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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:

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. 

April 20, 2017

Title:  The Omo-Turkana Basin, East Africa—a treasury of history

Featuring:  Francis H. Brown, Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah

Lake Turkana was the last major lake in East Africa to become known to Europeans. The arid basin in which it is located has been studied since ~1900.  Sedimentary deposits there contain a fossil record stretching from the Cretaceous to the late Pleistocene.  Recent work in the basin began in 1966 as a prelude to the International Omo Research Expedition with teams from the U.S., France, and Kenya, and has continued since. 

The Omo-Turkana basin has yielded the only Cretaceous dinosaurs and other reptiles from East Africa, type specimens of the Miocene primates Afropithecus, Kamoyapithecus, Turkanapithecus, early evidence of bipedalism in Australopithecus anamensis (4.1 Ma), the oldest record of stone tools (3.3 Ma), the earliest Paranthropus boisei (2.5 Ma), the remains of Homo rudolfensis (2.0 Ma), the most complete skeleton of Homo ergaster (1.5 Ma), the earliest known Homo erectus (1.9 Ma), the oldest known Homo sapiens (195 ka), and type specimens of many other mammalian and reptilian genera.  Because these fossils are found in sequences with volcanic rocks, they are well dated.

The Int’l. Omo Research Expedition, the brainchild of F. Clark Howell, marked the beginning of systematic work in paleoanthropology (study of the evolutionary and cultural history of humankind and near relatives).  It was the first expedition to insist on stratigraphic knowledge before fossils were collected, the first in the region to use aerial photographs for fossil locations, the first to create a computerized database of fossils (still in use), and the first to establish the modern ecology of the region and to collect the modern pollen rain.  It took advantage of then new dating techniques (K/Ar; paleomagnetic stratigraphy), and it trained many workers who moved on to other areas using similar techniques.

Over the 50-year period of study, technological advances have made it possible to date materials that then could not handled.  Isotopic studies (largely initiated by Thure Cerling) allowed determination of plant cover at ancient times, determination of diets of various animals (including early human relatives), estimation of ancient soil temperatures, and estimation of water deficit through time.  Seismic and gravity work for oil exploration begun in the late 1980s has provided a wealth of information about the deep structure of this basin. 

Fifty years ago paleontological sites separated by great distances (10–1000 km) were treated independently, but many of these sites are now related through geochemical correlation of volcanic ash layers.  Some of these ash layers are found in deep-sea deposits of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, allowing importation of climatic data to the fossil sites.  Climatic information from sapropels in the Mediterranean Sea confirms the times of more recent depositional episodes (10–200 ka) which preserve fossils of early Homo sapiens.

Last Updated: 1/24/17