Harvard Science Book Talks: More Information, AY 2017/18 and 2018/19

Graham Farmelo portrait



GRAHAM FARMELO, "The Universe Speaks in Numbers:How Modern Math Reveals Nature's Deepest Secrets"
in conversation with Jacob Barandes

June 5, 2019    |   Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4]

In The Universe Speaks in Numbers (Basic Books, coming out on May 28, 2019), Graham Farmelo, the award-winning author of The Strangest Man and Churchill's Bomb, takes his readers on a journey from the Scientific Revolution to string theory, highlighting the role of mathematics in guiding the search for the most fundamental laws of nature. He will be joined by Harvard's own Jacob Barandes in conversation about this new book which explores how the harmonies between physics and mathematics enrich and deepen our understanding of the universe.

Dr. Farmelo if a Fellow of Churchill College, University of Cambridge, and Director's Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, in summer 2019.
Dr. Barandes is the Co-Director of Physics Graduate Studies, Director of Graduate Studies for FAS Science, and Lecturer on Physics at Harvard University.

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Venki Ramakrishnan portrait

VENKI RAMAKRISHNAN, "The Quest for the Structure of the Biological Machine that Reads Our Genes"

May 8, 2019    |    Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4]

Everyone has heard of DNA. But by itself, DNA is just an inert blueprint for life. It is the ribosome— an ancient and enormous molecular machine made up of half a million atoms —that makes DNA come to life by turning our genetic code into proteins and therefore into us. Gene Machine, Venki Ramakrishnan's book which came out at the end of 2018, is a frank insider account of the race for the structure of the ribosome, a fundamental discovery in molecular biology, but one that could also lead to the development of better antibiotics against bacterial infections. But the book is also about the human messiness of science: the twists and turns of Dr. Ramakrishnan's career, initially being an outsider who gave up on physics to become a biologist, and then being the dark horse in a fierce competition with some of the world’s most accomplished scientists. Gene Machine is also a frank and gossipy account of how science is done, with its mixture of insights and persistence as well as blunders and dead ends. It also talks about how scientists behave when the stakes are high, with a mixture of competition and collaboration, their egos, insecurities and jealousies, but also their kindness and generosity.

Dr. Ramakrishnan is a co-recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for uncovering the structure of the ribosome. He is a senior scientist at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, and the president of the Royal Society (UK).

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Felice Frankel portrait

FELICE FRANKEL, "Picturing Science and Engineering"

March 27, 2019    |    Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4]

Graphics, images and figures — visual representations of scientific data and concepts — are critical components of science and engineering research. They communicate in ways that words cannot. They can clarify or strengthen an argument and spur interest into the research process. But it is important to remember that a visual representation of a scientific concept documentation is a re-presentation and not the thing itself –– some interpretation or translation is always involved. Just as writing a journal article, one must carefully plan what to "say," and in what order to "say it." The process of making a visual representation requires you to clarify your thinking and improve your ability to communicate with others.

In this talk about her book, Picturing Science and Engineering, Felice Frankel will show her own approaches to creating depictions of research and science phenomena—the successes and failures. Included will be a discussion about how far can we go when “enhancing” science images.

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David Reich portrait

DAVID REICH, "A Tale of Two Subcontinents: The Parallel Prehistories of Europe and South Asia"

February 27, 2019    |    Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4] | [MP4 side-by-side]       

The new technology of ancient DNA has highlighted a remarkable parallel in the prehistory of Europe and South Asia. In both cases, the arrival of agriculture from southwest Asia after 9,000 years ago catalyzed profound population mixtures of groups related to Southwest Asian farmers and local hunter-gatherers. In both cases, the spread of ancestry ultimately deriving from Steppe pastoralists had a further major impact after 5,000 years ago and almost certainly brought Indo-European languages. Mixtures of these three source populations form the primary gradients of ancestry in both regions today.

In this lecture, Prof. Reich will discuss his new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past.

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Richard Wrangham portrait

RICHARD WRANGHAM, "Capital Punishment and the Origin of Homo Sapiens"

January 30, 2019    |    Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4]

In comparison to other primates, in face-to-face interactions humans are very peaceful. Biological parallels between humans and domesticated animals indicate that our social tolerance emerged through a process of self-domestication beginning around 300,000 years ago. Capital punishment appears responsible. This socially approved form of deliberate killing led to genetic selection against reactive aggression, promoted the unique form of human morality, and was the prime influence on the evolution of Homo sapiens from more aggressive, earlier forms of our genus.

In this lecture, Prof. Richard Wrangham, the acclaimed author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human and Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence, will discuss his new book, The Goodness Paradox: The Strange Relationship Between Virtue and Violence in Human Evolution.

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Adam Becker portrait

ADAM BECKER, "The Trouble with Quantum Physics, and Why It Matters"

November 15, 2018    |    Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4]       

Quantum physics is arguably the most successful scientific theory ever devised. It explains a wide variety of natural phenomena to an extraordinary degree of accuracy—everything from semiconductors to the Sun itself. Yet it’s unclear what this immensely fruitful theory says about reality. Is it really impossible to talk about what’s happening to atoms and subatomic particles when we’re not looking at them? For many years, the standard answer to questions like this was to "shut up and calculate." A historical myth went along with this answer that said Einstein had once worried about these questions, but was proven wrong by the great Danish physicist Niels Bohr. Yet the myth is untrue, and these thorny quantum paradoxes are far more important than most physicists once believed. In this talk, which is based on his book, Dr. Becker explains the puzzles at the heart of quantum physics, why they matter, and what really went down between Einstein and Bohr 90 years ago.

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Marcia Bartusiak portrait

MARCIA BARTUSIAK, "Dispatches from Planet 3: Thirty-Two (Brief) Tales on the Solar System, the Milky Way, and Beyond"

October 17, 2018    |    Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4]

Multiple award‑winning science writer Marcia Bartusiak will talk about her new books, which explores the galaxy, the multiverse, and the history of astronomy in an engaging compilation of cosmological “tales”. In its thirty‑two concise and engrossing essays, the book provides a deeper understanding of the nature of the universe and those who strive to uncover its mysteries. Bartusiak shares the back stories for many momentous astronomical discoveries, including the contributions of such pioneers as Beatrice Tinsley and her groundbreaking research in galactic evolution, and Jocelyn Bell Burnell, the scientist who first discovered radio pulsars.

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Stephanie Mohr portrait

STEPHANIE MOHR, "The Fruit Fly as Human Disease Research Tool"

April 18, 2018    |    Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4]

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has been used in biological research studies for more than 100 years. We have a deep understanding of how fruit fly genes function to control growth, behavior, and many other processes. You might ask, so what? Stephanie Mohr explains how commonalities between genes in fruit flies and humans can be put to use in disease-related studies. Drawing on examples from her book, First in Fly, as well as work from her research group, Mohr describes the contribution the fruit fly has made — and can make in the future — to the goal of understanding human health and developing treatments for diseases such as cancer, rare genetic disorders, and Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.

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Marcus du Sautoy portrait

MARCUS DU SAUTOY, "The Great Unknown"

February 21, 2018    |    Video: [HTML5 Video] | [MP4]

Ever since the dawn of civilization we have been driven by a desire to know - to understand the physical world and probe the laws of nature. But are there limits to human knowledge? Are some things beyond the predictive powers of science - or are these just the next discoveries waiting to happen? From predicting the future to human consciousness, from the realm of the quantum to the edge of the universe, du Sautoy takes the audience on a journey into the great unknown.

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