Webinar: Lyceum Society February 2022 Meeting
Monday, February 7, 2022
Social time and announcements: 11:30am - 11:45am
Initial Talk: 11:45am - 12:30pm
Speaker: Stuart Kurtz
Topic: The Murmuration of Starlings: Patterns and Emergence
Outline: Starlings often fly as a tight group much like the schooling of herrings. It is absolutely fantastic to see. How they do so and why, is the question we will seek to explicate. We might see in those patterns an indication of some overall objective, but that is not the case. Those patterns are incidental to the processes that give rise to such phenomena. That process is called emergence. It is an example of adaptive behavior that uses simple innate or learned rules that, in turn, generate complex patterns. Emergence explains how this occurs. Emergence focuses on complex processes that are best explained as feedback processes and cannot be predicted from first principles. Some believe, on the other hand, that if one had a grasp of all of the basic equations of physics, a computer to solve those equations, along with the initial conditions, all of the future would be known before our eyes.
Bio: Stuart Kurtz graduated from MIT with an SB in Chemical Engineering, and from Princeton with an MS degree in Polymer Engineering and an MA and PhD in Chemical Engineering. He taught at RPI and in Brazil as Professor Titular in Materials Engineering. This was followed by a research career in industry, accumulating around 30 patents and publishing at least a few good papers. He now focuses on Philosophy of Science and Physics and climbing mountains because they are there. He has spoken to the Lyceum Society many times including Lessons from Science: Lysenko, Velikovsky and the Demarcation Problem (January 2018); Geoengineering for Climate Change Mitigation (February 2018); Does Time Flow? (April 2019). In February, 2020 he spoke on Cold Fusion; and in February and March, 2021 he gave a 2-part presentation on the scientific accomplishments and biography of Fritz Haber.
Main Presentation: 12:30pm - 2:15pm
Speaker: Harmon McAllister
Topic: CRISPR: Dissection and Speculation
Outline: CRISPR, that seemingly magical gene-editing device, rose from obscurity in the early 2000s to generating Nobel Prizes for two scientists in 2020. It has “cured” at least one person of sickle cell disease and landed one Chinese researcher a 3-year jail sentence for “illegal medical practice.” He had used CRISPR technology to remove a presumed HIV susceptibility locus from twin IVF embryos. Is this Eugenics v.2? Will it lead to a disease-free population that is stronger, smarter or dances better? Obviously, there is a dark side to CRISPR. But to understand how it works, we will need to quickly review the underlying molecular biology. And so as not to waste that effort, we can also spend a quick minute discussing how mRNA vaccines work—not so long a stretch as you might think.
Bio: Harmon attended the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, graduating with a BS degree in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the Medical School there. After a couple of postdocs, he joined the faculty of Wayne State University in Detroit. He and his group did research on the biological mechanism of protein synthesis (hard to believe that was once a red hot topic). In addition to publishing in the usual biochem journals, he co-authored a Chemistry textbook written for an audience of upper class undergrads. After a decade and a half at Wayne State, he joined the staff of a biomedical research funding organization in New York City. Eventually he became chairman of its Scientific Advisory Board and Vice President for Research. Since retiring in 2000, he has designed and delivered scientific programs for the Westchester Childrens Museum in Rye, NY. As their lead science educator, he has delivered hundreds of science lessons to an unknown number of children in grades 2-5. Having previously taught mostly graduate and medical students, he quickly gained a profound respect and admiration for those who have chosen the profession of Early Elementary Education. Harmon has given several presentations to the Lyceum Society; the most recent was in 2019 on Advances in 3-D Printing.