Stanford alumna and astronaut Mae Jemison talks about the universe

Mae Jemison participates in "Imagining the Universe," a yearlong series of events that includes speakers, performances and an exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center.

Courtesy Mae Jemison Mae Jemison, Stanford alumna and astronaut

Former astronaut Mae Jemison's appearance on campus Wednesday is part of the "Imagining the Universe" series. Jemison, a Stanford alumna, was the first woman of color in space.

Stanford graduate Mae Jemison, the first woman of color to go into space, will be on campus Wednesday, Dec. 3, as part of Stanford's Imagining the Universe: Cosmology in Art and Science series.

Jemison's talk will be about exploring the frontiers of science and the human potential.

"We're thrilled to welcome Dr. Jemison to campus, a natural fit for this series," said Sarah Curran, program director of the Stanford Arts Institute and curator of the Universe speaker series. "A leader in space exploration, she can offer first hand insight into the cosmos, and describe realms that most of us can only imagine."

The talk is at 6 p.m. at the Cemex Auditorium at the Knight Management Center and is free and open to the public.

From astronaut to advocate

Jemison, who graduated from Stanford in 1977with a degree in chemical engineering and in African and Afro-American studies, served six years as a NASA astronaut. In that time, she flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-47 Spacelab (Japan) mission in September 1992 and was NASA's first science mission specialist performing experiments in material science, life science and human adaptation to weightlessness.

Jemison started The Jemison Group after she left NASA, to explore and develop stand-alone science and technology programs and companies such as BioSentient Corp., a medical technology devices and services company focused on improving health and human performance through physiologic awareness and self-regulation.

A strong, committed global voice for science literacy, Jemison founded the international science camp The Earth We Share (TEWS) in 1994 for students 12-16 years old from around the world.  In 1994, she founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. TEWS-Space Race launched in the summer of 2011 to improve science achievement in Los Angeles-area students underserved and underrepresented in the sciences.

In October 2006 the foundation developed the program Reality Leads Fantasy –Celebrating Women of Color in Flight that highlighted women in aviation and space from around the world.

Launching "Imagining"

Standing in front of a slide of the Cat's Eye Nebula in Pigott Hall in October, poet Tracy K. Smith considered the title of the series, Imagining the Universe: Cosmology in Art and Science series. "I love the vastness of the topic," she told the audience.

"Imagining, for me, is an act that allows for a different engagement with things, be they real or invented, than that which the rapid forward movement of real time affords," she said. Thinking about the second half of the series title, the universe, Smith added that specific images and correlating ideas came to mind, "images and ideas that set my collection of poems, Life on Mars, into motion."

Smith's conversation and readings from her Pulitzer Prize-winning book Life on Mars launched the Universe series, and the next event imagined the universe through the lens of music, spirituality and tradition with the Venerable Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist scholar and director of the Larung Gar Five Sciences Buddhist Academy in Sichuan province, China. Khenpo gave a talk in November followed by chanting and a concert in his honor.

The standing-room-only concert was an international collaboration in real time that was broadcast live via the Internet from the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics at Stanford (CCRMA) Stage at The Knoll on campus. It included simultaneous performances from CCRMA Director Chris Chafe on celletto (an electronic cello) and other performers in Virginia, Santa Barbara, Calif., and Mexico.

The Imagining the Universe series provides opportunities to expand on existing collaborations. Stanford alumna Cecilia Wu, now a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, conceived and produced the November event. It developed compositions and musical connections begun during her Stanford studies as well as pulling together performers familiar to CCRMA and Pan Asian Music Festival audiences.

Sarah Weaver, composer and conductor, is offering the next installment of her Universal Synchrony Music project in January. A version that premiered last year involved students working with partners distributed in space and time.

Scientists, artists, humanists

Imagining the Universe brings together scientists, artists and humanists to explore the nature of the universe. Organized by an interdisciplinary consortium drawing on departments and programs from across the university, the series reflects Stanford's commitment to campus-wide connections among the sciences and arts.

Goals include deepening an understanding and appreciation for the richness of the universe, and appreciating what can be learned about ourselves from the way we depict the cosmos.

"The idea for the collaboration came from Peter Michelson, chair of the Department of Physics, who was present at the premiere of Cosmic Reflection, a symphonic composition by Stanford alumnus Nolan Gasser [PhD '01], accompanied by a video created in collaboration with NASA Goddard," said Matthew Tiews, the executive director of arts programs. "Peter's idea of bringing that piece to Stanford sparked a wide-ranging conversation about art, science, how we seek to understand our cosmos, and what that tells us about being human. This collaboration reflects contributions from numerous individuals and at least a dozen departments and programs from across campus."

Imagining continued: performances and more

Stanford freshmen will ponder the cosmos in the winter quarter course Thinking About the Universe: What do we know? How do we know it? This Thinking Matters freshman introductory course is taught by two physicists, Peter Graham and Peter Michelson, and a philosopher, Thomas Ryckman.

The Cantor Arts Center hosts the exhibition Loose in Some Real Tropics: Robert Rauschenberg's "Stoned Moon" Projects, 1969–70, from Dec. 20 through March 15. In 1969, Rauschenberg was invited by the NASA Art Program to document the launch of Apollo 11, the first manned spaceflight to the moon. He produced "Stoned Moon," a series of 34 large-format lithographs replete with scenes of astronauts and complex machinery. The exhibition features a number of the lithographs together with 20 rarely seen collages and drawings, photographs of the artist visiting NASA's facilities, and correspondence between the artist and the NASA Art Program.

Imagining the Universe performances include Stanford Symphony Orchestra multimedia productions of Gustav Holst's The Planets, Jan. 30–31, 2015, and Gasser's Cosmic Reflection, May 16–17, 2015. The Department of Theater & Performance Studies will stage a reading of Bertolt Brecht's Life of Galileo in the Bing Concert Hall Studio, May 14–16, 2015.

Public conversations throughout the academic year continue with Alyson Shotz, visual artist and former Sterling Visiting Scholar in Stanford's Department of Chemical and Systems Biology, on Jan. 22, 2015; interdisciplinary installation artist Matthew Ritchie on Feb. 26, 2015; and Andrei Linde, Stanford professor of physics and one of the authors of the big bang inflationary theory, who will address the question, "Universe or multi-universe?" on April 21, 2015.