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June 16, 2006

Free public lecture series provides science under the stars

Can environmental damage be reversed? Will we ever be able to predict earthquakes? What issues need resolving to make the most of stem cells? The Office of Science Outreach, the Cantor Center for Visual Arts and Stanford Continuing Studies invite the public to explore these topics and more at a science lecture series at the Cantor Center this summer. Parking, museum entrance and lectures are free.

"The general public is being called upon to understand increasingly complex scientific issues that underlie public policy controversies such as the energy crisis, environmental pollution, global warming and stem cell research," said Patricia Devaney, director of the Office of Science Outreach. "This lecture series is designed to inform and inspire our community about the wonders of science."

Visitors can explore the Cantor Center starting at 5 p.m. and then wander outside to hear scientists talk in lay terms about their research starting at 7 p.m. Although lawn chairs will be provided, visitors are welcome to bring their own chairs or picnic blankets. They can bring their own picnics or purchase an organic buffet BBQ dinner (about $12, cash only, with both meat and vegetarian options) and beverages and desserts at the Cool Café in the museum from 5 to 8 p.m.

Lectures include:

  • June 22: "The Rebirth of the Monterey Coast: An Environmental Success Story for a Change." Stephen Palumbi, professor of biological sciences, will speak about Monterey Bay's transformation from an overfished ecosystem in John Steinbeck's day to one of the nation's most beautiful shorelines today. He will explore the roles of Stanford's first president, David Starr Jordan, in building a marine station in Monterey; Pacific Grove Mayor Julia Platt in establishing the first marine refuge in Monterey; and Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard in establishing the aquarium. He also will tell how happenstance—a world war, a collapsed fishery, an abrupt climate shift and the return of the ecologically pivotal sea otter—influenced the bay's rebirth.
  • July 6: "Using Evolution to Understand Human Growth and Disease." Matthew Scott, professor of developmental biology, genetics and bioengineering, will talk about the recent revolution in understanding the genetic machinery that controls the growth of a human from a fertilized egg. The genetic "hardware"—the genes and proteins that do the work—is dramatically similar among seemingly different animals. Discoveries in one organism can guide research in another—even across an evolutionary distance of half a billion years.
  • July 20: "A Century of Progress in Understanding Earthquakes and Their Effects." The husband-and-wife team of Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford, and Mary Lou Zoback, senior research scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, will talk about the progress earth scientists have made in understanding how, why and where earthquakes occur. A century after the 1906 earthquake that provided the underpinnings of modern seismic-hazards analysis, the speakers will talk about the current status of earthquake prediction efforts and potential breakthroughs from exciting new experiments.
  • Aug. 3: "Archimedes: Ancient Text Revealed with X-ray Vision." Uwe Bergmann, a physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, will speak about technology that revealed ancient work of the mathematical genius Archimedes. Two of the great Greek's treatises existed in a 10th-century parchment document known as the "Archimedes Palimpsest," which had been erased and painted over. At the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory, an intense X-ray beam produced in a particle accelerator makes the iron in the original ink glow to reveal the ancient writings.
  • Aug. 31: "Embryonic Stem Cells: Science, Ethics and Politics." Julie Baker, assistant professor of genetics, and Hank Greely, professor of law, will discuss human embryonic stem cells, which are among the most promising, complicated and controversial areas of contemporary biomedical research. Baker, whose lab is working to create human embryonic stem cells, will describe the scientific challenges of the work. Greely, who serves on Stanford and California committees working to ensure that stem cell research proceeds ethically, will discuss the difficult issues the research raises.
  • Editor Note:

    The lectures are free and open to the public.



    Dawn Levy, News Service: (650) 725-1944,


    Pat Devaney, Office of Science Outreach: (650) 724-4332,

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