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Frontiers of Science
Frontiers of Science Lecture Series

The Frontiers of Science lecture series brings eminent scientists from around the world to the University of Utah and the Salt Lake City community. Lectures start at 6 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

Aline Wilmot Skaggs Building, Room 220 (map)

Check this page often for updates on speakers, lectures, and more information!

All Frontiers of Science Lectures are recorded. View them on the College of Science's YouTube Channel.

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Tickets are not required for this event. Seating will be available on a first come, first served basis. Please arrive early.

Next Lecture:

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Title:  Population and Climate Change: Coupling Earth and Human Systems

Featuring:  Dr. Eugenia Kalnay - Distinguished Professor, University of Maryland

The Human System now dominates the Earth System, and since 1950 the population and GDP per capita have been both growing at about 2% per year, indicating that the total use of Earth resources is doubling every 20 years, a clearly unsustainable path. We point out that the IPCC Earth System models (and Integrated Assessment models) are not bi-directionally coupled with Human System. Without fully coupling the Earth and Human Systems it is not possible to model the positive and negative feedbacks and delays needed to represent climate change and sustainability, in the same way that without a fully coupled ocean-atmosphere model it is impossible to simulate El Niño, since it is the result of two-way feedbacks and delays between the ocean and the atmosphere. We describe a prototype of a fully coupled Earth System model, including government policies. 

A simple coupled Human and Nature Dynamical Model (HANDY) with Elites and Commoners allows performing “thought experiments”. It shows that an egalitarian society can reach equilibrium with nature, whereas the presence of either large inequality or excessive use of natural resources both lead to societal collapse, as has happened with many civilizations in the last 5000 years. Introducing non-renewable resources into the HANDY model results in an explosive population growth similar to that observed since the use of fossil fuels triggered the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s and the Green Revolution in the 1950’s.  


November 9, 2016

Title:  Time Travel in Experimental Evolution

Featuring:  Dr. Richard Lenski – John Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbial Ecology, Michigan State University  

Richard Lenski and his team perform experiments with microorganisms to watch evolution in real time.  In an experiment that he started 28 years ago, he and his team have followed 12 populations of E. coli bacteria as they have evolved in the laboratory for over 65,000 generations.  The results of this work provide insights into the process of adaptation by natural selection, the dynamics of genome evolution, and the origin of new functions.  Viable samples from throughout the experiment have been stored in freezers, allowing organisms that lived in different generations to be revived and compared—in effect, time travel.

February 16, 2017

Title:  "Why Birds Matter: Conserving the World’s Birds and Their Ecosystem Services"

Featuring:  Cagan Sekercioglu, Department of Biology

Birds play critical roles for ecosystems and human well-being worldwide.  Birds consume pests, pollinate flowers, disperse seeds, scavenge carrion, cycle nutrients, and modify the environment in ways that benefit other species.

However, the ecological importance of birds and the economic value of their services are not widely appreciated, and many face extinction due to climate change, habitat loss, and introduced species. By studying birds' ecological functions and ecosystem services, we can understand the environmental consequences of bird declines and extinctions for ecosystems and for the people that benefit from birds’ services.

March 30, 2017

Title:  The Global Energy Challenge: A Moral Imperative for the University

Featuring:  Dr. Daniel G. Nocera, Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy Harvard University

Climate change is an existential threat to society as we continue to meet energy demand with carbon-based fuels. Energy demand is set to grow in the coming decades, mostly driven by 3 billion people currently without access to reliable energy and an anticipated 3 billion new inhabitants of our planet by mid-century. Increasing global living standards, expanding access to education, and improving health outcomes are all inextricably linked to a need for greatly increasing access to affordable, reliable energy. Meeting this future global energy need for 6 billion new energy consumers, together with current energy users, with the expanded use of fossil fuels is inconsistent with a low-risk climate pathway; and yet, those fuels often remain the most affordable and widely available despite continued declines in the costs for zero-carbon energy technologies. 

Last Updated: 8/18/16