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School of Science and Engineering

The Harrington STEM Lectures

Location:  Coykendall Science Building (CSB)
Reception: 4:30 p.m. CSB Lobby (campus map
Lecture: 5:00 p.m. CSB Auditorium

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 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.  

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, including sponsorship opportunities, please email lavaller@newpaltz.edu or call 845-257-3784.

November 13, 2018
Dr. Peter Saulson
Professor of Physics, Syracuse University

Listening to the Universe with Gravitational Waves

Abstract: On September 14, 2015, a gravitational wave signal was received by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). It was generated by the collision of two black holes, each around 30 times as massive as the sun, about 1.3 billion light years away. The signal, the first ever reception of gravitational waves, tells the story of the last two tenths of a second of the lives of those two black holes, and the first few milliseconds of the life of the 60 solar mass black hole that they formed. Since then, LIGO and its sister project Virgo have heard signals from a number of other collisions; the most spectacular was the reception on August 17, 2017 of the signal of a collision between two neutron stars, similar in “sound” to a black hole collision, but in this case also accompanied by flashes of gamma rays, visible light, radio waves and X-rays. This talk will explain the basics of gravitational waves, how we detect them, and the highlights of what we are beginning to learn about the universe by observing it in this new way.


Dr. Oliver Jagoutz, MIT, Associate Professor of Geology, October 16, 2018 - Low Latitude Arc-Continent Collision as a Driver for Global Cooling
Abstract: Throughout most of Earth’s history, the global climate was much warmer than the climate we are experiencing today and the poles were mostly ice-free. However, the Earth has experienced a few so-called ice-ages where poles were covered in ice, like today. These ice-ages are relatively brief periods and irregularly spaced in time. The global climate is dominantly controlled by pCO2 concentration in the atmosphere/ocean system. Over geologic time, atmospheric pCO2 is regulated by a balance between sources and sinks, including the products of volcanism, metamorphism and silicate weathering, which are fundamentally the results of plate tectonic processes. Attempts to relate particular episodes of Cretaceous to recent climate change to specific tectonic events remain controversial.

Dr. Niklas Manz, The College of Wooster, Asst. Professor of Physics, Tuesday, September 18, 2018 - Patterns Around You: Excitable Systems in the Lab, in Nature, and on Humans
Abstract: Excitation waves are propagating spatiotemporal structures observed in many biological, chemical, and physical systems. They can be described as a reaction-diffusion (RD) wave in which an autocatalytic reaction zone propagates via diffusion without mass transport. More common types of RD waves are the propagation of an action potential in a nerve, the spread of electrical depolarization waves on the heart surface, the (human spectator) stadium wave, or a forest fire. All RD systems can be described with one set of coupled, nonlinear differential equations and experimentally investigated with, for example, a chemical tabletop model system, the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction.

Dr. Kathleen Weathers, Carey Institute, Ecosystem Ecologist, Tuesday, May 1, 2018 - "A Passion for Lakes and Ecological Puzzles: How Cyanobacteria, Cyberinfrastructure, Citizens and Scientists are Advancing Freshwater Science"
Abstract: Dr. Kathleen C. Weathers received her master’s degree from Yale University and Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Her research is focused on understanding how biology influences geochemical cycles: how lake cyanobacteria affect nutrient cycles, trees influence nitrogen cycling, or how fog and ecosystems interact at the spatial scale of landscapes and in the face of global environmental change. Dr. Weathers also works at the interface of science and citizen science focusing on lakes and watersheds.  She is the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Chair of Ecology and Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Ecological Society of America (ESA), and co-chair of the grassroots Global Lakes Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON). Weathers carries out biogeochemical research in ecosystems around the world focusing on carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and other elemental cycling.

Dr. Philip Hopke, Clarkson University, Director, Center for Air Resources Engineering and Science (CARES) and Bayard D. Clarkson Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - "Carbon Monoxide from Wood Pellets: Where it Comes From and How to Make it Go Away"

Abstract: Wood stoves are an important heating option in the Northeast, and wood pellets are a popular choice for fuel.   Although this combination produces far less pollution than the traditional wood burning stove, it is twice as polluting as an oil furnace, and no match for a natural gas furnace.   Researchers are working on several projects to create and test wood pellet burners that run more efficiently and produce less pollution.  Professor Hopke, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Environment at Clarkson University, is one of these researchers, and has been actively studying solid fuel combustion systems with an emphasis on emissions and efficiency.  In this talk, he will explain the nature of the problem, and what the future prospects are.

Dr. Sankar Varanasi, Vassar Brothers Medical Center, Director, Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Service, Tuesday, February 13, 2018 - "Think Outside the Pillbox"
Abstract: Dr. Sankar Varanasi is Director of Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology at Vassar Brothers Medical Center.  Dr. Varanasi will talk about new procedures in the field of cardiology to reduce risk of stroke and the need for long-term use of drugs that can have harmful side effects. An undergraduate at New Science College, India, Dr. Varanasi graduated with honors in biology, biochemistry and biostatistics. He obtained his MBBS (equivalent to an MD degree) at Osmania Medical College in India then followed these studies with a fellowship in adult cardiovascular medicine at Yale University/Norwalk Hospital. He was the first physician in the mid-Hudson Valley region to insert the state-of-the-art wireless S-ICD System™ defibrillator implant under a patient’s skin to monitor heart activity and deliver life-saving therapy if needed. He has authored and coauthored several papers on electrophysiology and has participated in multicenter studies, some sponsored by National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Kim Blair, Founder, Science Technology and Engineering @ MIT (STE@M), Tuesday, November 7 - "Smart Devices in Sport"
Abstract: Advances in sensor technology, data analysis algorithms, and wireless communication have resulted in everything around us becoming “smart.” Sports equipment is no exception. Over the past couple of decades, there have been a plethora of products coming to market that provide information and feedback to a user. These products include sports equipment, wearable devices, and smart environments. In this presentation, we will take a look back at the past 20 years of developments in this field, the reasons for the current growth in the number of smart sports products coming to the market place, and a look into the current challenges in launching successful products or businesses based around smart devices.

Susan Cardillo '94, Animal Curator, Central Park Zoo, Thursday, November 2, 2017 - Special Lecture Honoring The Legacy of Heinz K. Meng 
Former student of Dr. Heinz Meng, Susan discusses "Life at the Zoo- How Modern Zoos Play a Role in the Preservation of Species Through Education, Research and Inspiring the Next Generation of Conservationists." This video recording also shows the dedication of a plaque in honor of Dr. Meng and a short video titled "The Legacy of Heinz Meng" by New Paltz alumni Paul Spaulding '17 and Abby Shaffer '17.

Dr. Kamini Singha, Professor, Department of Geology and Geological Engineering and Associate Director of the Hydrologic Science and Engineering Program, Colorado School of Mines, Thursday, October 5, 2017 - "The Critical Role of Trees in the Flux of Water Through the Earth’s Permeable Skin"
Abstract: Earth’s “critical zone” — the zone of the planet from treetops to base of groundwater — is critical because it is a sensitive region, open to impacts from human activities, while providing water necessary for human consumption and food production. Quantifying water movement in the subsurface is critical to predicting how water-driven critical zone processes respond to changes in climate and human perturbation of the natural system. While shallow soils and aboveground parts of the critical zone can be easy to instrument and explore, the deeper parts of the critical zone — through the soils and into rock — are harder to access, leaving many open questions about the role of water in this environment.

Dr. David Ferguson, Distinguished Service Professor of Technology and Society and Applied Mathematics and Statistics, Stony Brook University, September 19, 2017 - "Quantitative Modeling for All"
Abstract: One of the more powerful ways to understand some aspect of the "real world" is to build models of some part of that reality.  Such models--ranging from readability formulas to approaches to understanding climate change--can be amazing tools for understanding and predicting phenomena.  In this presentation, we will use a variety of examples--drawn from everyday life, risk assessment, estimation of the sizes of populations, medical tests, and old and new decision problems.  Participants, regardless of their academic backgrounds, will actively engage in efforts to solve an array of problems.  Consequently, participants will better understand the power and limitations of certain approaches to modeling. Participants should come to work and have fun!

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

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

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

Debra Willard, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA. Nov. 15, 2016 - "Pollen Analysis as a Tool for Forensic Analysis of Trace Evidence"
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.

Caleb Scharf, Director, Columbia Astrobiology Center. Oct. 25, 2016 - "Astrobiology: The Science of Life In The Universe"
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.

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