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, February 18, 2016

Title: Curiosity’s Mission to Gale Crater, Mars

Featuring: Dr. John Grotzinger - Professor of Geology, Divison of Geological and Planetary Science, Caltech

The Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, touched down on the surface of Mars on August 5, 2012.  Curiosity was built to search and explore for habitable environments and has a lifetime of at least one Mars year (~23 months), and drive capability of at least 20 km.  The MSL science payload can assess ancient habitability which requires the detection of former water, as well as a source of energy to fuel microbial metabolism, and key elements such carbon, sulfur, nitrogen, and phosphorous.   The search for complex organic molecules is an additional goal and our general approach applies some of the practices that have functioned well in exploration for hydrocarbons on Earth. The selection of the Gale Crater exploration region was based on the recognition that it contained multiple and diverse objectives, ranked with different priorities, and thus increasing the chances of success that one of these might provide the correct combination of environmental factors to define a potentially habitable paleoenvironment.   Another important factor in exploration risk reduction included mapping the landing ellipse ahead of landing so that no matter where the rover touched down, our first drive would take us in the direction of a science target deemed to have the greatest value as weighed against longer term objectives, and the risk of mobility failure.  Within 8 months of landing we were able to confirm full mission success.  This was based on the discovery of fine-grained sedimentary rocks, inferred to represent an ancient lake.  These Fe-Mg-rich smectitic mudstones preserve evidence of an aqueous paleoenvironment that would have been suited to support a Martian biosphere founded on chemolithoautotrophy and characterized by neutral pH, low salinity, and variable redox states of both iron and sulfur species. The environment likely had a minimum duration of hundreds to tens of thousands of years.  In the past year simple chlorobenzene and chloroalkane molecules were confirmed to exist within the mudstone.  These results highlight the biological viability of fluvial-lacustrine environments in the ancient history of Mars and the value of robots in geologic exploration.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Title: Greenhouse Gases: Current Trends and Implications

Featuring: Steven C. Wofsy - Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Chemistry at Harvard University

Concentrations of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere have increased drematically, starting in the 18th century, representing powerful drivers of global change and climate warming. In order assess future changes and design mitigation strategies, the emissions of these gases must be quantified, and the underlying biological, chemical, physical, and human processes must be understood. The relevant spatial scales span ecosystems, landscapes, regions, and continents, with temporal scales from seasonal to decadal, all very difficult to measure directly.  This talk traces historical changes in atmospheric composition, showing the dramatic trends starting in the 1950s and continuing today.  We then focus on the Arctic, a region with strong sensitivity to warming climate and vast stores of frozen or waterlogged organic carbon.  We show recent results from the Carbon in the Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) and other regional measurements that challenge conventional ideas about climate-carbon feedbacks in this region, emphasizing the key roles of processes that occur out of sight--under the surface, after the growing season. We conclude with a comparison between emissions of CH4 and CO2 due to human activities versus the natural world, showing the astonishing transition of the human component from modest perturbation to overwhelming dominance, in recent human memory.