Frontiers of Science


Frontiers of Science Lecture Series

Hosted by:  The Leonardo

The Frontiers of Science lecture series brings eminent scientists from around the world to the University of Utah and the Salt Lake City community. FOS events start at 6:00 p.m., and lectures are free and open to the public.

Frontiers of Science is moving!  This year, for the first time, The Leonardo will be hosting all of our Frontiers lectures.

The Leonardo
209 East 500 South
Salt Lake City, UT 84111 (map)

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

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

Recent Lectures:

The College of Science records and posts all Frontiers of Science Lectures to our YouTube account. Click here to watch more lectures from the cutting edge of science.

Next Lecture:

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Featuring Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai, Professor of Medical Microbiology & Immunology
University of Wisconsin - Madison

Margaret McFall-Ngai's research focuses on host responses to interactions with beneficial microbes. Within this context, the studies of her laboratory address five major questions:

1. How are environmentally rare bacteria harvested from the host's habitat during the onset of a horizontally transmitted symbiosis?

2. By what mechanisms does the host recognize its specific symbiotic partner(s)?

3. What are the influences of symbiotic bacteria on the developmental of the host tissues with which they associate?

4. How is the symbiont population maintained in balance over the host’s lifetime, such that neither does the symbiont overgrow the host nor does the host eliminate the symbiont?

5. What are the similarities and differences between pathogenic and beneficial animal-bacterial interactions?

Past Lectures:

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Featuring Dr. Francis Halzen, Distinguished Professor and Director of the Institute for Elementary Particle Physics Research
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Halzen and colleagues from around the world melted 86 holes more than 1.5 miles deep into the Antarctic icecap to build IceCube, an astronomical observatory that detects lightweight particles called neutrinos, which are generated by cataclysmic phenomena such as those associated with black holes in space. 

The team already has detected more than 300,000 neutrinos, Halzen says. These neutrinos are like fingerprints that help the researchers understand the objects and phenomena that produce neutrinos.

In this presentation, Halzen will help us take a first look at the sky in “neutrino light,” which he says may change the way we look at the universe. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Energy, Environment, and Our Future: Big Challenges and Bigger Opportunity

Featuring Dr. Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences
Pennsylvania State University

Special: While you wait for the lecture, check out this video of Dr. Alley presenting on PBS!

Solid scholarship on energy and the environment shows that we humans are like heroes, who must leave a temporary haven to complete a greater quest. Few of us must spend all summer hoeing corn to avoid starving during winter, for example, and the world has trees and whales because we burn fossil fuels instead.  But, we are burning the fossil fuels about a million times faster than nature saved them for us, and we eventually must change.  Furthermore, the roughly 20 tons of CO2 emitted per person per year in the USA are raising atmospheric CO2.  This is turning up the planet’s thermostat, based on physics known for more than a century. 

There is little scientific doubt that if we burn most of the fossil-fuel resource before we learn new ways, we will have given future generations a climate that is harder to live in, and asked them to complete the quest for a sustainable energy future without a fossil-fuel safety net. Fortunately, vast renewable resources are available.  Including this scientific knowledge in wise decision-making can lead to a larger economy with more jobs and greater national security more consistent with the Golden Rule. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Environments of Human Evolution: The Isotope Evidence

Featuring Thure E. Cerling, Distinguished Professor, Geology & Geophysics
University of Utah

The anthropologists, paleontologists, and geologists who unearth evidence of human origins in East Africa have, for many years, asked important questions about the environments of our human ancestors: How hot was it? Was there shade? Was there water? Was there grassland? Were there trees?

Until relatively recently, the answers to those questions were largely a matter of speculation, and largely impossible to quantify. However, by comparing levels of the naturally occurring stable (non-radioactive) isotopes of carbon and oxygen, that are present in soil deposits, geochemists have been able to quantify environmental indicators such as temperature in the geological record. Estimates of net precipitation are recorded in the waters that animals drink, and therefore, these indicators are found in fossil teeth. Indicators of diet are preserved in fossil tooth enamel for millions of years. Through additional measurements of isotope ratios present in modern and ancient soils and animals, geochemists have been able to quantify environmental indicators (diet, tree cover, and shade, for example) that provide significant insights into the environments in which humans and other mammals evolved in Eastern Africa.

Professor Cerling is a member of the University of Utah faculty, arriving in Utah in 1979. He is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology and in the Department of Geology and Geophysics. He is a member of the US National Academy of Science, recipient of the Utah Governor's Medal for Science and Technology, and has served on the US Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Featuring Dr. Scott Wing, Curator of Fossil Plants
Smithsonian Institution - National Museum of Natural History

The fossil record provides important information about the long-term response of continental ecosystems to CO2-induced warming. The past event most analogous to future anthropogenic global warming occurred 56 million years ago at the beginning of the Eocene epoch; it is called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM.  At the onset of the PETM more than 4,500 petagrams of carbon were released into the ocean-atmosphere system in a period of about 10,000 years, causing dissolution of deep ocean chalk and rapid rise of global temperature by 4-8 degrees C.

In this presentation, Scott Wing will talk about the PETM, and its effect on terrestrial plants and animals. In the Rocky Mountain area, which has the best fossil record of the event, there was radical change in the composition of vegetation. These changes occurred because plants that preferred warm, moist climates were locally or regionally extirpated, and also because plants that preferred hot, dry climates colonized the region.  The changes reflected in the plants agree with reconstructions of climate change from sedimentary and geochemical evidence.  In spite of geologically rapid extirpation and colonization there was little extinction of plant species. During these rapid changes in the flora, there were also dramatic changes in the vertebrate fauna, including immigration into North America from other continents, and rapid dwarfing in many types of mammals.

Last Updated: 4/17/14