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Woods Lectures
J. James Woods Lecture Series

Woods Lecture Series 2019–2020

Daniel Wilson

Daniel WilsonSci-fi Destroys the Future…Science Builds It

Tuesday, October 22, 2019, 7:30 PM, Reilly Room, Atherton Union

Daniel H. Wilson is a Cherokee citizen and author of the New York Times bestselling Robopocalypse and its sequel Robogenesis, as well as many other books, including How to Survive a Robot UprisingThe Clockwork Dynasty, and Amped. His latest novel (to be released November 12, 2019) is an authorized stand-alone sequel to Michael Crichton’s classic The Andromeda Strain, called The Andromeda Evolution.

Wilson offers an entertaining look at “killer robots,” while offering insights into robotics, artificial intelligence, and cyber security. He earned a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University and lives in Portland, Oregon.

Cheryl Hayashi 

Cheryl HayashiSecrets of Spider Webs 

Thursday, November 14, 2019, 7:30 PM,Reilly Room, Atherton Union

Spiders are the superstars of the natural world when it comes to spinning silk. Capable of remarkable feats, spiders and their web spinning abilities have been the inspiration for ancient legends, beloved children’s books, comics, and movies. But what is really known about spider silk? Dr. Hayashi studies the functional genomics of adaptive molecules, with particular emphasis on the evolution and biomimetic potential of remarkable molecules produced by spiders. She is widely recognized as a pioneer in the study of silks, and her integrative research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, Army Research Office, US Department of Energy, and Air Force Office of Scientific Research, among others.

Cheryl Hayashi is Curator, Professor and Leon Hess Director of Comparative Biology Research, and Director of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History. She was a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Dr. Hayashi received her PhD degree through a joint program with Yale University and the American Museum of Natural History.

(Photo, © AMNH/R. Mickens)

Indre Viskontas

Indre ViskontasHow Music Can Make You Better

Tuesday, December 10, 2019, 7:30 PM, Shelton Auditorium, Butler South Campus

Indre Viskontas is a sought-after science communicator across all mediums including hosting the popular science podcast Inquiring Minds, which boasts more than 7 million downloads. Combining a passion for music with scientific curiosity, she is affectionately known as Dr. Dre by her students at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she is pioneering the application of neuroscience to musical training, and at the University of San Francisco, where she is an Assistant Professor of Psychology. As a scientist, Dr. Viskontas has published more than 50 original papers and chapters related to the neural basis of memory and creativity, including several seminal articles in top scientific journals.

She received a BSc in Psychology and French Literature from the University of Toronto, an MM degree in Vocal Performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCLA. 

Marc Edwards

Marc EdwardsTruth Seeking in an Age of Tribalism

Wednesday, January 22, 2020, 7:30 PM, Reilly Room, Atherton Union

Marc Edwards is a University Distinguished Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, where he teaches courses in environmental engineering, applied aquatic chemistry, and engineering ethics. His research group conducted the investigative science uncovering the 2001–2004 D.C. Lead Crisis, the 2014–2016 Flint Water Disaster, and illegal pesticide dosing to water of Denmark SC 2008–2018. In 2016 he was named among TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential people in the World, the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune Magazine, Politico Magazine’s Top 50 Visionaries who have transformed American politics, Foreign Policy Magazine’s 100 World’s Greatest Thinkers, and was short-listed among Flint whistleblowers as Time person(s) of the year.

He was co-recipient of the inaugural 2017 MIT Disobedience Award and received the AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award (2018) and the Hoover Humanitarian Medal (2019). 

Janna Levin

Janna LevinBlack Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

Thursday, February 20, 2020, 7:30 PM, Reilly Room, Atherton Union

Janna Levin is the Director of Sciences and Chair of the Science Studios at Pioneer Works. She is also the Claire Tow Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. A Guggenheim Fellow, Janna has contributed to an understanding of black holes, the cosmology of extra dimensions, and gravitational waves in the shape of spacetime. She is the presenter of the NOVA feature Black Hole Apocalypse, aired on PBS—the first female presenter for NOVA in 35 years. Her previous books include How the Universe Got Its Spots and a novel, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, which won the PEN/Bingham Prize. Her latest book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, is the inside story on the discovery of the century: the sound of spacetime ringing from the collision of two black holes over a billion years ago.

Greg Gage

Greg GageNeuroscience for the 99%. Developing Low-fi, High-tech Experiments to Understand Our Brains


Greg Gage is the co-founder and CEO of Backyard Brains, an organization that develops open-source tools that allow amateurs and students to participate in neural discovery. Backyard Brains develops DIY versions of advanced neuroscience research tools which are appropriate for amateurs and are used in middle/high school educational programs. Their simple, yet powerful neuroscience kits have been popularized through engaging TED TALKS and MYTHBUSTER videos.

Greg is an NIH-award winning neuroscientist with nine popular TED Talks and dozens of peer-reviewed publications and was the recipient of the White House Champion of Change from Barack Obama award for his commitment to citizen science.

Tanya Smith

Tanya SmithThe Tales Teeth Tell 


Professor Smith explores the evolution and development of the human dentition. Teeth preserve remarkably faithful records of daily growth and infant diet—as well as stress experienced during birth—for millions of years. Her research has helped to identify of the origins of a fundamental human adaptation: the costly yet advantageous shift from a “live fast and die young” strategy to the “live slow and grow old” tactic that has helped to make us one of the most successful mammals on the planet. Professor Smith’s research has been published in Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and highlighted in National Geographic, NatureThe New York TimesScience, and Smithsonian magazines. Her first book, The Tales Teeth Tell, was published by MIT Press in 2018.  

Tanya Smith is a Professor in the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution and the Griffith Centre for Social and Cultural Research at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia.