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Ashtekar Frontiers of Science Lectures to begin Jan. 23

2021 series will focus on sustainability
6 January 2021

The Ashtekar Frontiers of Science Lectures in the Eberly College of Science, a free public outreach now in its 27th year, will return to Penn State on Jan. 23.

This year’s lecture series will focus on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030 — and is titled “Sustainability: How Science Can Help Achieve the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.” Each of this year’s lectures will link to one of the 17 SDGs.

The lecture series this year will be held live via Zoom Video Webinar on six consecutive Saturday mornings, Jan. 23 through Feb. 27, from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

More information about the Ashtekar Frontiers of Science Lectures is available at

The series begins this year on Jan. 23 with a lecture by Jan W. Low, corecipient of the 2016 World Food Prize and principal scientist with the International Potato Center (CIP), titled "Building Healthier Food Systems for Sub-Saharan Africa With Nutritious, Resilient Orange-Fleshed Sweetpotato."

Looking toward the post-pandemic future, many are calling for us to learn from the devastating impact of COVID-19 — especially in developing countries — and build back a better, healthier, more inclusive food system in sub-Saharan Africa. Low will describe how orange-fleshed sweet potato could be key to achieving this goal.

Following Low’s lecture on Jan. 23, the series will continue through Feb. 27 with the following topics:

Jan. 30, “Targeted Therapeutic Intervention Strategies of SARS-CoV-2,” presented by Joyce Jose, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, Penn State

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the urgent need to develop effective antiviral agents against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Jose has developed a novel experimental system for screening potential candidate compounds and identifying those that inhibit the virus’s replication, and will discuss her lab’s recent findings.

Feb. 6, “Educational Disparities Are Not Sustainable,” presented by Nate Brown, professor of mathematics, Penn State

Educational disparities by gender and race and ethnicity are well documented and associated with other disparities such as health and wealth. Brown focuses his research on social justice in education and will discuss these disparities, how they have been exacerbated by events of 2020, and what can be done to correct course.

Feb. 13, “Sunshine Into Wood: How Plants Build Their Cell Walls, a Gigaton Source of Renewable Materials and Energy,” presented by Daniel J. Cosgrove, professor of biology, Penn State

Wood is a global-scale, gigaton source of renewable materials and energy, but much about its complex structure and how it is made by plants remains a mystery. Cosgrove will discuss his group’s research and some of the state-of-the-art tools and methods they use to uncover the secrets of how plants make their cell walls.

Feb. 20, “How Coral May Survive Climate Change,” presented by Iliana Baums, professor of biology, Penn State

Coral reefs are suffering significant detrimental effects from climate change and other human impacts, and there is serious concern that in the near future most corals may be lost. Baums studies how corals adapt to these stresses and will discuss her lab’s research on coral reef conservation and restoration in the face of rapid change.

Feb. 27, “Mapping a Just and Sustainable Future for Pennsylvania,” presented by Peter Buck, Nebraska Hernandez, and Nyla Holland of the Penn State Sustainability Institute’s Environmental Justice Project

All people have a fundamental right to clean air, pure water, and equal environmental protection; but poor and minority communities bear the greatest risk of cumulative negative health impacts from environmental hazards. Penn State’s Environmental Justice Project team will discuss environmental justice and its impacts, how historical legacies have created disparities in different communities, and what that means for just and sustainable governance.

About the Ashtekar Frontiers of Science Lectures

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science was founded by Abhay Ashtekar in 1995, soon after he arrived at Penn State as director of a new research center that subsequently evolved to become the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos. It owes its success to tireless efforts and meticulous planning by Barbara Kennedy, who presided over the series during its first 25 years, making it one of the most successful science outreach events in central Pennsylvania.


Penn State encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about physical access provided, you may call 814-867-5830 or email in advance of your participation or visit.