The conference fee is $1,475 and includes all 27 90-minute courses below.
MARK BAILEY, PH.D.
MICHAEL BENTON, PH.D.
JAMES GILLIES, PH.D.
LAWRENCE KRAUSS, PH.D.
MOHAMED NOOR, PH.D.
JOHN STEELE, PH.D.
MICHAEL WYSESSION, PH.D.
Meteors or shooting stars are fragments of dust from comets, burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere. The time of this lecture coincides with a predicted outburst of the annual Draconid meteor shower, caused by dust from comet Giacobini-Zinner. It is expected that activity will increase to a peak over a 2- to 3-hour period beginning around 8pm (ship time), with up to several hundred meteors per hour possibly being seen, depending on local weather conditions. After a brief introduction to meteors and meteor storms, we go up on deck to observe the “dragon’s” fiery flame.
Here are the slides (9mb file).
Humans have a love-hate relationship with comets, intruders occasionally passing through the inner solar system from a distant source. On human timescales a rare bright comet can be the most prominent visible feature of the night sky, and in past millenia much larger, brighter comets were undoubtedly observed. These great comets must have been a formative influence on mankind’s early understanding of the cosmos. We’ll take a look at the oldest theories of the nature of comets and the role that they played in the development of astronomy.
Then we’ll fast forward to modern cometary theory. The introduction of the ‘Oort cloud’ circa 1950 together with Whipple’s icy nucleus model was a watershed in understanding the origin of comets. But scrutiny of the Oort theory revealed problems with it. Learn how wrestling with these issues ultimately led to greater understanding of cometary dynamics and the evolution of the Oort cloud. Blaze a trail with Dr. Bailey through the historic observations, arguments, and theories leading to the realization that comets are indeed largely Oort cloud products, formed with the Sun and planets 4.5 billion years ago.
Broaden your horizons delving into 20 years’ worth of discoveries on comets and their origins — whether in the Edgeworth-Kuiper belt just beyond Neptune, the trans-Neptunian disc, or the Oort cloud. Survey the natural history of comets in the inner solar system, and discover the persistent puzzles and uncertainties in this vibrant, active field of solar-system research.
Comets and cometary debris, as well as ‘rocky’ material from the main asteroid belt, occasionally descend on the Earth with catastrophic effect. At one extreme, such impacts can change the course of evolution of life on our planet, disrupting normal ‘Darwinian’ evolution caused by small adaptations to a slowly changing environment. At another extreme, relatively small impacts may have important implications for the evolution and development of civilization. Find out how the risk of rare, high-consequence events is assessed. That’s the easy part. Next, delve into the big questions. Is the ‘risk’ of cometary impacts one that we — either as individuals or as part of the global village — should take seriously? Is humanity wise enough to control technology that could, at some time in the future, enable a potentially hazardous comet or asteroid to be deflected away from Earth? Or is it better, given all the uncertainties, to accept the risk of living in a cosmic shooting gallery without practical means of defense? While they seem the stuff of science fiction, Dr. Bailey deems these technological and philosophical questions legitimate food for thought, and gives you the tools to consider them.
Many people think the pictures of dinosaurs, and their moving images in museums and media, are largely imaginary. Go behind the scenes with Dr. Benton and dig in to the modern scientific methods used to understand how these amazing animals functioned. Paleobiologists meld three methods: (1) Fossil information; (2) Analogy with modern animals; and, (3) Biomechanical testing. Fossils show us the bones and skeletal structures. But they also show less expected things such as tracks (and so speeds of movement), eggs and nests, gut contents, and excrement. Some experiments include close comparisons with modern animals to judge which behaviors were likely and unlikely. You’ll be able to look at dinosauria with heightened awareness of both the biological nuance and engineering tools that bring these ancient giants to life for us.
Here are the slides (19mb file).
Life has existed on Earth for four billion years, punctuated by origins and extinctions. Ever since Darwin, scientists have read the story of evolution from the fossil sequences in rocks. But also, ever since Darwin, paleontologists have been concerned about the quality of the fossil record. On the one hand, it is obvious that only a small selection of all the plants and animals that have ever lived may enter the fossil record and later be found. On the other, the sequence of fossils is more or less expected. From the origin of life to the origin of humans we’ll explore the data and look at one of the grandest questions in science: where did we come from . . . and can we be sure? Dr. Benton then explores international research from North America, Russia, China, and Europe on the causes and consequences of extinctions.
Life today is hugely diverse. Darwin wondered at this richness, and argued that life was more diverse than it had to be! Research efforts now concentrate on reconstructing the evolutionary ‘tree of life’ using genomes and fossils, bound by massive computing power. What do these new evolutionary trees tell us about modern biodiversity? Are some groups unusually rich in species, and others (‘living fossils’) perhaps not? Why should that be? Get the scoop on biodiversity and the latest on biogeographic investigations, fossil data, and number crunching of the new genomic sequences.
Here are the slides (11mb file).
In the days of the dinosaurs, continental drift and sea level change led to ever-changing distribution of land and sea. Given that the areas we will visit on our cruise once consisted of an archipelago of islands like the Caribbean, with isolated dinosaur faunas on some of those islands, how do scientists know where to focus their explorations, and what they might find? Join Michael Benton as he shows you how geologists create paleogeographic maps to locate the dinosaur fauna of what is now Eastern Europe. You’ll meet colorful characters from early days of paleontology. Learn how regional research changed during the Iron Curtain days and how new generations of researchers are bringing Europe’s unique dinosaurs back to life.
Particle physics is a science of extremes, studying the tiniest constituents of matter using the largest machines ever built. Human beings have always been curious about their surroundings. That’s why Columbus sailed the ocean blue, why men have walked on the moon, and why particle physics labs like CERN exist.
In Western scientific tradition, particle physics traces back to the Greeks Leucippus of Miletus and Democritus who developed the idea of atomism. They wondered whether if a substance were repeatedly cut in half there would be a smallest indivisible unit of that substance: an “atom”. Particle physics is the study of nature’s true atoms — the smallest indivisible pieces of matter — and the forces that act between them. Focusing on CERN’s latest research facility, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), get the big picture of the state of the art and challenges that lie ahead in particle physics. James Gillies will outline some of the experiments at the LHC which may provide answers to big questions: Why do the fundamental particles have the masses they have? What is the nature of dark matter? What’s the reason for nature’s preference for matter over antimatter? Join the group and chart a course for CERN’s exploration of persistent issues in particle physics.
Colder than outer space, yet hotter than the heart of the sun, and the fastest particle racetrack on the planet: the LHC is a machine of superlatives. It is a triumph of human ingenuity, possibly the most complex machine ever built, and its primary function is to produce new knowledge.
Three ingredients are necessary to carry out research at the high-energy frontier of particle physics: an accelerator to boost particles to almost the speed of light and make them collide, detectors to observe those collisions, and computing infrastructure to analyze the results. When the LHC was first dreamed up in the 1980s, the technology for all of these things did not exist, but that kind of detail has never deterred particle physicists in the past.
For the computing, a new paradigm — Grid computing — is being forged. The detectors are larger and more complex by orders of magnitude than their predecessors. And the accelerator itself is pushing back the frontiers of innovation in many domains.
Refine your understanding of the lineage of particle physics technologies from the invention of particle accelerators in the 1920s up to today. Then we’ll focus on the LHC itself, laying out how accelerators and related tools have both allowed us to make phenomenal progress in understanding the Universe, and revolutionized our every day lives.
Along with humankind’s natural curiosity comes a fear of the unknown. As we approached the LHC’s first beam day in 2008, a handful of self-proclaimed experts struck up an end-of-the-world tune. (In a wonderfully ironic twist, the vehicle that carried the message was made at CERN: it was the World Wide Web.)
Like its predecessors, the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP) and Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), the LHC never posed the slightest risk to humanity. However, the dangerous scientist has always made for a good story and that’s something that Dan Brown exploited to the full when writing Angels and Demons. Dr. Gillies will cover the fact behind the fiction of Angels & Demons and black holes at the LHC, and share the behind-the-scenes on how CERN lived with the hype.
Here are the slides (53mb file).
It took a man who was willing to break all the rules to tame a theory that breaks all the rules. Learn about the scientific legacy of one of the greatest and most colorful scientists of the 20th century, and in turn get insights into the questions driving the science of the 21st century.
Every atom in your body was once inside a star that exploded. Lawrence Krauss will present the life history of an atom in a glass of wine you will have with dinner, from the beginning of the universe to the end. The story is rich in drama, and suprises, and will leave you thinking differently about your place in the cosmos.
The most interesting things in the universe apparently cannot be seen. Learn why scientists are fascinated by them, and why they hold the key to understanding our origins, and our future.
Here is the video of this talk.
The largest machine humans have ever built has turned on in Geneva, and happily has not created a black hole that has destroyed the world. But what might be discovered there, and will it tell us that there is, literally, infinitely more to the universe than meets the eye?
The mere word “evolution” conjures images in the public ranging from movie dinosaurs to something vaguely half-human-half-gorilla. What does the word “evolution” actually mean in the biological sciences, what is the evidence that it is “true”, and why should the general public know and care? In fact, evolution affects your everyday life, from your health to your livelihood — come learn why!
Although Darwin’s book title suggested that he defined the origin of species, in fact, he only focused on the process of divergence within species and assumed the same processes “eventually” led to something that could be called a new species. Dr. Noor will talk about how species are identified (in practice and in principle), how modern evolutionary biologists use this type of information to get a handle on how species are formed, and what questions remain.
The missing element to Darwin’s theory was how it worked in terms of inheritance. Genetics answered that. Today we can’t imagine a time without genetic science. “Personal genomics” issues span medical, legal, ethical, and other areas and pose big questions: possible benefits? what to watch out for? and what the hairy heck does it all mean? Get ready for discussion and “lab exercises” to help understand the lingo, opportunities, and issues associated with living in the genomics era.
What happens behind closed doors in the “Ivory Tower” of an academic scientist? Scientists at universities juggle multiple roles spanning lecturing and course management, executing an independent research program, service to the university and their profession, and outreach to the broader public. So what do these scientists actually do all day? What are these people trained well to do and in what areas are they really not trained well? What is a typical career trajectory in the sciences, and how are academic scientists evaluated? If you’re game to expand your politics/sausage/academic science knowledge, get an insider’s orientation from Professor Mohammed Noor
Here are the slides (3mb file).
Cuneiform writing on thousands of clay tablets documents the astronomical activity of the ancient Babylonians. These texts, circa the first millennium BC, include lists of astrological omens, astronomical observations, and calculations of the positions and phenomena of the moon and the planets. Join Dr. Steele to investigate the astronomical traditions of the ancient Babylonians and their invention of scientific astronomy.
Here is the video of this talk.
How could Ptolemy insist that the Earth was the center of the Universe? The ancient Greeks didn’t invent astronomy, but they were the first to combine philosophy with mathematics to model the motion of the heavens using geometry. Along the way they figured out the size of the Earth, the distance of the moon from the Earth and developed geometrical methods for modeling the motion of the planets that formed the basis of astronomy until Kepler in the 17th century. Get all the angles on Greek astronomy (including why Ptolemy insisted the Earth was the center of the universe) so you can spot its influence in medieval Islamic astronomy, Renaissance developments, and far more.
In 1900 sponge divers off the tiny island of Antikythera discovered an ancient Roman shipwreck laden with works of art. Almost unnoticed were the poorly preserved remains of a small mechanical device — the Antikythera Mechanism. It contained gearwork to move pointers around scales on its front and rear. Through painstaking reconstruction and analysis over the past century, including CT scanning and digital image processing, we now know the device was a mechanical astronomical computer. Get the details on how persistence and ingenuity revealed unique and surprising information about ancient Greek science and technology.
Here is the video of this talk.
Throughout history eclipse have been observed with fear, excitement, astonishment, and scientific curiosity. Explore how eclipses have been observed, interpreted, and commemorated in different cultures around the world, and learn how scientists today actively benefit from ancient eclipse records.
Here is the video of this talk.
Near the end of the last Ice Age, 20,000 years ago, global sea levels were about 400 feet lower than they are today. Climates warmed, ice melted and the sea level rose, continuously flooding shoreline communities and forcing people inland. Many of our earliest settlements, the “Edens” of many different cultures, now lie underwater. About 7500 years ago the Mediterranean Sea rose high enough that it broke through the Bosporus, past what is now Istanbul, and catastrophically flooded the Black Sea triggering mass migrations out of Eastern Europe toward the Middle East and Africa. This is only one example of a long sequence of geologic events triggered by changing climates that have shaped the course of human history.
The philosopher Will Durant said, “Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice.” The history of climate change illustrates this richly. Climate change is one of the most complex and politically charged areas of Earth science. Join Dr. Wysession as he examines the many different natural factors that control the climate and how the history of climate change has been the driving factor for the course of human history: causing famines, droughts, wars, plagues, and the rise and fall of human civilizations. Enrich your understanding of the natural causes and impact of climate change so you can discerningly examine contemporary issues.
3600 years ago, Thera/Santorini saw one of most powerful volcanic eruptions known, blowing away most of the island, leaving just the island ring and caldera we see today. The Thera eruption buried the Minoan city of Akrotiri under 60 feet of ash, and created a megatsunami that devastated the entire Mediterranean. The the U.S. Northwest’s 1700 M 9 earthquake, Lisbon’s 1755 quake, Krakatoa’s 1883 eruption, and the devastating Sumatra 2004 quake created similarly catastrophic tsunamis. Survey the terrain of megatsunamis, and learn potential future tsunami triggers.
Our trip starts in Italy, home of the first documented volcanic eruption. When Vesuvius erupted in the year 79, Pliny the Younger recorded the details of this catastrophic and unforeseen event.
Named in his honor, the “Plinian” style of volcanic eruption can eject many cubic miles of ash high in the atmosphere, but the greatest impact is not locally, but globally through a change in climate. The ash and aerosols injected into the atmosphere block out sunlight and can cause a drop in global temperatures for many years. For example, if you you’ve studied Modern European History, you might think of several reasons why the French Revolution occurred. However, it was actually triggered by extensive volcanism in Iceland that caused terrible famines in France. The “year without a summer” in 1816, when starving Americans moved westward across the Mississuppi, was caused by the Tambora eruption in Indonesia. A Peruvian eruption in 1600 led to famines in Russia and the collapse of the rule of Boris Godunov. The giant eruption of Toba (also in Indonesia) 74,000 years ago may have nearly wiped out humans and many other large mammals. And the site of some of largest eruptions in geologic history, Yellowstone, is rising 7 cm a year as magma upwells under the caldera again. Michael Wysession syncs up history and geologic destiny to give you a new understanding of the large number of volcanic eruptions that have impacted human history.
Here are the slides (46mb file).
During a discussion on the likelihood of intelligent civilizations existing elsewhere, the physicist Enrico Fermi asked “Well, where is everybody?” From wool gathering to NASA research, the question of whether we are alone in the Universe has long occupied us. Geologic research shows that the conditions required for life to exist continuously for nearly 4 billion years are stringent, and may rarely occur in the galaxy. Astronomy has identified more than 400 planets revolving around other stars, but not one of them is Earthlike. Get the recipe for the right stuff and learn all of the Goldilocks factors that had to occur to produce Earth’s spectacular and potentially unique diversity of geologic and biologic environments.
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