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Caltech researchers presenting at AAAS Meeting

This year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting is being held in San Diego, Feb. 19-22. Eight Caltech-associated researchers will be presenting on topics ranging from linear colliders to climate change to earthquake science, lasers, and space/time. Also occurring at the end of this year's meeting will be the installation of Caltech's Alice Huang as the next president of the AAAS. Below is a brief description of Caltech-affiliated presentations from this year's AAAS program:

Friday, Feb. 19

The Arrow of Time

Presenter: Sean Carroll: Senior Research Associate in Physics

Title: From the Cosmos to the Kitchen

One of the most obvious facts about the universe is that the past is different from the future. The world around us is full of irreversible processes: we can turn an egg into an omelet, but can't turn an omelet into an egg. Physicists have codified this difference into the Second Law of Thermodynamics: the entropy of a closed system always increases with time. In the 19th century, Ludwig Boltzmann explained why entropy tends to increase, but only under the assumption that it starts out small to begin with. The initially low entropy can only be explained by cosmology: why was the early universe in such a special state? We don't know the answer, but modern theories lead us to think about the multiverse and what happened before the Big Bang.

Time: 1:50 - 2:10 PM Location: Conv. Center Room 11B

Saturday, Feb. 20

Sarton Memorial Lecture: Knowledge in the Early Modern Era: The origins of Experimental Error

Presenter: Jed Z. Buchwald, Doris and Henry Dreyfuss Professor of History at Caltech

Buchwald has written books and articles on the histories of optics and electromagnetism, and continues to work and publish in these areas. Since arriving at Caltech, his interests also include issues that arose in the 18th and 19th centuries from attempts by scientists and others to engage with new archaeological discoveries and with historical chronology. This led to collaboration with his colleague, Moti Feingold to write a book on Isaac Newton's attempt to redate the past using astronomical evidence. Along the way they have discovered what they believe to be important issues concerning the understanding and manipulation of data before the development of statistical methods. Buchwald was previously director of the Dibner Institute for the History of Science and Technology at MIT. He won the McArthur Fellowship in 1995. George Sarton, professor of the history of science at Harvard from 1940 to 1951, is widely regarded as one of the key figures in the establishment of the history of science as a discipline in its own right. In 1960, the History of Science Society, under the auspices of AAAS, established the George Sarton Memorial Lecture. The first lecturer was Rene Dubos. The lecture is coordinated through the AAAS History and Philosophy of Science Section and delivered at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

Time: 12:30 - 1:15 PM Location: Conv. Center Room 6F

Earthquake Science and Advocacy: Helping Californians Live Along the San Andreas Fault:

Presenter: Lucy Jones, Chief Scientist, Multi Hazards Project, USGS, and Visiting Associate in Geophysics at Caltech

Title: The Great Southern California ShakeOut: From Science to the Community and Back Again

The Great Southern California ShakeOut program in November 2008 was the largest earthquake drill in U.S. history, involving more than 5 million southern Californians through a broad-based outreach program, media partnerships, and public advocacy by hundreds of partners. The basis of the drill was a scenario for a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas fault, which would cause broad devastation. The scenario was developed with the contributions of over 300 scientists, engineers, and other experts. In early 2009, the decision was made to hold the drill statewide on the third Thursday of October each year. A summary of the 2008 and 2009 drills will be shared in this session and plans for other ShakeOut drills elsewhere. A key aspect of the ShakeOut is the integration of a comprehensive earthquake scenario (incorporating earth science, engineering, policy, economics, public health, and other disciplines) and the lessons learned from decades of social science research about why people get prepared. The result is a "teachable moment" on par with having an actual earthquake (often followed by increased interest in getting ready for earthquakes). ShakeOut creates the sense of urgency that is needed for people, organizations, and communities to get prepared, to practice what to do to be safe, and to learn what plans need to be improved.

Time: 1:30 PM Location: Conv. Center Room 10

Societal Strategies for Addressing the Climate and Energy Challenge

Presenter: Nathan Lewis, George L. Argyros Professor of Chemistry at Caltech

Title: Making Energy Technology Choices: Dead Ends or Stepping Stones?

Where in the world will our energy come from? What would it take for the world to get away from fossil fuels and switch over to renewable energy? It takes more than willingness to buy a Prius or to have solar panels installed on your roof. If we want to use wind, solar thermal, solar electric, biomass, hydroelectric and geothermal energy it will take a lot of planning, and willingness on the part of governments and industry. It takes R&D investment, a favorable price per unit of energy to get anyone to produce alternative energy, and plenty of resources to create those energy sources. Lewis will discuss these and other hurdlestechnical, political, and economic- that must be overcome before the widespread adoption of renewable energy technologies.

Time: 2:10 PM Location: Conv. Center Room 4

Unexpected Discoveries on Brain Function and Development from Model Organisms

Presenter: David Anderson, Seymour Benzer Professor of Biology; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Title: What Can Model Organisms Tell Us About Emotion?

The behavior of an organism relies on the function of neural circuits. Neural circuits comprise complex ensembles of neurons interconnected through precise patterns of connections called synapses, specialized structures that underlie the regulated flow of information in the brain. How precise patterns of synaptic connections emerge during development and how these circuits control specific behaviors remain exciting frontiers in neuroscience. To gain insight into neural circuit function and development, scientists have turned increasingly to genetic technologies to manipulate specific cells within circuits and the function of specific genes in a model organism, such as a worm, fly, and mouse. In this symposium, recent progress in uncovering the cellular and molecular basis of neural circuit function and development will be presented.

Time: 1:50 PM Location: Conv. Center Room 2

Sunday, Feb. 21

Celebrating the Birth of the Laser: A Look Back After 50 Years

Presenter: William Bridges, Carl F Braun Professor of Engineering, Emeritus

Title: Gas Lasers: The Early Years

In 1960, the laser was an embryonic research tool with no clear applications beyond the laboratory "a solution in search of a problem." Since then, the laser has acquired immense commercial, industrial, and scientific importance. Its impact on how we live, from health care to entertainment to national security, has been enormous. This session tells the story of how the laser came to be, and provides a first-hand account of the birth and early growth of this ubiquitous scientific device. It also recognizes a major celebration, LaserFest.

Time: 9:10 AM Location: Conv. Center Room 17B

Mathematics and the Analysis of Fairness in Political Processes

Presenter: Chris Chambers, Assoc. Professor of Economics

Title: A Measure of Bizarreness

Politics may be viewed as the science of aggregating the preferences of individuals to determine policies to govern the collective activities of society. Science, and mathematics in particular, as applied by economists, political scientists, lawyers, computer scientists, and mathematicians, aids in the analysis and development of political processes, including voting, apportionment, and redistricting, to represent members of society fairly. Geometry, topology, game theory, discrete mathematics, and voting theory are part of the machinery and the foundation of our political processes and provide the abstract setting to understand how well our political processes work and to propose modifications and new solutions. In this symposium, mathematics will be used to analyze fairness in voting (elections for one or more candidates), apportionment (apportioning delegates in the Democratic primary, representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, and seats in parliamentary systems), and redistricting (determining boundaries of political regions within states). Legal, social, and practical aspects and implications will also be discussed.

Time: 2:50 PM Location: Conv. Center Room 11A

Monday, Feb. 22

Barry Barish: New Frontiers in Particle Physics

Presenter: Barry Barish, Director, Global Design Effort for the International Linear Collider, and Linde Professor of Physics at Caltech, Emeritus

Among Dr. Barish's noteworthy experiments were those performed at Fermilab involving high-energy neutrino collisions. These experiments were among the first to observe the weak neutral current, a linchpin of electroweak unification theories. Today he directs the ILC, the highest priority future project for particle physics worldwide that promises to complement the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in exploring the TeV energy scale. In the 1980s, Barish initiated an ambitious international effort to build a sophisticated underground detector which provided some key evidence that neutrinos have mass. In 1994, he became principal investigator of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) project. As director of the LIGO Laboratory from 1997 to 2005, he led a team of scientists who built two facilities to detect and study gravitational waves from astrophysical sources. Dr. Barish is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts, and is a Fellow of AAAS and the American Physical Society. He earned his Ph.D. degree in experimental high energy physics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Time: 8:30-9:30 AM Location: Conv. Center Room 6AB


Contact: Jon Weiner
California Institute of Technology

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