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Woods Lectures
J. James Woods Lecture Series

Woods Lecture Series 2018–2019

Russ Mittermeier

Biodiversity Conservation: A Global Priority

Monday, October 1, 7:30 PM, Schrott Center for the Arts, Butler Arts Center

Biodiversity is the sum total of life on Earth, a living legacy to future generations. A biologist and lifelong conservationist with more than 45 years in the field, his quest to save biodiversity hotspots has taken him across 169 countries, leading him to discover more than 20 species new to science. Dr. Russell A. Mittermeier is the Chief Conservation Officer for the Global Wildlife Conservation, and Chair of the ICN/SSC Primate Specialist Group.

In this presentation, Dr. Mittermeier discusses why we should be concerned about other life forms with which we share our planet, how we set priorities for conservation action, and where we have succeeded in achieving our objectives.


Penelope Boston

Penelope Boston The Astrobiology of the Subsurface: Caves from Earth to Mars and Beyond

Thursday, November 1, 7:30 PM, Reilly Room, Atherton Union

The subsurface of Earth as visible in caves and mines, is home to a vast array of extremely unusual microorganisms. It is one of the many extreme environments on Earth that Penelope Boston and other astrobiologists are studying both to understand them in the context of fundamental biology and also to use them as templates for what we might find as lifeforms on other planets and moons. Some organisms “eat” rock and produce mineral traces of their presence, some live in very extreme temperatures, gas environments that are very poisonous to us but not to the creatures who live there. Some microbes can hide out in geological materials for long periods of time. Putting all these pieces together help us to prepare for the hunt for life on other planets in the Solar System, and on exoplanets around other stars.

Dr. Penelope Boston is Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at NASA Ames Research Center in California and holds a PhD from the University of Colorado, Boulder in Microbiology and Atmospheric Chemistry.


Reed Timmer

Reed TimmerThe Science of Storm Chasing

Tuesday, December 4, 7:30 PM,Reilly Room, Atherton Union

A storm chasing veteran of over 20 years, Dr. Reed Timmer takes his audience directly inside the tornado with videos and scientific data collected from the tank-like Dominator intercept vehicles, as featured on Discovery Channel's Storm Chasers series in 2008-2012. From launching rockets and drones into tornadoes from the roof of the Dominator 3 to the role of storm chasers in the severe weather warning process and disaster response, this presentation covers all topics related to chasing. While up-close, intense storm chasing videos including Dominator tornado intercepts are found throughout the presentation, the science of tornadoes and how to stay safe around severe weather are emphasized. The record-breaking 2017 hurricane season is also discussed from a chasing and climatology perspective, including the wind/pressure data recorded in the intense eye wall of Hurricane Harvey from the top of a bridge in Rockport, Texas, and Hurricane Irma from the Lower Florida Keys. Reed also provides advice for those interested in pursuing storm chasing and meteorology as a hobby or career. Timmer has a Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Oklahoma and is a meteorologist for AccuWeather.


Sebastian Wernicke

Sebastian WerniickeIn data we trust... but should we?

Thursday, January 31, 7:30 PM, Reilly Room, Atherton Union

Our lives are driven by data. Based on the choices made in the past - and millions of choices of other people - algorithms are guiding how we live. Corporations and public service institutions, similarly, are crunching enormous amounts of information to make better decisions. The underlying assumption is simple: A lot of relevant data combined with clear goals will lead to optimum decisions. But is this true? As data continues to permeate our lives, it turns out that things might not be that simple and indeed, bad decisions tend to happen to good data (and good intentions). Why does this happen and what can we do about it? 

Dr. Sebastian Wernicke serves as the Chief Data Scientist of ONE LOGIC, a boutique provider of Advanced Data Analytics, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence that supports clients across industries to gain tangible value from data. Previously, he worked several years as a strategy consultant (BCG, Oliver Wyman, Solon) and served as Managing Director for Seven Bridges, an analytics provider for computational genetics. Dr. Wernicke originally studied bioinformatics and holds a Ph.D. in theoretical computer science.


Tom Griffiths

Tom GriffithsAlgorithms to Live By

Tuesday, March 5, 7:30 PM, Atherton Union, Reilly Room

All our lives are constrained by limited space and time, limits that give rise to a particular set of problems. What should we do, or leave undone, in a day or a lifetime? How much messiness should we accept? What balance of new activities and familiar favorites is the most fulfilling? These may seem like uniquely human quandaries, but they are not: computers, too, face the same constraints, so computer scientists have been grappling with their versions of such problems for decades. And the solutions they've found have much to teach us. In this talk, I will discuss three problems that arise in the lives of both humans and computers — the explore/exploit tradeoff, caching, and predicting the future. Looking at the ways that computers solve these problems offers insights relevant to our day-to-day lives, and a different way of thinking about how we should make decisions, use our memories, and structure our environments.

Tom Griffiths is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Information Technology, Consciousness, and Culture at Princeton University. His research explores connections between human and machine learning, using ideas from statistics and artificial intelligence to understand how people solve the challenging computational problems they encounter in everyday life. In 2016, Tom and his friend and collaborator Brian Christian published "Algorithms to live by", introducing ideas from computer science and cognitive science to a general audience and illustrating how they can be applied to human decision-making. The book was named as one of the“Best Science Books of 2016,” the Forbes “Must-read brain books of 2016,” and the MIT Technology Review “Best books of 2016.”


Kristina Killgrove

Kristina Killgrove Reading Past Lives: How Archaeologists Understand the Stories Written in Bone. 

Tuesday, April 2, 7:30 PM, Atherton Union, Reilly Room

Human skeletons are fascinating to most people. As products of biological processes like growth and development as well as culturally informed practices like dining, migrating, and working, bones and teeth are inscribed with a wealth of information about a person's life. The scientists who are trained to 'read' the life stories from past people's skeletons are bioarchaeologists. Working all over the world, these researchers use a combination of techniques from biology, anatomy, chemistry, history, and anthropology to bring back to life individuals and their collective culture from their skeletal remains. This public lecture illustrates with case studies the information that bioarchaeologists like Dr. Killgrove are learning about the global human past and how that information is being communicated to the world at large.

Dr. Kristina Killgrove is an award-winning science writer and archaeologist based in Chapel Hill, NC. Her research focuses on the analysis of human skeletal remains from Imperial-era Italy, and her ongoing project at Oplontis near Naples involves the excavation, osteological analysis, and biochemical analysis of people killed in the catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Killgrove writes a regular column about archaeology for Forbes, and her popular science book on Roman bioarchaeology will debut in late 2019.