The Harrington STEM Lectures 2015 - 2016

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 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 call 845-257-3990 or follow the links below.

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

2015-2016 Lectures:

  • Bob Berman, Overlook Observatory, Woodstock, NY. Sept. 22, 2015. "What is the Universe?"

Abstract: Quantum revelations and cosmological discoveries since 1998 have led us 
to completely new understandings of the cosmos that have curiously still 
not reached general awareness. This lecture explores the strange nature 
of "empty space," the non-reality of time, the curious 
inter-relationship between the observer and nature, and what it really 
means if the universe is infinite, as a major 2012 study implied when it 
uncovered a perfectly flat topology to the cosmos. We'll see how this 
demotes the Big Bang to a local event in the 'hood, and why, in fact, 
the universe is fundamentally size less. We'll also explore various 
amazing motions in the heavens as well as here on Earth.


  • 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."

Abstract: Life in humans depends on coordinating thousands of biological chemistry 
reactions inside of cells each too small to see with the eye. Sugars and 
fats are converted to energy and proteins are converted to new human 
cells. These reactions depend on the enzymes made from proteins found in 
all cells. Enzymes make reactions occur trillions of times faster in 
human cells than in test tubes. The secret of this incredible power of 
enzymes comes from fast protein motions that occur to enclose the 
biological chemicals and even faster motions to make chemical changes 
occur. Chemical bond changes occur at the transition state, an elusive 
process that defines enzymatic function.

The advent of the fast computing now permits us to understand the transition state
and the protein motions that contribute to the incredible efficiency of enzymes. 
What good is all of this knowledge to understand transition states? Many 
human diseases, including cancer, infections, and metabolic diseases 
have enzymes at their core. Knowledge of enzyme transition states 
provides chemistry blueprints for the design of new medicines. Some of 
the new medicines designed from transition state knowledge are among the 
most powerful drugs known. Some of these transition state analog drugs 
are now being developed for the treatment of diseases.


  • 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?"

Abstract: It used to be thought that once a species dies out, that's the end of 
the road. Gone for good, no hope of return. Scientists are aiming to 
change all that by testing cutting-edge genomic engineering techniques 
to literally "de-extinct" species that are no longer with us, using 
genomic information recovered from preserved specimens and fossils. At 
present de-extinction is theory, not reality, but that may soon change: 
lost species of mammals and birds may be back on the scene by the end of 
the present decade. That may be fascinating to contemplate, but what are 
the implications of this new technology, both scientifically and 
ethically? Just because something can be created that looks like a 
woolly mammoth, would it really be that or simply an elegant mimic? And 
what are the long-term objectives of these de-extinction programs? To 
create strange new lifeforms just because we can, for objective 
scientific purposes, or merely for their entertainment value? Or are the 
objectives loftier, to re-establish free-living natural populations or 
perhaps even re-invent whole ecosystems that have been destroyed by 
human activities? And, most critically, is there any conservation value 
to de-extinction, or would bringing back the dead make keeping what we 
still have even harder to accomplish? 
Join the American Museum of Natural History's Dr. Ross MacPhee to hear 
the latest on de-extinction efforts and their relevancy for the future 
of the world's biota.


  • Gail Ashley, Earth & Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University. Feb. 16, 2016. "Springs and Human Evolution." 

Abstract: Human origins research over the last few decades has shown how humans 
evolved in Africa and then migrated in waves to other parts of the world 
starting as early as 2 Ma. It was a time period of cooling, drying and 
climate variability. One of the major unknowns connected with natural 
selection, hominin speciation and evolution is the availability of 
resources, particularly water. Recent studies show, for the first time, 
how groundwater would have provided 'drought proof' water supply and 
habitats for hundreds to thousands of years during dry periods in the 
East African Rift System during this critical period of human evolution. 
Freshwater wetlands provided a source of food and safety in an otherwise 
harsh setting. Such refugia would have led to intense competition 
and selective pressure from an evolutionary perspective, but also 
provided sites to aid dispersal of hominins across, and out of, Africa.


  • John C. Priscu, Department of Land Resources & Environmental Science, Montana State University. Canceled. Rescheduled to 2016-17. 

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.


  • Christopher Andrews, Department of Computer Science, Middleburg College. April 19, 2016. "Making Sense of it All." 

Abstract: We are awash with data. How do we sift through the torrent to find the 
answers to questions like 'what car should I buy?', 'why did British 
forces try to take that hill?', 'is someone laundering money through my 
bank?', 'is Acme Solar a good investment?', 'what is the meaning of the 
increased communication between known terrorist groups?', and 'just what 
is going on here?' Automated techniques ranging from simple search to 
data mining and machine learning can help us crunch numbers, find data, 
and identify outliers and some patterns, but they can't understand what 
they find. Humans, on the other hand, are good at abstraction, making 
connections, understanding human motivations, and telling stories. 
Visual analytics is an approach to tool building that attempts to 
leverage the strengths of both humans and machines, using interactive 
visualization as the communication medium between them. We will look at 
some of the foundations of visual analytics, my research into the use of 
large, high-resolution displays as an analytic platform, and some 
examples of analytic tools.



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" 

2013-2014 Lectures:

  • Dr. Charles Van Loan, Professor, Department of Computer Science, Cornell University
    Sept. 19, 2013
    "If Copernicus and Kepler had Computers: An Introduction to Model-building and Computational Science" NOTE CHANGE in location: LC 102 at 5:00pm, reception outside LC102 at 4:30pm
  • Dr. Alain C. Diebold, Empire Innovation Professor of Nanoscale Science. University at Albany, College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering 
    Oct. 17, 2013 
    "The impact of Nanoscale Dimensions on Optical Properties"
  • Dr. Charles A. Ver Straeten, Sedimentary Geologist, & Curator of Sedimentary Geology, NY State Museum/Geological Survey
    Nov. 21, 2013
    "Explosive Volcanism in Eastern North America: What the Rocks Tell Us"
  • Dr. Marcus Weck, Molecular Design Institute and Department of Chemistry, New York University
    Feb. 20, 2014
    "Learning from Nature: Functionalizing Synthetic Polymers for Tomorrows Applications"
  • Dr. Matthew Gould, Professor Emeritus, Department of Mathematics, Vanderbilt University
    March 13, 2014
    "The Life of Pi"
  • Dr. Melissa K. Fierke, Assistant Professor, Forest Entomology Department of Environmental & Forest Biology SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
    April 17, 2014
    "Girdling, Peeling and Rearing to Know: Insights Into NY Forest Invaders"

2012-2013 lectures:

2011-2012 lectures:

2010-2011 lectures:

2009-2010 lectures:

  • Lois Pollack, Cornell University
    Sept. 24, 2009
    "Using Physics to Learn about Biology"
  • Ann McDermot, Columbia University
    Oct. 19, 2009
    "The Secret Lives of Molecules: Probing the Motions of Enzymes"
  • Yi Li, University of Connecticut
    Feb. 18, 2010
    "Making Beautiful Plants Non-Invasive"
  • Wayne Knox, University of Rochester
    March 25, 2010
    "Optics from 3000 BC to 3000 AD"
  • Robert Titus, Hartwick College
    April 29, 2010
    "A Geological History of the Catskills"

2008-2009 lectures:

2007-2008 lectures:

2006-2007 lectures:

2005-2006 lectures:

2004-2005 lectures:

2003 - 2004 lectures:

  • Dr. Phaedon Avouris, IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center
    Oct. 16, 2003
    "Carbon Nanotube Electronics and Opto-Electronics"
  • Dr. Gene E. Likens, Institute for Ecosystem Studies Studies
    Nov. 20, 2003
    "Acid Rain: An Unfinished Environmental Problem"
  • Dr. David M. Clark, SUNY New Paltz
    Feb. 12, 2004
    "Quantum Theory Challenges Reality: the EPR Experiment"
  • Dr. Yervant Terzian, Cornell University
    March 11, 2004
    "Dark Matter, Dark Energy and the Luminous Universe"
    (Informal Discussion in CSB 110 at 2:00p.m.: "The Nature of Time")
  • Dr. Charles Ver Straeten, New York State Museum
    April 15, 2004
    "Seas, Sand and Mountains: Deep Time in New York 400 Million Years Ago"

2002 - 2003 lectures:

  • James M. Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
    Oct. 17, 2002
    "Science and Clinical Potential of Human Gene Therapy"
  • Dr. Ronald Miller, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
    Nov. 14, 2002
    "Is it hot enough for ya? - the human contribution to global warming"
  • Dr. David DiVincenzo, IBM Watson Research Center
    Feb. 6, 2003
    "Introduction to Quantum Computing"
  • Dr. John Harrington, SUNY New Paltz
    March 6, 2003
    "Blood Substitutes: Can nature show us the way?
  • Dr. Jefferson W. Tester, MIT Laboratory for Energy and Environment
    April 24, 2003
    "Our Energy Policy"

2001 - 2002 lectures:

  • Dr. Neil Cornish, NASA and Montana State University
    Oct. 12, 2001
    "Measuring the Size and Shape of the Universe"
  • Dr. Richard Bopp, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
    Nov. 30, 2001
    "Timing is everything: PCBs & Other Contaminants in the Hudson"
  • Dr. David O. Carpenter, Institute for Health and the Environment, SUNY Albany
    Feb. 13, 2002
    "Cell Phones & Power Lines: What are the health effects of electromagnetic fields?"
  • Dr. Michael Novacek, American Museum of Natural History
    April 3, 2002
    "Dinosaurs and Fossil Mammals of the Flaming Cliffs: The Gobi Expedition"
  • Mr. Brian McConnell, Trekmail, Inc.
    April 29, 2002
    "Communicating with Extraterrestrial Civilizations"