Science and Society | Making Sense of the World Around Us

Join us online this Fall for the library’s “Science and Society – Making Sense of the World Around Us” lecture series. These talks are co-organized and moderated by Fred Dylla, Executive Director Emeritus of the American Institute of Physics and author of Scientific Journeys, Linda Dylla, former public information officer at the Jefferson Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy, and Colin Norman, the former News Editor at Science.

Science and Society | Proving Einstein Right
Tuesday, September 20 | 5:00 PM Eastern Time | Online
Join us online for a conversation with Professor Sylvester James Gates, author of Proving Einstein Right: The Daring Expeditions that Changed How We Look at the Universe.
In 1911, a nearly unknown German-born theoretical physicist named Albert Einstein had developed his theory of relativity but hadn’t yet been able to prove it. The only way to do that was through the clear view and measurement of a solar eclipse. In May of 1919, one of the longest total solar eclipses of the 20th century was visible for almost seven minutes in the Southern Hemisphere. And so, two teams of intrepid astronomers set out on a treacherous journey-one to a remote town in Brazil, the other to the small African island of Principe. Their task was to answer the question: during the eclipse, would the stars’ light waves follow Newton’s law of gravitation, or Einstein’s new theory of relativity?
In Proving Einstein Right Professor Jim Gates and his co-author, Cathie Pelletier, chronicle this decade-long mission. Hindered by everything from cloudy weather to world war, and travelling halfway around the globe, four men observed a solar eclipse that would catapult Albert Einstein to fame, set the framework for the Big Bang theory, and forever change the way we look at the universe.
Sylvester James “Jim” Gates, Jr. is a theoretical physicist who is most known for his work on supersymmetry, supergravity, and superstring theory. Gates likes to give popular-level lectures and makes frequent appearances in episodes of NOVA: Universe Revealed documentaries (among other appearances) including one on Black Holes that also features his daughter, a postdoc at Princeton who is a Black Holes researcher. He is a champion of STEM education and advocates for this topic in many venues.
In 2022 Gates was appointed as Clark Leadership Chair in Science in Department of Physics and School of Public Policy University of Maryland.  In 2013, he was awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest award in the United States given to scientists. He is former president of both the National Society of Black Physicists and the American Physical Society.
We invite you to support the author by purchasing a copy of their book from Browseabout Books by clicking HERE. Call-in orders are accepted or you can stop by the store to purchase a copy. For store hours, please visit their website. Each copy purchased comes with a signed archival bookplate.


Science and Society | Opening the Infrared Treasure Chest with the James Webb Space Telescope
Tuesday, October 4 | 5:00 PM Eastern Time | Online
The James Webb Space Telescope was launched on December 25, 2021, and commissioning was completed in early July 2022. With its 6.5 meter golden eye, and cameras and spectrometers covering 0.6 to 28 µm (microns), Webb is already producing magnificent images of galaxies, active galactic nuclei, star-forming regions, and planets. Scientists are hunting for some of the first objects that formed after the Big Bang, the first black holes (primordial or formed in galaxies), and beginning to observe the growth of galaxies, the formation of stars and planetary systems, individual exoplanets and all objects in the Solar System from Mars on out. It could observe a something the size of a bumblebee at the Earth-Moon distance, in reflected sunlight and thermal emission. This online talk by Dr. John Mather will describe how the Webb telescope was built and what we hope to find. Webb is a joint project of NASA with the European and Canadian space agencies.
Dr. John Mather is Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, leading the science teams since 1995. As a postdoc at NASA’s GISS in 1974, he led the proposal efforts for the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), coming to GSFC to be the COBE Project Scientist and Principal Investigator for the Far IR Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS) on COBE. With the team, he confirmed the universe is expanding to extraordinary accuracy. The team also made the first map of the hot and cold spots in the background radiation (anisotropy). Dr. Mather received the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics with George Smoot.


Science and Society | Handmade: A Scientist’s Search for Meaning Through Making
Tuesday, November 15 | 5:00 PM Eastern Time | Online
From atomic structures to theories about magnetic forces, scientific progress has given us a good grasp on the properties of many different materials. However, most scientists can’t measure the temperature of steel just by looking at it, or sculpt stone into intricate statuary, or know how it feels to blow up a balloon of glass. Handmade is the story of materials through making and doing. Join author and materials scientist Dr Anna Ploszajski as she journeys into the domain of makers and craftspeople to comprehend how the most popular materials really work.
This talk will explore ten everyday materials and how they’re used in the world of craft. Along the way, we’ll build a fuller picture of materials and their place in society; the feminine side of steel, how clay has brought about some of the most advanced aerospace technologies, and delve down to the atomic scale of glass to find out what makes it ‘glassy’. Through a mixture of memoir, storytelling, stand-up comedy and scientific explanations, journey through the different materials of science and craft and learn the story of a young scientist trying to find true meaning in her science, and its – and her – place in the world. One thing’s for sure, you’ll never look at ‘stuff’ in the same way again.
Dr. Anna Ploszajski is an award-winning materials scientist, writer, and storyteller based in London. She’s a materials generalist, equally fascinated by metals, plastics, ceramics, glasses and substances from the natural world. Anna channels her passion for storytelling about materials through writing, podcasting, presenting and training scientists and engineers in the art of storytelling. Handmade: A Scientist’s Search for Meaning Through Making is her first book. In her spare time, Anna plays the trumpet in a funk and soul covers band and is an ultra-endurance open water swimmer.


Science and Society | The First Peoples of the Americas
Tuesday, December 6 | 5:00 PM Eastern Time | Online
Many thousands of years ago, groups of people crossed what was then a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska. Who were they? When did they arrive? And how did these first arrivals spread throughout the Americas? Join us online for a talk by Jennifer Raff, whose best-selling new book Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas explores these questions through the lenses of genetics and archaeology, and discusses the ethical issues involved in studies that profoundly impact Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Jennifer Raff is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas. She has a dual PhD in anthropology and genetics, and her research focuses on ancient and modern DNA from the Americas. She is a former president of the American Association of Anthropological Genetics, the author of numerous scientific papers, and a science communicator with her own blog, Violent Metaphors, and articles in publications including The New York Times, Scientific American, and Forbes.
We invite you to support the author by purchasing a copy of their book from Browseabout Books by clicking HERE. Call-in orders are accepted or you can stop by the store to purchase a copy. For store hours, please visit their website. Each copy purchased comes with a signed archival bookplate.