Science and Society | Spring 2024


Join us online each month for the library’s “Science and Society – Making Sense of the World Around Us” lecture series. All lectures start at 5:00 PM Eastern Time. You MUST REGISTER to receive instructions for joining the program.


In what has become an annual tradition, the 2024 Science and Society lecture series starts with a tour through some of the hottest areas of research. At the end of each year, Science magazine’s editors and writers look back over the year’s scientific accomplishments and choose ten developments they consider especially important, including one they single out as the Breakthrough of the Year. Join us for a discussion with Science’s News Editor, Tim Appenzeller, who will describe the magazine’s picks for 2023 and explain what made those developments particularly noteworthy.
As Science’s News Editor, Tim Appenzeller is in a perfect position to survey the scientific landscape. He directs a global team of writers and editors covering research and the international community of scientists. His previous positions include Chief Magazine Editor at Nature, Executive Editor at National Geographic, and editorial posts at U.S. News and World Report and Scientific American.

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Life evolved under the sun, which powers 99% (not all!) of life on earth. Aside from eating photosynthetic plants and other animals big and small which eat them too, our long-term relationship with the sun is wonderfully complex, and somehow balanced in ways we barely understand. For example, our vision is best at exactly the maximum wavelengths emitted by the sun, and we also have non-imaging, upward-looking, blue-light retinal cells that subconsciously tell us to sleep when the sky is no longer blue. Before distant migration and tropical vacationing, we hairless, long-lived apes evolved an unusual skin pigmentation system that adjusts itself to let enough sunlight in, but not too much.
Rox Anderson is a dermatologist and suggests you wear a decent sunscreen if you are headed to the beach, lest you suffer a painful sunburn while increasing your risk of skin cancer (and looking old). But modest sun exposure improves your bone health and even your blood pressure, to the extent that lack of sufficient sunlight measurably reduces your lifespan. Which are the “good” wavelengths for that? It turns out the mitochondria that power our cells possess an ancient photoreceptor system that only recently is being exploited in modern medicine – for better wound healing, brain function, athletic performance, and even to grow hair. Many of the lasers for skin treatment developed at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine lab, where the staff recognized how pulses of light could selectively affect microscopic targets such as blood vessels, hair follicles, pigment cells, tattoos, and the oil glands that cause acne. With poetic irony, light can even make you look younger again!
Dr. Rox Anderson graduated from MIT, and then received his MD degree magna cum laude from the joint MIT-Harvard medical program, Health Sciences and Technology. After completing his dermatology residency and an NIH research fellowship at Harvard, he joined the faculty where he is now Harvard Medical School Professor in dermatology, Director of the Wellman Center for Photomedicine; and adjunct Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT. Dr. Anderson conceived and developed many of the non-scarring laser treatments now widely used in medical care. These include treatments for birthmarks, microvascular and pigmented lesions, tattoo and permanent hair removal. He has also contributed to treatment for vocal cords, kidney stones, glaucoma, heart disease, photodynamic therapy for cancer and acne, and optical diagnostics. Dr. Anderson has been awarded over 60 national and international patents and has co-authored over 250 scientific books and papers.

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What do we know about aging and longevity, and how do we know it? Join us for a lecture by Dr. Coleen Murphy, whose new book, How We Age: The Science of Longevity, chronicles the history and current state of research on aging. She describes how recent studies of centenarians, long-lived animals, and simple invertebrate animals, combined with breakthroughs in genomics and cell biology, have led to insights into the molecular mechanisms of longevity and aging. The research provides clues to how we might slow human aging, which could lead in turn to new therapeutics and treatments for age-related disease.
Coleen Murphy is a leading researcher on aging. She is professor of genomics and molecular biology at Princeton University, Director of the Lewis Sigler Institute of Genomics at Princeton, director of Princeton’s Glenn Foundation for Research on Aging, and director of the Simons Collaboration on Plasticity in the Aging Brain.
We invite you to support the presenter by purchasing a copy of their book from Browseabout Books by clicking HERE. Call-in orders are accepted at (302) 226-2665 or you can stop by the store to purchase a copy. For store hours, please visit their website.

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From beneficial yeasts that aid digestion to molds that cause serious infections, we are constantly navigating a world filled with fungi. Join us for a lecture by Nicholas Money, whose new book, Molds, Mushrooms, and Medicines, explores the amazing ways in which our health and well-being are affected by fungi. Drawing on the latest advances in mycology, Dr. Money will discuss what scientists are learning about the human mycobiome, which is formed by a hidden universe of microscopic yeasts and molds that live in our bodies. He will also highlight the importance of fungal medicines, the controversial use of magic mushrooms to treat depression, and our wider dependence on the vital roles fungi play in nature.
Nicholas P. Money is professor of biology at Miami University in Ohio and the author of many books, including The Rise of Yeast: How the Sugar Fungus Shaped Civilization, which was featured in the 2018 History Book Festival in Lewes; Mushrooms: A Natural and Cultural History; and Microbiology: A Very Short Introduction.
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 at (302) 226-2665 or you can stop by the store to purchase a copy. For store hours, please visit their website.

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The current climate crisis has a less well known but equally ominous threat – the global biodiversity crisis. Billions of dollars are spent annually searching for life in outer space, yet here on Earth it is estimated we can only describe roughly 15% of Earth’s life forms. Plant species and animals are increasingly threatened with extinction while conservation biologists race to assess the current state of global biodiversity attempting to identify knowledge gaps. For example, fireflies are popular charismatic insects, yet a recent North American assessment found that for greater than 50% of described firefly species, we know too little to determine whether they are common, or rare, or even where they occur.
Dr. Christopher Hecksher’s desire to learn more about the distribution of fireflies in eastern North America unexpectedly resulted in a crusade to explore rare and uncommon wetlands. The resulting work has been the discovery of seven species of fireflies in four Northeastern states that for more than 200 years had remained unknown to entomologists, hidden in remote wetlands in some of the most populated regions of our country.
Christopher M. Heckscher, Ph.D. has been studying the distribution of fireflies in eastern North America for 25 years. He holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology with a Minor in Zoology from Colorado State University, an M.S. in Applied Ecology and Entomology and a Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology and Entomology both from the University of Delaware. For fifteen years, he was the Delaware State Zoologist for The Nature Conservancy and the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife. Since 2008, he has been a professor of Environmental Science at Delaware State University where he studies both birds and fireflies. He holds positions on the Delaware Natural Areas Advisory Council, the Delaware Native Species Commission, and the IUCN International Species Survival Commission. His research has recently been featured in a Netflix documentary, in Popular Science magazine, and in Smithsonian Magazine.

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Online sessions are conducted through Zoom. If you have problems registering for an event or don’t receive the meeting instructions, please email us. Here are basic written instructions for using Zoom as well as a brief video tutorial. Closed captioning is available for all our sessions. Information on enabling closed captioning in Zoom may be found here.


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.