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"Strategies for Survival on Planet Earth" is the Theme of the 2014 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science

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27 January 2014

"Strategies for Survival on Planet Earth" is the theme of the 2014 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, which is designed as a free minicourse for the general public. The lectures will take place on the four Saturday mornings in February from 11:00 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in 100 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park campus.

The lectures will be given by scientists whose labs are expanding the frontiers of scientific knowledge in critical areas for human survival. Their research is focused on inventing alternative fuels, helping food crops adapt to climate change, preventing catastrophic asteroid attacks, and stopping a deadly disease that threatens to spread beyond the 100 countries it now ravages. The lectures include:

Howard SalisLecture #1 on 1 February: "Engineering SuperMicrobes to Save Us" by Howard M. Salis, assistant professor of biological engineering and chemical engineering at Penn State. Howard Salis will reveal ways that his lab is working to engineer microorganisms in order to manufacture fuels, materials, and drugs from biorenewable and sustainable sources. Building a new industry to replace existing uses of petrochemicals remains a big challenge, but Salis will highlight both the challenges and the promises and benefits of building a sustainable biorenewables industry. He will show with recent research how physics, chemistry, and mathematics are being used to push the metabolism of microbes to the bleeding edge of economic competitiveness.


Siela Maximova and Mark GuiltinanLecture #2 on 8 February: "Hot Chocolate: Helping the cacao plant adapt to climate change" by Siela Maximova and Mark Guiltinan, professors in the Department of Plant Science at Penn State. The team's research with the cacao plant is focused on finding ways to help it, and other food crops in a similar situation, to survive the rise in temperature that research predicts will drastically affect production in the major cacao-growing areas by 2050. Cocoa farmers, exporters, the cocoa industry, and consumers all will feel the impact if action to adapt to climate change is not taken. Farmers are particularly vulnerable since cocoa is often their primary source of income. This lecture includes the potential role of scientific research in developing adaptation strategies to benefit the cocoa plant. Chocolate will be provided.


Rachel StevensonLecture #3 on 15 February: "Protecting the Earth from Killer Asteroids" by Rachel Stevenson, a research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Rachel Stevenson will describe her research with JPL's NEOWISE team in an effort that now is underway to discover and characterize dangerous asteroids that are potentially hazardous to life on Earth. Large asteroids crashing into Earth have caused catastrophic damage, including the extinction of the dinosaurs and many other species. Since the NEOWISE team began searching in 2010, it has discovered more than 34,000 previously unknown asteroids and over 130 near-Earth objects.


Manuel Llinas Lecture #4 on 22 February: "Combating Malaria: New approaches to an ancient problem" by Manuel Llinás, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State. With half of the world's population at risk of malaria, it is one of the most pervasive diseases of modern humankind. Manuel Llinás will explain why malaria continues to ravage people in over 100 countries worldwide and why it remains a threat to the United States. This devastating disease is caused by the highly sophisticated single-celled Plasmodium parasite, which invades and takes over the blood of humans. Llinás will outline major challenges in combating this global disease and will describe recent progress and cutting-edge approaches being used to combat the deadly malaria parasite.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the Central Pennsylvania area and beyond. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information by telephone at 814-863-8453 or by e-mail at jms1140@psu.edu. More information about the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, including archived recordings of previous lectures, is online at science.psu.edu/frontiers.

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