Cafe Scientifique is an engaging and informational discussion about an interesting and relevant topic in today's society. Please take a moment to review the topics we have discussed in the past. If you've found an interest in any one of them, please do not hesitate to contact Alex Azima, lead faculty of the Physics department at Lansing Community College to discuss and learn more!
Vaccines - where are we and how did we get there?
Few health care decisions have generated more passion in recent years than the decision to vaccinate children. How did what once was viewed as an unalloyed public good become so controversial? We will have a conversation about vaccines, the pharmaceutical industry and some of the work that is the core of the current public concerns about the safety of vaccination. Dr. Thomas Deits will be our presenter.
Special Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, and other Weird Physics Stuff!
Can you live longer than your twin or fit in a space smaller than your size by moving fast enough? Can you tunnel through a thick wall by repeatedly beating your head against it? These are possibilities in the worlds of the really fast and the really small! Strange aspects of modern physics along with some applications to our everyday lives were discussed. LCC Physics Professor Alex Azima was our presenter.
Learning to Fly
This month's topic was lucid dreaming. The ability to interpret and control your dreams is not just mythology and superstition. Many of us (including serious scientists) use our dreams to work out problems, solve creative challenges, and experience otherwise impossible events. This presentation discussed how to unlock your second life. Biology Professor Meg Elias presented.
Who Will Speak for the Planet Earth?
How has space exploration impacted our perceptions of God, self, and religion since the time of Galileo but especially since the twentieth-century? When the day finally arrives and we actually encounter a civilization around another star, will the people of our planet be able and willing to put aside their differences and speak with a single voice? Who should speak for the planet Earth - the President of the United States, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Dalai Lama, the Pope? These questions will be integral to government and religious leaders in the future. Education, too, will be affected by continued space exploration. When we realize at last that we're not alone in the cosmos, we will be forced to humbly accept that all our planet's art, music, literature, philosophy, religion, science, and technology - all of what we teach in our churches, schools and universities - represents one world history in a many worlds universe. Will we be ready?
Open Mike Night
This previous Cafe Scientifique was an experiment in scientific discourse. The idea is that anyone who wants to discuss any scientific topic at all - whether as an expert who just wants to summarize something interesting, someone with an off-the-wall theory about whatever, or a regular person who just wants to have a chat about a topic and are looking for enlightenment from the audience, anyone is welcome. The rules are pretty simple. There will be a moderator whose rule is law. There will be a maximum time limit of 10 minutes per person with 5 minutes for questions. Everyone will behave nicely. Folks who contact Cafe Scientifique at the email address <firstname.lastname@example.org> in advance with a brief description of their topic will get preference, but we will consider folks who just show up the night of and want to give it a whirl. Like any open mike event, be ready for some hits and some misses, but we guarantee an interesting evening for all concerned.
The gene BRCA1 and its relationship to breast cancer - Oops! I just broke the law!
Many feel that the patent system is fundamentally broken worldwide. We will talk about a very important gene that, if it is mutated, confers a vastly higher risk of breast cancer. Amazingly, under current patent law by merely stating this fact, I may be violating the patent rights of a biotech company. How can this be? Does this mean the patent system in fact no longer achieves its goal of fostering innovation? Dr. Thomas Diets will be our presenter.
The Large Hadron Collider and the Higgs Boson
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, is the world's highest energy particle accelerator. Having taken 15 years to build, it is now operating with collision energies of 8 TeV (trillion electron volts). Four large particle detectors are located around the 17-mile circumference of the LHC. Michigan State University (and the University of Michigan) physicists are members of the team of scientists working on the largest of these detectors, the ATLAS experiment. Recent results appear to show the discovery of the long-sought-after Higgs particle.
THE FUTURE OF MANKIND: The merging of man and machine. Will we be the next Borg?
According to inventor and futurist, Ray Kurzweil (among others), in the next few years our lives will be dramatically changed by advances in robotics, genetics and nanotechnology. He predicts a technological singularity that will arrive around 2045, where people will need to have their intellects mechanically enhanced in order to keep up with the accelerating changes. Join entertainer, programmer and author, Jonathan Stars, as we look at both the promise and peril of our future with machines.
UNCERTAINTY: where the mysterious actions of sub-atomic particles and the shadowy complexity of human motivation meet.
The April meeting of Cafe Scientifique will offer a program combining theatre, history and science. Riverwalk Theatre will present a scene from its upcoming production of COPENHAGEN, the award winning play by Michael Frayn on the 1941 meeting between physicists Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, followed by a discussion by Jeff Conn, Wayne State University; Alex Azima, Physics Professor, Lansing Community College; and Mary Job, director of COPENHAGEN, on the history, philosophy, psychology and science behind the play. Come join as part of a wide-ranging discussion on "how do we know what we know?", whether we are exploring physical reality or human interaction.
"Three Mile Island Revisited: After Fukushima"
Nuclear power is once again a topic of conversation as we are faced with the consequences of the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Lansing Community College Professors Mindy Wilson and Alex Azima will discuss the basics of nuclear power generation and related issues, including waste storage and processing, health effects of nuclear radiation, security issues and lessons learned from history.
"Cold-Blooded Kindness-Insights into Pathological Altruism."
Many humans feel empathy and altruism for others - this has been the subject of significant research in the past decade. But not everyone is empathetic or altruistic, and not every situation is one that empathetic caring can heal. In fact, our own feelings of empathy and caring can be turned against us-used as tools to further another's self-serving tendencies, or drawing us inextricably into another's pain. Join us as Professor Barbara Oakley uses engineering concepts of root cause analysis and optimization, as well as insights from neuroscience, to examine the dark side of empathy and altruism-a side we ignore at our peril if we truly want to help others.
"The World of Richard Feynman, with Ann Arbor graphic biographer Jim Ottaviani and Physicist Sekhar Chivukula of Michigan State University."
This month combined science and art, with a presentation by Jim Ottaviani, Ann Arbor author of the graphic novel biography Feynman, detailing the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, and by physicist Sekhar Chivukula of Michigan State University, who talked about Feynman's impact on the field of physics, rounding out our view of one of the most important scientists - and one of the most fascinating people - of the 20th century.
"Fair Food - An inspiring vision for change with Oran B. Hesterman, PhD."
Scientist, activist and author Dr. Oran B. Hesterman, presents his solutions-oriented approach to fixing the broken food system by changing not only what we eat, but how our food is grown, packaged, delivered, marketed and sold. Fresh off a national book tour and back in his home state, Hesterman will explain the innovative programs he has implemented in Michigan and the inspiring programs he has witnessed and funded nationwide. Grounded in a deep knowledge of agriculture, Dr. Hesterman will unpack the larger picture of sustainability laid out in his recent publication: Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All. http://fairfoodbook.org/
"Interaction of Chemistry and History"
Science and humanities classes are traditionally taught as two distinct subjects. The truth is, they are anything but isolated topics. Developments in chemistry affected the course of history while history and socio-economic conditions controlled the pace of chemistry. Have you ever wondered why alchemy (chemistry's original form) developed in some areas but not in others? Or considered how chemistry is changing based on our current social concerns.
"Confusing Climate: The Role of Images in Conveying Climate Change"
Presenters: Michigan State University Professors Julie Libarkin and Stephen
Visual imagery is ubiquitous in science and a powerful tool for conveying science to both experts and novices. In general, scientists initially create images to convey information to each other; these images are often simplified and enhanced before being used to convey information to students and the general public. Both the science of image design and visual literacy, the extent to which people can understand images, are often missing in the image development process. Without considering these, the potential for misinterpretations of science to unintentionally arise cannot be underestimated. This talk will discuss our research on visual literacy, image design, and science communication, with a particular focus on climate change. Using surveys, eye tracking, and interview techniques, we have identified significant disconnects between the expectations of scientists and the ability of students to engage with climate change imagery. In this work, we propose alternative images for conveying key climate change messages, and are interested in the Cafe participants' feedback.
"The 'Warrior' Gene"
In a recent high profile murder case, genetic testing resulted in the defendant being charged with a lesser crime. The defendant carried the so-called "warrior" gene which has been linked to aggression and other anti-social behavior. Lansing Community College faculty member Arthur Wohlwill will discuss the biological nature of the gene and the consequent ethical and legal implications.
"What is a Healthy Human Diet?"
In 1977, a committee led by Senator George McGovern issued their Dietary Goals for the United States: eat less fat, cholesterol and sugar, and more carbohydrates including fruits and whole grains. Their recommendations quickly became our nation's idea of a healthy diet. That year, obesity began to rise. With it came a host of ailments including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and dyslipidemia - collectively known as the metabolic syndrome. The trend continues to this day, despite our eating more grains and less fat. Did we not follow the recommendations closely enough, or were they somehow incorrect? Since nutrition is a biological question, and evolution is the theory that unifies biological facts, does evolution have anything to say about nutrition? Did a caveman know more about healthy food than a U.S. Senator? Alex Krusz, adjunct lecturer in mathematics at Lansing Community College, will present historical, anthropological and biological data that may challenge your idea of a healthy meal.
"Managing Water Resources"
Lansing Community College faculty member Michael Brundage will discuss water resource management. He will highlight how a group of entities in Las Vegas, NV (UNLV, Sierra Club, Outside Las Vegas, NPS, BLM, Clark County School District, and Forever Earth) worked together to address this critical issue in their region.
"The Millenium Prize Problems"
In order to celebrate mathematics in the new millennium, The Clay Mathematics Institute of Cambridge, Massachusetts established seven Prize Problems on March 24, 2000. They currently offer a $1,000,000 cash prize to anyone who provides a solution. The Prizes were conceived to elevate in the consciousness of the general public the fact that in mathematics, the frontier is still open and abounds in important unsolved problems. Please join us as Eric Waggoner, physics and mathematics faculty member at Lansing Community College, briefly summarizes the problems and describes what makes them so interesting.
"Are Male and Female Brains Wired Differently?"
Are anatomical sex differences in human brain significant? Dr. Christel Marschall, Biology Professor at Lansing Community College, will present and discuss the results of recent research in this area.
"Was Pluto ever a planet?"
Presenters: Michael Byers, author, and Bruce Greenway, astronomer and
The recent demotion of Pluto from planetary status has caused a worldwide uproar-the smallest planet turns out to have legions of devoted fans. But in 1930, when Clyde Tombaugh found the image that would turn out to be Pluto, the history of this elusive body was already surrounded by mystery, obsession, and controversy. Michael Byers' new novel about the discovery of Pluto, Percival's Planet, based on archival research and a careful reconsideration of the historical facts, suggests that even those closest to the discovery had reason to suspect that what they'd found wasn't exactly a planet after all. Why would Vesto Slipher and others at Lowell Observatory be willing to let Planet X be called a planet? What pressures were they feeling from wealthy and prominent backers? And why did they bring in Clyde Tombaugh-with only a high-school degree-to do the bulk of the difficult searching? Michael Byers will discuss his novel and Bruce Greenway, an astronomer and computer scientist who personally knew Clyde Tombaugh, will discuss the 2006 International Astronomical Union definition of Planet and the resulting demotion of Pluto.
"Inside the Total perspective Vortex - a Layman Looks at the Size of the Universe and Everything."
Presenter: Tom Deits, Chairperson, Science Department, Lansing
In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams describes a fiendish torture device, the "Total Perspective Vortex." It's a booth that when you enter it forces you to fully understand your relative size in the universe. We will spend some time talking about what current scientific theories say (some of it still speculative, but much based on observational data) about the place of the Earth and its inhabitants in the perspective of the universe as it is currently understood.
The Biology of Sexual Orientation
Presenter: Marc Breedlove, Barnett Rosenberg Professor of Neuroscience,
Michigan State University
We'll discuss the growing evidence that events before birth change the probability that a person will grow up to have a homosexual orientation. In females, many different lines of evidence indicate that individual differences in exposure to prenatal androgens such as testosterone can affect sexual orientation. For males, there is a fraternal birth order effect: the more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay in adulthood. These data will be contrasted with traditional explanations of homosexuality in humans.
Creatures of Crime:
The Role of Insects in Crime Scene Investigations
Presenter: Richard Merritt, Forensic Entomologist & Professor, Michigan State
Entomology is the study of insects and medicolegal forensic entomology deals with arthropod involvement in events surrounding felonies, usually violent crimes such as murder, suicide and rape, but can also involve cases of extreme neglect and abuse. Key elements in these investigations include: the time between death and corpse discovery, which is referred to as the postmortem interval or PMI, the movement of the corpse, the manner and cause of death, association of suspects with the death scene, as well as detection of toxins or drugs through analyses of insect larvae. Because insects and other arthropods have predictable life histories, habitats, known distributions, and developmental rates, they can provide important information
about when, where, and even how a particular crime occurred. I will show some of the major insects involved in crime scene investigations, explain how I determine the PMI, and discuss some major criminal cases I have been involved with to assess the role of forensically important insects.
Home Solar Energy in Michigan What Makes Sense?
We will consider the following:
- Solar hot water and solar photovoltaics
- Net-metering and other financial considerations
- Will my investment pay for itself?
- Building codes, it's the law!
- Charlatans bearing Snake-Oil
- The Utilities ... the rest of the story
Galileo's Achievements and His Human Relationship Challenges
A discussion celebrating the January 1610 discovery of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. We will talk about the role temperament played in Galileo's science and in his human relationships, with a focus on Galileo's achievements.
Corn, Verbs, and Spit
Scientists weave together a variety of data that make it possible to discover relationships between what we see in the present and what happened in the past. We will look at a few particularly intriguing examples that reveal much about life in America before Columbus and in Polynesia before the arrival of Westerners. Along the way we will chat about how these techniques can be used in many other settings, from the origins of the universe to the history of life on earth.
Blood Transfusions: A Modern Perspective for Patients and Their Families
- What are blood components and how are they derived and used in various clinical situations?
- What are my chances of contracting an infectious disease from a blood transfusion?
- Is it safe to donate blood?
- What are artificial bloods and how might they be used?
- What is autologous blood?
- What is donor-directed blood and is it really safer than that derived from donor centers?
- Is there a shortage of blood & its components in the U.S.? and how many patients at Sparrow Hospital receive blood in a year?
Do you live in an alternate universe?
What's all the fuss about dark matter, string theory, parallel universes, and all that? We will discuss and explore some of the oddities of modern physics!
The Dancing Plague
It began sometime in the middle of July 1518, in the medieval city of Strasbourg. A woman stepped into the street and started to dance. Within days more than 40 had been overcome with the same compulsion and by the end of August as many as 400 people had at some point joined in this crazed dance. We do not know how many people succumbed to exhaustion but the chronicles agree that many died. What could have impelled people to dance themselves to death? In trying to solve the enigma of the dancing plague, we will explore the strangest capabilities of the human mind and the extremes to which fear and irrationality can lead us.
Sloths, toucans, and strangler figs........who cares?
What can tiny Costa Rica, a Central American country the size of West Virginia, teach us about how to do things right (at least when it comes to preserving biodiversity)? What is biodiversity and how is it measured? Why are rainforests so fragile? Why is the conservation of tropical biodiversity so important? Vivid slides of wildlife and plants, taken on eight trips to Costa Rica, will enhance the discussion.
Dark Ages in Cyberspace: Unscientific Movements on the Internet
The Internet has served as a vast source of scientific information and as a medium for scientific discussion. Despite this, there exists a myriad of on-line communities and organizations that promote unscientific arguments and agendas. We will investigate a variety of these movements, scientifically analyze their main points, determine their political motives, and tackle some of their commonly used arguments.
It's Only a Theory
When scientists speak of scientific theories, laws, hypotheses and guesses, what do they mean? Scientists' use of these terms has changed dramatically in the centuries since modern science began. Understanding what these terms once meant and what they mean in modern scientific practice is essential to evaluating and making decisions as informed citizens.
Darwin: The Third Century Begins
Charles R. Darwin was born on February 12, 1809. We'll look back at his
life and his legacy of scientific work, and what that may mean for the coming
century. While Darwin's influence is most pronounced in the transformation
of natural history into the modern science of biology, he made seminal
contributions to many scientific fields, including geology, botany, psychology,
ethology, and agriculture. Join us for an evening of discussion of the
work of an exceptional lifetime.
Nuclear Power: A Precarious or a Plausible Source of Energy?
Nuclear power is once again a topic of conversation as we consider alternatives to fossil energy sources. We will discuss the basics of nuclear power generation and related issues, including waste storage and processing, health effects of nuclear radiation, security issues and lessons learned from history.
Cloning: From Frogs to Humans?
A little more than a decade ago, Dolly the cloned sheep made world wide head lines. However, she was not the first cloned organism. We will discuss the long and controversial history of cloning and what our current technology can do. Can we clone a dinosaur, as in Jurassic Park? Can we clone a dead cat? Can we clone a human? Should human cloning be allowed?
Bad to the Bone: Horrors! Can Our Genes Help Make Us Evil
One of the most difficult problems in society today is understanding why some people intentionally inflict emotional and physical pain on others. Such intentional pain occurs not only on a local level--within families, with "friends," or in work situations, but also on a national and international scale--witness Hitler's Holocaust, Stalin's notorious purges, and Chairman Mao's knowing slaughter of tens of millions. Neuroscience and genetics are providing the potential for a revolution in our understanding of why "bad" people do what they do.
Perch and Pike, Punters and Puffers and Political Polls
Sampling is a way to answer questions that start out "How many...." or "What's the average...." when we can't count or measure every individual. We'll talk about some advantages and disadvantages of sampling, focusing on how to count the fish in a lake, how to ask embarrassing questions when those responding don't trust you to keep a secret, and what "within the margin of error" means in political polling.
Species Reintroduction: Beneficial or Damaging?
For years, humans have been introducing and reintroducing plants and animals into the environment. A live porcupine and peregrine falcon will be used to discuss the reintroduction projects that these two species have been involved in. Also, there will be discussion on the control and management of purple loosestrife and wolves in Michigan.
Spores-Friends or Foes? Bioterrorism & Bionanotechnology
For some bacteria, it's not simply divide and multiply, divide and multiply. Instead, they sometimes produce extraordinarily tough nano-sized particles called spores. We will talk about why some spores are a threat while others are quite benign and may, in time, become a key tool in the field of bionanotechnology.
This Discussion May Break the Law: The collision of intellectual property and intellectual freedom
Recent legal disputes revolving around the patenting of scientific advances have led to a situation where even the discussion of certain scientific observations may be considered patent infringement and subject to persecution. What is the pivotal discovery that has prompted this controversy? If we talk about it some attorneys say we are breaking the law! We will reveal the secret and discuss how we should balance the need for intellectual property and the need for free discourse.
Building the Ship in a Bottle on the Ship in a Bottle
How are elements heavier than iron created? Why is there a difference between the predicted and observed abundance of elements? What is the precise nature of ultra-dense, several-tons-in-a-teaspoon neutron stars, which astronomers know to be among the brightest sources of X-rays in the universe? The National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at Michigan Sate University is one of the world's top facilities for producing new versions of atomic nuclei. By everyday standards, this is a construction process on a tiny scale, a necessary if challenging step in understanding how small objects on the atomic scale behave. It is a quest that draws hundreds of researchers each year from around the world to request a nucleus be built with a certain mixture of ingredients. What fuels interest in this science?
Why Does My Neighbor Hate Evolution? Understanding Antievolution, and Supporting Science Education
The polls have consistently shown that between 40 and 45% of citizens in the USA reject evolutionary science outright, putting us behind every other industrialized nation and just ahead of Turkey concerning general acceptance of evolution. Why is this the case, and just why is it that the antievolution advocates have had decades of success in weakening education on this topic?
The Fact and Fiction of Organic Farming
Sales of organic foods are projected to reach $32 billion by 2009. Are organic foods really more healthy? Are the techniques of the 20th century's "Green Revolution" really that bad? Can we feed the world without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides?
Is There Life on Mars (or elsewhere)?
For millennia, humankind has looked up at the stars and wondered: Are we
alone in the universe? Today, we send scientific probes to explore the planets,
moons, and asteroids in our solar system. Where should we look for life?
What should we look for? How will we recognize alien life if we see it?
Why is water essential for life? How does knowledge about microorganisms that
live in extreme environments on Earth (like Antarctica or deep-sea hot springs)
influence ideas about where life could exist in the solar system?
Recommended book: Lonely Planets: The Natural Philosophy of Alien Life by David Grinspoon.
Stabilization Wedges Climate Change Game
What should we do about greenhouse gas emissions? Continue "business as usual" and double emissions by 2055 resulting in significant rise in global warming or keep emissions flat until mid-century and then work to reduce them avoiding the worst case scenario of climate change?
An Inconvenient Truth: The Rest of the Story
What are exponential growth, the first and second laws of ecology, and lag
time? Why are they critical when considering global warming? How
close are we to triggering a tipping point and producing, '...sudden,
catastrophic changes across the planet'? What are Schellnhuber's twelve
tipping points and how close are we to that?
Forensic Science: CSI Reality - Is there a "CSI Effect"?
The gap between public perception and reality within popular TV crime dramas is vast! Is there an emerging paradigm shift in Forensic Identification Services because of converging legal and scientific forces?
The Oddities of Sound, Music, & Hearing
What your brain hears that you don't; How do we process music?
Washington Court Place, Room 030
Phone: (517) 483-1092
Additional contact information »