Romer Lecture Speakers: 1997 - Present

Dr. Thomas D. Seeley, Cornell University
Honeybee Democracy (2012)

Honeybees make decisions collectively-and democratically. Every year, faced with the life-or death problem of choosing a new home, honeybees stake everything on a process that includes collective factfinding, vigorous debate, and consensus building. Seeley will describe how these bees evaluate potential nest sites, advertise their discoveries to one another, engage in open deliberation, choose a final site, and navigate together-as a swirling cloud of bees-to their new home. He will argue that these incredible insects have much to teach us when it comes to achieving collective wisdom. A decision-making group should consist of individuals with shared interests and mutual respect, a leader's influence should be minimized, diverse solutions should be sought, vigorous debate of the options should be encouraged, and the majority will should be counted on for a dependable solution. We will see that with the right organization, decision making groups can be smarter than even the smartest individual in them.

Dr. Thomas D. Seeley is a Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, where he teaches courses in animal behavior and does research on the functional organization of honey bee colonies.

Dr. Ronald Mallett, University of Connecticut
Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality (2010)

In this lecture, intended for a general audience, Professor Mallett explains his theory of time travel which is derived from the work of Einstein and Gödel and from his own experiments over thirty years. But behind the science – which is delivered in clear, captivating language with accessible metaphors – lies Mallett's personal story. He touches on the death of his father when he was a boy (which set him on his current path to invent a time machine) and tells us how he overcame poverty and racism to become one of the few African-American Ph.Ds in theoretical physics. Mallett's talks provide both intriguing scientific speculations on the future of time travel and an inspiration to aspiring scientists.

Ronald Mallett is a Professor of Physics at the University of Connecticut. He has used Einstein’s equations to design a time machine with circulating laser beams. While his team is still looking for funding, he hopes to build and test the device in the next 10 years.

Professor David Cassidy, Hofstra University
J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Moral Complexity of Modern Science (2008)

J. Robert Oppenheimer led the team that built the atomic bomb, and he recommended its use on Japan. Yet, as the leading science advisor, he opposed the building of the hydrogen bomb on moral grounds. The product of the best of American culture and education, steeped in the Ethical Culture movement, how did he, like many others, become involved in the building and use of the bomb? How did he, and his colleagues, become opposed to the H-bomb? What do these differing reactions tell us about the moral complexities of issues in today's science?

David Cassidy, Professor of Chemistry, Hofstra University, has written extensively on the history of the physical sciences in the U.S. and Germany. He also has served as an editor of the Einstein Papers, and has won awards for his science writing for a popular audience. This year's Romer Lecture draws from his 2005 book J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century.

Dr. David Barash, University of Washington
The Hare and the Tortoise: The Conflict Between Culture and Biology in Human Affairs, or: When Baboons Drive Hummers (2007)

Human beings are animals, yet also more than animals. On the one hand, we are the products of evolution by natural selection, subject to biology; on the other, we are masters of technology, nearly godlike in our ability to modify our environment and, increasingly, ourselves. No other living thing experiences such a divided existence, and I shall argue that the resulting conflict is one of the keys to our modern "human dilemma," including war, overpopulation, environmental problems, many social instabilities, with effects from the international to the personal.

Dr. Michael Paesler, North Carolina State University
The Blue Moon, Einstein, and Mie (2006)

Under certain atmospheric conditions, the sun or moon may take on a decidedly blue hue, due to an optical effect called Mie scattering (rather than the more common Rayleigh scattering), involving motion of dust in the air. Einstein in 1905 developed the theory of Brownian motion which describes just such movement. His work thus leads one to an explanation of the blue moon. In this talk Dr. Paesler will discuss and demonstrate just how this occurs.

Dr. Paesler is Head of the Physics Department at North Carolina State University, a Fellow of the American Physics Society, member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi, and the NC State Academy of Outstanding Teachers.

David Allen Sibley
Birds and Bird Guides: The Universal Appeal of Birds, and the Pleasures and Challenges of Creating a Field Guide (2005)

Sibley is the author of the fastest-selling bird guide of all time, The Sibley Guide to Birds, a comprehensive field guide to North American birds published in 2000, and its companion piece, The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. In 2002 Sibley's Birding Basics, an introduction to bird identification was published, and in 2003, The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America and The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America were published. A native of upstate New York, Sibley began drawing birds at age seven, and his search for birds has taken him to such birding hotspots as Cape May, New Jersey; the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas; and south Florida.

Beginning with childhood drawings and following the evolution of his ideas for the "perfect" field guide, Sibley will discuss the things that inspired him and kept him going through the long process, as well as the challenge of presenting a huge and diverse amount of information in one book. He will also discuss the importance of the field guide as a tool, and birds as bridges that allow people to forge a connection with nature in the modern world.

Dr. Robert Greenler, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
The NASA Shuttle-Launch, Dark-Moon-Ray Mystery (2004)

A photograph of the February 7, 2001 launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, shows many interesting sky effects. The most striking feature is the dark ray converging toward (or radiating from) the full moon. The photo presents an interesting puzzle that can be understood, mostly without any additional information. A variety of effects visible in the photo will be discussed with the aid of slides, demonstrations, and a video segment.

Dr. Robert Greenler is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of WisconsinMilwaukee where he has been a faculty member since 1962. He has been instrumental in the development of the Laboratory for Surface Studies at Milwaukee, an internationally recognized interdisciplinary laboratory that has been the focus for much of his research effort.

Dr. Stephen H. Schneider, Stanford University
Global Warming Debate: Good Science or Bad Politics? (2003)

Professor Schneider has done pioneering modeling work in the fields of atmospheric science and global climatology, including the relationship of biological systems to global climate change. He enjoys working on coupling models of the atmosphere to models of other climatic subsystems such as oceans, ice, or biosphere. He has initiated new research and policy directions in environmental issues. His current research interests include climatic change, global warming, the economic implications of global warming mitigation strategies, food/climate and other environmental/science public policy issues, public understanding of science, and environmental consequences of nuclear war. He has written articles on climatic change signals ecology and climate, environmental policy, and global air pollution, among other topics; he has also authored a text entitled “Global Warming: Are We Entering the Greenhouse Century?” and published by Vintage Books in 1989.

Dr. Lynn Margulis, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
On the Origin of Species: The Inheritance of Acquired Bacteria (2002)

One hundred forty years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, major issues remain unsolved:

  • How do great evolutionary changes occur?
  • How do new species appear?
  • What leads to new taxonomic groups?

Lynn Margulis believes that symbiogenesis, an evolutionary consequence of symbiosis, is a major factor. Dr. Margulis will discuss the old problems of the origin of evolutionary change and show how genome acquisition and community analysis propel us toward a new Gaian view of life. Life, after all, is a planetary phenomenon, and Gaia may be understood as symbiosis as seen from space.

Dr. Jeff Weeks, Mathematician, Cosmologist and MacArthur Fellow
The Shape of Space (2001)

Is the universe really infinite? Data from a small NASA satellite could soon show that it’s not. The first half of Dr. Weeks’ presentation will use computer games to show how space may be finite, yet have no boundary. Interactive 3D graphics will then take the viewer on a tour of several possible shapes for space. The presentation will conclude with an explanation of the Big Bang, and how the radiation remaining from it may reveal the true shape of our universe.

Dr. Eloy Rodriguez, Cornell University
Living Longer and Healthier with Natural Medicines from the Amazon Rain Forest and Caribbean Coral Reefs (2000)

Professor Rodriguez will present the latest medical drug discoveries from undergraduate students who travel to deep jungles of the Amazon and dive into deep blue waters of the Caribbean to study the chemical biology of interactions. He will also discuss his personal studies of hidden Amazon tribes that use a variety of medicines from ants, birds and scorpions to combat malaria and other tropical diseases. Lastly, Professor Rodriguez will discuss the importance of conservation and preservation of unique species that contain genes that are beneficial in food and medicine production.

Dr. Roger Stuewer, University of Minnesota
The Case of the Elusive Particles: Nuclear Disintegration and the Cambridge-Vienna Controversy (1999)

Scientific controversies can offer a glimpse through the window of a particular historical period of how science functions as a process. Scientists holding opposing points of view in a controversy submit a range of issues to intense scrutiny. Careful examination of these issues can reveal the interplay of theory, experiment and observation and how this interplay leads to new scientific knowledge.

The Cambridge-Vienna controversy during 1922 – 1928 centered on the disintegration of elements (nuclei) by alpha particles, triggering the emission of protons. Ernest Rutherford and James Chadwick in Cambridge argued with Hans Pettersson and Gerhard Kirsch in Vienna over questions involving which elements could be disintegrated in this way, whether these elusive disintegration protons could be observed and how the process should be interpreted theoretically. A web of personal and institutional rivalries became thoroughly entangled with the scientific issues, raising the stakes in the outcome of the controversy enormously.

All the questions in this controversy will be examined in the context of 1920s physics and for their meaning in the larger context of our understanding of how science functions in an intensely competitive atmosphere.

Dr. Robert Richardson, Cornell University (1998)

The second annual Romer Lecture was presented in April, 1998 by Robert Richardson, a low-temperature physicist who shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of superfluidity in helium-3.

Jack Horner, Montana State University/Museum of the Rockies
Digging Dinosaurs: The Search That Unraveled the Mystery of Baby Dinosaurs (1997)

John R. "Jack" Horner, dinosaur authority, gave the first annual Alfred Romer Lecture on April 21st, 1997. Curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, he spoke on "Digging Dinosaurs: The Search That Unraveled the Mystery of Baby Dinosaurs". Horner discovered the first dinosaur eggs in the Western Hemisphere, the first evidence of dinosaur colonial nesting, the first evidence of parental care among dinosaurs and the first dinosaur embryos. He has written extensively about dinosaurs and was a technical advisor for the film Jurassic Park