Monday, November 14, 2016

Nov 4 - The Cosmic Origins of the Chemicals of Life

We start, as perhaps all good talks should, with Genesis. Daniel Wolf Savin took us through the first three days of creation, from the light of our universes first stars to the formation of water, and maybe even life, on planets like our own. In the lab his team has recreated the chemical conditions of the first stars and used it to infer some of the evolution and distribution of the chemicals that form the building blocks of life. On the way he also gave us pearls of wisdom such as the best way to ensure a healthy supply of Belgian chocolate in your laboratory, and jokes that even he admitted were "good science but bad comedy".

After his stellar ("good science") talk we also heard from astronomy graduate student Moiya McTier, about how space affects all of our everyday lives. Meanwhile up on the roof we had clear skies, with Stephen Mohammed, Jorge Cort├ęs, Danielle Rowland, and Emily Sandford guiding our telescopes to the Moon, Mars and a proliferation of double star systems. And finally but fluently we had Erin Flowers explaining the wonders of the universe in all your favourite dimensions on the 3D wall.

-- Zephyr Penoyre (graduate student)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Oct 21 - Surviving the Misinformation Age

In the past, information was scarce, but generally high quality. Conversely, in the last 10-15 years, the amount of information produced by humanity has skyrocketed while simultaneously being made accessible to nearly every human being on the planet. Tonight, Professor David Helfand discussed the challenges that this firehose of data presents to society. 

The internet is full of mis-information that is easily accessible and appears vetted. Prof. Helfand told us about the tendency for people to cherry-pick data, i.e. selecting only evidence that fits their pre-determined argument, rather than assessing or even accepting all the available evidence. He also critiqued the "echo chamber" that can be created in online spaces. He urged the audience to be skeptical and listen to a variety of sources, and to search out the evidence behind claims they read or hear. Prof. Helfand's talk was based on his new book, "A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age."

Despite the clouds, graduate student Aleksey Generozov and a team of volunteers showed off the big dome and telescope. On the 13th floor, undergraduate student Richard presented movies on our 3D wall. 

-- Stephanie Douglas (graduate student)