Skip to main content
Woods Lectures
J. James Woods Lecture Series

Woods Lecture Series 2017–2018

Christie Wilcox 

Nature's Deadliest Biochemists: A Love Story

Tuesday, October 3, 7:30 PM, Schrott Center for the Arts, Butler Arts Center 

Venomous animals and the potent chemical cocktails they wield have fascinated our species since the dawn of human history, and perhaps even longer. They are nature's most feared creatures, and yet, these notorious animals hold the keys to a deeper understanding of evolution, physiology, and medicine.

In this lecture, Christie Wilcox—author of Venomous: How Earth's Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry—will show how the animals we love to loathe have actually helped us all along. From teaching us how our bodies work at the molecular level to providing targeted therapeutics for our most devastating diseases, and perhaps even driving the evolution of our big brains, venomous animals have been our species' allies, not enemies. And with modern technology finally able to decipher the biochemical knowledge contained in their genomes, venomous creatures will only continue to help humanity tackle our biggest challenges over the coming centuries. 

Wilcox is an award-winning science writer based in the Seattle area. She pens the Science Sushi blog for Discover Magazine, and her bylines include The Washington Post, Popular Science, and Quanta. Her debut book, Venomous, explores the fascinating science behind the deadliest chemical cocktails on the planet made by some of the world's most notorious species.

Margaret D. Lowman

Woods Margaret LowmanLife in the Treetops—Exploration of Tropical Rain Forest Canopies

Thursday, November 9, 7:30 PM, Atherton Union, Reilly Room 

“CanopyMeg” will speak about her discoveries of biodiversity in forest canopies, sharing her first climb in Australian rain forests in 1979 with a home-made slingshot and harness that provides a beginning for her subsequent chronology of canopy discoveries using different tools. She will take the audience on a global tour to some of the forest canopy hotspots where she conducts long-term research and education programs.

Her most recent efforts, to conserve the last 5 percent of forests in northern Ethiopia, illustrate the essential services that trees provide for human health. She will also provide an update on the state of global forests, and share some exciting solutions to global forest management.  

Over the past three decades, Lowman has earned an international reputation as one of the world’s first arbornauts, pioneering the field of forest canopy science. National Geographic dubbed her “the Real Life Lorax” and The Wall Street Journal labeled her as “the Einstein of the treetops.” She has devised innovative methods—including walkways, construction cranes and hot air balloons—to explore this “eighth continent,” home to about half of life on earth.

Equipped with degrees in biology, ecology, executive management, and a doctorate in botany, Lowman transformed her childhood passion of trees and building tree forts into mapping canopy biodiversity worldwide and spearheading the construction of North America’s first canopy walkway. She has authored over 125 scientific publications and seven books, of which Life in the Treetops earned a cover review by The New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Jordan Ellenberg

Woods Jordan EllenbergHow Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking

Tuesday, December 5, 7:30 PM,  Schrott Center for the Arts, Butler Arts Center

The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In this talk, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how wrong this view is: Math touches everything we do, allowing us to see the hidden structures beneath the messy and chaotic surface of our daily lives. It’s a science of not being wrong, worked out through centuries of hard work and argument.

Drawing from history as well as the latest theoretical developments, Ellenberg demonstrates that profound mathematical ideas are present whenever we reason, from the commonplace to the cosmic. And, he shows how to use this knowledge in our lives, whether you’re a business looking to discover the power of big data, a corporate audience out to improve logic and understanding within your organization, or a college crowd with an appetite for the latest research by one of America’s rising scholarly stars. 

The Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Ellenberg is the author of two books: How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, and The Grasshopper King, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Recently, he served as a consultant (and actor, briefly!) for the film Gifted. Ellenberg has held an NSF-CAREER grant and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and in 2013 he was named one of the inaugural class of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society.

Daniel Willingham

Woods Daniel WilinghamDigital Technology and the Future of Education

Wednesday, February 28, 7:30 PM, Schrott Center for the Arts, Butler Arts Center

Digital technologies have changed many aspects of our lives, especially the way we work, entertain ourselves, and communicate. How have digital technologies changed schooling, and what changes are in store for us in the future?

Willingham earned his BA from Duke University in 1983 and his doctorate in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. His research concerns the application of cognitive psychology to K-16 education.

Rhiju Das

Woods Rhiju DasBiomolecule Design Rules From an Internet-Scale Videogame with Experiments

Wednesday, March 21, 7:30 PM, Atherton Union, Reilly Room 

Rhiju Das strives to make the computer modeling of life as agile and engaging as the design of software. His lab at Stanford focuses on medically relevant RNA molecules, developing computational and high-throughput chemical tools for the rapid modeling and design of these molecules.

Das trained in particle physics and cosmology at Harvard and Cambridge before switching to molecular biophysics during his doctorate at Stanford and postdoctoral work at the University of Washington. He is currently an associate professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Physics at Stanford University.

He leads the Eterna massive open laboratory, which couples a 100,000-player videogame to the lab’s massively parallel experimental tools and deep learning, the first such platform in citizen science. He mentors students from the biochemistry, biophysics, biomedical informatics, and learning sciences PhD programs.

Daniel Wilson
Woods Daniel WilsonSci-fi Destroys the Future...Science Builds It

Tuesday, April 17, 7:30 PM, Atherton Union, Reilly Room  

Science fiction has a strong influence on real-world research and development, often shaping the look and behavior of new inventions. But every new technological advance also works to shape authors' sci-fi imaginings. From dystopia to utopia to boring old reality, how does the exchange of ideas between Hollywood and academia help prepare humankind to imagine new and amazing futures?

Daniel H. Wilson, a Cherokee citizen, is the author of The New York Times Bestseller Robopocalypse, which is currently being adapted for film by Steven Spielberg, and its sequel, Robogenesis. His other books include How to Survive a Robot Uprising, A Boy and His Bot, and Amped. His new novel, The Clockwork Dynasty, was released in August 2017.

Wilson earned his doctorate in Robotics, as well as master’s degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, from Carnegie Mellon University.