School of Science and Engineering

The Harrington STEM Lectures

The School of Science and Engineering hosts this 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. The public is cordially invited to these lectures at no charge. 

John Harrington was the founding dean of the SUNY New Paltz School of Science & Engineering. This lecture series honors his years of dedication to science, education and collaboration across the STEM disciplines.

For further information, please email or call 845-257-3784.

All lectures take place in Science Hall, Room 181, at 5 p.m. A casual reception with light refreshments will begin at 4:30 p.m. To view the lecture via Webex, click on the lecture title below. 


February 28, 2023

Speaker will be virtual
Dr. Michael Levin
Distinguished Prof., Biology and Biomedical Engineering
Tufts University

What Do Bodies Think About? Bioelectricity and Basal Cognition During Morphogenesis

How do cells build a complex body during embryogenesis? How do some organisms such as salamanders and planaria re-build damaged organs throughout their lifespan? These questions are not only critical for the future of regenerative medicine but are closely tied to the most profound question of all: how does a complex mind emerge from the physics of cellular processes during the brief process of development? In this talk, I will discuss the notion of basal cognition - the scaling of decision-making, memory, and goal-directedness from cells to whole organisms. I will discuss our work on bioelectric networks (among all cells, not just neurons) as the cognitive glue that binds cells toward common purpose in creating and repairing complex anatomies. I will show how the genomically-specified hardware of cells gives rise to a remarkable, reprogrammable software that controls growth and form, and how this software can be exploited for repair of birth defects, regeneration of damaged organs, cancer suppression, and even the construction of new synthetic life forms.


March 7, 2023

Dr. Vincent Martinez
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Mathematics and Statistics
CUNY Hunter College

The Mystery of Turbulence: A Mathematician’s Perspective

Turbulence occurs everywhere, from the mundane to the spectacular, in smoke emanating from a pipe or the wake of a fastball, to the gas ejected from black holes that helps to form galaxies around us. Despite its ubiquity and the fact that the equations of motion that describe how a fluid flows were written down more than 200 years ago, turbulence remains one of the great unsolved problems of physics. This talk will present a short account of the study of turbulence and the fundamental issues we are confronted with from a mathematician’s point of view.


April 4, 2023 

Dr. Simon Wing
Johns Hopkins University

Using Information Theory to Uncover Space Wonders from the Sun to Saturn and Beyond

A grand tour of space wonders from the Sun to Saturn is presented, including sunspots, aurora, space storms, space weather, and strange radio waves emitted by planets.  Most of these phenomena are manifestations of complex nonlinear physical systems.  These systems can be characterized as input-output or causal-effect problems in which multiple input variables can be linearly and nonlinearly causally related to multiple output variables.  Isolating the effect of an individual input variable or driver can be challenging.  Likewise, identifying the response to a particular input variable can be nontrivial in such system.  Information theory can help untangle the drivers, describe the underlying dynamics and response, and offer constraints to modelers and theorists, leading to better understanding of the system.  To illustrate the methodology, a few examples from space are presented: (1) identifying causalities in the solar dynamo problem; (2) untangling the drivers of the solar wind–radiation belt system; and (3) identifying the source of the periodic radio wave emissions at Saturn.  Implications to other stellar systems and exoplanets are discussed.