Frontiers of Science Lectures

The Frontiers of Science lecture series was established in 1967 by University of Utah alumnus and Physics Professor Peter Gibbs. By 1970, the University had hosted 10 Nobel laureates for public Frontiers lectures. By 1993, when Gibbs retired, the Frontiers organizers had hosted another 20 laureates. Today, Frontiers of Science is the longest continuously-running lecture series at the University of Utah.

Ben Feringa

The Art of Building Small>Ben L. Feringa

Chair of Organic Chemistry, University of Groningen
Jacobus H. van 't Hoff Distinguished Professor of Molecular Sciences
Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry
Chemistry for the Future Solvay Prize, Brussels, Belgium, 2015
Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2016

Tuesday, September 6, 4 p.m.
Aline Skaggs Building, Room 220
Reception 5 - 6 p.m.

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The research program of the Feringa Group is focussed on synthetic and physical organic chemistry. Inspired by Nature's principles of molecular assembly, recognition, transport, motion and catalysis, the goal is to exploit the full potential of synthetic chemistry to create new structures and functions. A major part of the research is directed towards dynamic molecular systems.

The focus is on molecular nanoscience, novel responsive materials and photo-pharma exploring biohybrid systems, self-assembly, molecular switches and motors. A second part of the program deals with the development (and application in chemical biology) of novel stereoselective synthesis methods and asymmetric catalysis. Chirality is a leading theme and over the years a unique and broad expertise in fundamental aspects of stereochemistry has been acquired including chiroptical phenomena, chiral amplification and origin of chirality.

Co-sponsored by the Department of Chemistry's Stang-Burrows-Sessler Distinguished Lectureship in Nontraditional Organic Chemistry and the College of Science.





A Lecture Series Spanning Five Decades

The Frontiers of Science lecture series was established in 1967 by University of Utah alumnus and Physics Professor Peter Gibbs. Gibbs and his fellow physics faculty at the U sought to bring notable researchers from around the country to the University to discuss the current “frontiers” in physics research. The larger goal was to present public lectures that would attract attention to important developments in scientific research.

By 1970, the University had hosted 10 Nobel laureates for public Frontiers lectures. By 1993, when Gibbs retired, the Frontiers organizers had hosted another 20 laureates. Today, Frontiers of Science is the longest continuously-running lecture series at the University of Utah.

The first Frontiers event was presented by Peter Gibbs himself, who discussed “Einstein the Sociologist,” on April 1, 1967. Physics Professors David C. Evans, Grant R. Fowles and Jack W. Keuffel presented the remaining three lectures that year. In the meantime, the group worked on scheduling outstanding speakers for the following year.

Gibbs and colleagues made good on their promise to bring exceptional scientists to campus. During the 1968-69 academic year, eight lectures were held, including ones by C.N. Yang from the University of New York at Stony Brook (“Symmetry Principles in Physics”) and Murray Gell-Mann from the California Institute of Technology (“Elementary Particles”). Nobel laureates gave three of the eight presentations that academic year, and during 1969 as a whole, six of thirteen lectures were given by Nobel laureates. Topics included astronomy, mathematics, anthropology, politics and social issues.

Gibbs and the early FOS organizers were extremely adept at recruiting famous and soon-to-be-famous scientists. They also were keenly aware of the state of scientific research and the social climate of the time. President Nixon was in office, the Vietnam War was escalating and student protests were common on university campuses including the U of U. The United States had just put a man on the moon. Personal computers did not exist.

Through the 1970s as many as ten lectures were presented each academic year, but by 1980 the pace had slowed to a more manageable five or six per year. The FOS series had become immensely popular and the topics were broadened to include biology, chemistry, mathematics and the earth sciences.

In the early 1980s, FOS audiences were treated to firsthand accounts of the discovery of the structure of DNA by James D. Watson (“The Double Helix and Destiny,” 1981) and Francis H.C. Crick (“The Two DNA Revolutions,” 1984), the achievement for which they had received a Nobel Prize in 1962.

Many FOS speakers were not so famous or honored when they spoke here, but became so later in their career. For example, F. Sherwood Rowland spoke on “Man’s Threat to Stratospheric Ozone” in the 1978 academic year, and was a co-recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering studies on the destruction of ozone by chlorofluro- carbons which was his topic in 1978!

From 1994 to 1997, the Frontiers of Science series was complemented by the Davern/Gardner Laureateship. Dean T. Benny Rushing, Biology Professor K. Gordon Lark, and Emeritus Professor Boyer Jarvis wished to honor the memory of two former College of Science faculty members who made extraordinary administrative contributions to the University of Utah: Cedric “Ric” Davern and Pete D. Gardner.

Rushing, Lark and Jarvis secured a generous grant from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation to fund the Davern/Gardner Laureateship. The Laureateship allowed the College to bring a notable scientist to campus to deliver a public lecture and to interact with research teams and faculty that shared the invitee’s scientific interests. Dr. John Cairns gave the first lecture in November 1994. A total of six Davern/Gardner Laureateship lectures were presented until the grant was exhausted.

The history of venues for Frontiers of Science presentations is quite colorful. From 1967 to 1970, various rooms were used, including 103 North Physics, 200 Music Hall and Mark Greene Hall in the College of Business. By 1974, FOS events were often held in the Waldemer P. Read auditorium in Orson Spencer Hall. The Read auditorium featured stadium seating for about 400 people and was primarily used through the 1980s.

By 1990, the Fine Arts auditorium became the venue of choice because it was newer, larger, and had a better sound system. However, the lighting and sound controls were problematic and scheduling conflicts forced organizers to utilize the nearby Social Work auditorium on occasion.

In the meantime, the College of Science was constructing the Aline Wilmot Skaggs Biology Research Building (ASB) that included a beautiful 325-seat lecture auditorium and an adjoining 125-seat room complete with modern sound systems, digital video projectors and lighting. When ASB opened in 1997, the Frontiers series finally had a home within the College.

In 2003, the College of Mines and Earth Sciences joined with the College of Science to co-host FOS and increase the number of lectures devoted to aspects of geology, geophysics and meteorology. The effort was successful and a total of five presentations were scheduled, including Paul F. Hoffman, Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology, Harvard University (“Snowball Earth: Testing the Limits of Global Climate Change,” 2003) and Peter B. deMenocal, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University (“Climate Shifts and the Collapse of Ancient Cultures,” 2004).

In March 2007, Professor Kerry A. Emanuel of MIT discussed the history and science of hurricanes, including how climate change may be influencing storm cycles around the world. He used stunning photos and graphics to explain how hurricanes work, what determines their energy and destructiveness, and the economic and social implications of our policies for dealing with the risks they pose.

In 2008, The 14th Astronomer Royal of Great Britain, Sir Arnold Wolfendale, graced Utah audiences with a superb presentation on “Time: From Harrison’s Clocks to the Possibility of New Physics.” Other international guests were Dr. Jennifer Graves, Distinguished Professor at La Trobe University, Australia, and Dr. Stefan Hell, Nobel laureate and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany.

Peter Gibbs: The Father of “Frontiers”

Physics Professor Pete Gibbs and his colleagues established the Frontiers of Science lecture series as a method to bring notable researchers from around the world to Utah to discuss the current “frontiers” in scientific research. The first Frontiers event was presented by Pete Gibbs himself, on April 1, 1967. During the following two years, nine of the twenty-one FoS lectures were given by current or future Nobel laureates.

The early success of Frontiers was largely due to Pete’s personal invitations, and also his family’s skill at hosting prominent scientists in their home near the University campus. The Gibbs family offered lodging, food, and world-class skiing, to sweeten the deal.

Pete Gibbs passed away on July 13, 2019 surrounded by family and friends. He was 94.

Frontiers of Science, now in its 52nd year, continues to be sponsored by the College of Science and the College of Mines and Earth Sciences. The list of speakers now includes some 280 distinguished scientists.

Department Lectures

Thursday, October 22, 2020
Nature is the Future of Chemistry

Shelley Minteer - Associate Chair of Chemistry Dept, University of Utah
Henry White - Distinguished Professor, Chemistry Dept, University of Utah
Scott Anderson - Distinguished Professor, Chemistry Dept, University of Utah

>> Watch the video <<

The Center for Synthetic Organic Electrochemistry (CSOE) was recently awarded $20 million to advance its work to make synthetic organic electrochemistry mainstream. Join Peter Trapa, Dean of the College of Science, as he speaks with Dr. Shelley Minteer and her team on demystifying this process, and how its use will enable new green, safe, and economically beneficial new discoveries.

Dr. Shelley Minteer, professor of Analytical, biological & materials chemistry at the University of Utah, uses nature as an inspiration and solution to chemistry problems. Her group focuses on improving the abiotic-biotic interface between biocatalysts and electrode surfaces for enhanced bioelectrocatalysis and designs electrode structures for enhanced flux at electrode surfaces for biosensor and biofuel cell applications. In addition to holding the Dale and Susan Poulter Chair in Biological Chemistry, Dr. Minteer is the Director of the U’s Center for Synthetic Organic Electrochemistry which was just awarded a $20 Million NSF grant for the center’s Phase II development.

Thursday, November 19, 2020
The Future of Western Forests in a Changing Climate.

Bill Anderegg - Assistant Professor, School of Biological Sciences

>> Watch the video <<

Climate change may dramatically reshape western landscapes and forests through heat, drought, fires, and beetles. What can science tell us about what the future looks like for western US forests and what we can do about it?

Assistant Professor in the School of Biological Sciences at the U, Dr. William “Bill” Anderegg’s research centers on the intersection of ecosystems and climate change. In particular, he strives to understand the future of the Earth’s forests in a changing climate. Massive mortality events of many tree species in the last decade prompt concerns that drought, insects, and wildfire may devastate forests in the coming decades. Widely published, most recently in Science and PNAS, Anderegg studies how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, including tree physiology, species interactions, carbon cycling, and biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks. His work spans a broad array of spatial scales from xylem cells to ecosystems and seeks to gain a better mechanistic understanding of how climate change will affect forests around the world. Dr. Anderegg received his bachelor's and Ph.D. from Stanford University and did an NOAA Climate & Global change post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton.

Thursday, February 18, 12-1 pm
On Thinning Ice - Modeling sea ice in a warming climate.

Ken Golden - Department of Mathematics

>> Watch the video <<

Precipitous declines of sea ice are writing a new narrative for the polar marine environment. Earth’s sea ice covers can tell us a lot about climate change—they are canaries in the coal mine. Predicting what may happen to sea ice and the ecosystems it supports over the next ten, fifty, or one hundred years requires extensive mathematical modeling of key physical and biological processes, and the role that sea ice plays in global climate. Ken Golden, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, will discuss his research, his Arctic and Antarctic adventures, and how mathematics is currently playing an important role in addressing these fundamental issues and will likely play an even greater role in the future.

Ken Golden is a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and an Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Utah. His research is focused on developing mathematical models of sea ice which are inspired by theories of composite materials and statistical physics. He has traveled 18 times to the Arctic and Antarctic, and his work has been published in a wide range of scientific journals. Golden is a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an Inaugural Fellow of the American Mathematical Society, and a Fellow of the Explorers Club, whose members have included Neil Armstrong, Sir Edmund Hillary, Robert Peary, and Jane Goodall.

Thursday, March 18, 12-1 pm
Not too big, Not too small: The hunt for intermediate-mass black holes

Anil Seth - Department of Physics & Astronomy

>>Watch the video<<

Astronomers have found lots of black holes with masses a few times that of the sun and hundreds of supermassive black holes with masses more than a million times the mass of the sun. But where are the ones in the middle—the intermediate mass black holes? Dr. Seth will talk about different ways we are hunting for intermediate mass black holes and why so many of us are interested in finding them.

Dr. Anil Seth, associate professor of Physics & Astronomy at the U, studies the formation and evolution of nearby galaxies by detecting individual stars and clusters of stars whose ages, composition, and motions can be measured. His research focuses on understanding the centers of galaxies and the black holes and massive star clusters found there. He also studies the large surveys of our nearest spiral neighbors, Andromeda and Triangulum, and is involved with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey’s APOGEE project. He was named a Presidential Scholar by the U and has been awarded several National Science Foundation grants.

All lectures are subject to change. Contact for questions or more information.