard College

Abstract: In the summer of 2012, two teams of scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland announced that they had discovered the long-awaited Higgs Boson.  What is this particle?  Why do physicists think is it so important?  How was it predicted?  How was it discovered?  What are the implications to our understanding of matter, energy, and the universe?  These and other questions will be addressed as we investigate the fundamental particles and forces that underlie all physical phenomena, culminating in the Higgs discovery and consideration of what might be beyond.

April 18, 2017 - Beads of Destruction: A Survey of Great Lakes Plastic Pollution
Sherri Mason, Professor of Chemistry, SUNY Fredonia

Abstract: The study of plastic pollution started in the world’s oceans, most famously focused on what has been called the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch.’ Despite a United Nations’ report suggesting that 80% of this oceanic debris came from land and, thus, was likely transported through a freshwater system, very little research with regard to marine debris has focused upon these freshwater systems. Given the size and importance of the Laurentian Great Lakes, they provide a significant representative model for other freshwater ecosystems throughout the world. During the summers of 2012 and 2013, we conducted the first-ever survey for plastic pollution within the open-waters of the Great Lakes. We present here our results from these initial open-water surveys, as well as additional investigations that were engaged upon as a result of these studies.

Past Lectures in the 2016-2017 Lecture Series

Jarra Jagne, Senior Extension Associate, College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University. Sept. 20, 2016. "Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Strains – A Global Threat to Human Health and Livelihoods"

Abstract: Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus, subtype H5N1, was first detected in poultry in November 1996 in southeast China. In 1997, during a poultry outbreak of HPAI H5N1 in Hong Kong, the first human deaths from the virus were recorded. The virus subsequently spread to the rest of the Asian continent, Africa and Europe and in its wake left millions of dead poultry, 850 infected people, 449 human fatalities and billions of dollars in economic damage. In 2015, HPAI subtype H5N2 in the Mid-Western United States caused the death or depopulation of 48 million poultry and cost the Federal government almost a billion dollars to control. This lecture will provide an anatomy of the H5N1 pandemic and the 2015 HPAI H5N2 Mid-Western US epidemic. The zoonotic potential of HPAI viruses and the role of wild birds as natural reservoirs of avian influenza viruses will also be discussed.

Caleb Scharf, Director, Columbia Astrobiology Center. Oct. 25, 2016. "Astrobiology: The Science of Life In The Universe"
- Click on link to view this past lecture

Abstract: For a very long time our species has asked the questions: Are we alone? Where do we come from? And for a very long time we've not had many good answers. This is starting to change. With the exploration of our solar system, the discovery of thousands of exoplanets, and a renewed quest to understand the origins of life, there is real progress. I'll review some of this science, including work on building virtual worlds at Columbia University, and will try to take a peek into the near future of astrobiology.

Debra Willard, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA. Nov. 15, 2016. "Pollen Analysis as a Tool for Forensic Analysis of Trace Evidence" - Click on link to view this past lecture

Abstract: Pollen analysis of sedimentary records traditionally has been used to reconstruct the history of vegetation, temperature, hydrology, and other environmental parameters. These interpretations are possible because the distribution of plant communities is strongly influenced by climate, and the modern distribution of pollen has been mapped over much of North America and other landmasses. The limited geographic range of plant species also makes pollen analysis a valuable tool for forensic analysis of soils and trace evidence collected at crime scenes.  Such evidence can connect suspects and tools used during commission of a crime to victims and crime locations. Although traces of skin, blood and hair can provide definitive links to an assailant, soil, grass and other traces may provide the only clues about the crime scene environment or the movement of a suspect, or even the location of hidden contraband or grave sites. Probabilistic models of the source for forensic soil samples, which integrates data on multiple soil characters that have a limited geographic range, have been developed to narrow down the potential geographic source of a sample. Dr. Willard applied this approach to a case from 2003/2004, in which forensic soil samples from digging tools were examined to narrow the search for a grave site somewhere along the 5000 km traveled by the suspect. In her lecture she will discuss how standard pollen analysis was integrated with other methods to focus the search, as well as its applications to other forensic questions. 


2015-2016 Lectures:

  • Bob Berman, Overlook Observatory, Woodstock, NY. Sept. 22, 2015. "What is the Universe?" 
  • Vern Schramm PhD, Prof and Ruth Merns Chair, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Oct. 20, 2015. "Enzymes: The Chemistry of Life and Target for New Medicines." 
  • Dr. Ross MacPhee, Curator and Professor, Mammalogy/Vertebrate Zoology & Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History. Nov. 17, 2015. "De-extinction: Is It Really Possible to Bring Back Extinct Species Like the Woolly Mammoth, and If So, Should We?"
  • Gail Ashley, Earth & Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University. Feb. 16, 2016. "Springs and Human Evolution." 
  • Christopher Andrews, Department of Computer Science, Middleburg College. April 19, 2016. "Making Sense of it All." 


2014-2015 Lectures:

  • Jacek Wollocko OXYVITA Inc. Sept. 23, 2014. "The Quest to Engineer a Synthetic Blood Substitute from Natural Sources" 
  • David A. Sela Department of Food Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Oct. 21, 2014. "Nursing Our Microbial Selves: Breast Milk's Influence on the Infant Microbiome"
  • Percy Deift Department of Mathematics, Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University. Nov. 18, 2014. "Universality in Numerical Computations. Case Studies"
  • Larry Kepko Space Weather Laboratory NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center. Feb. 17, 2015. "The Aurora Borealis"
  • Eric W. Brown Director, Watson Technologies at IBM TJ Watson Research Lab. March 24, 2015. "Watson: The Jeopardy! Challenge and Beyond"
  • David Clark (SUNY New Paltz). April 21, 2015. "Creating Circuits Designs via Biological Evolution"