Starmus Day 5 highlights

Posted by David Eicher
on Monday, July 10, 2017

Martin Rees, now a Lord and for years Astronomer Royal, delivers a spectacular talk on the cosmological history of the universe, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

Day 5 of the great Starmus Festival, Thursday, June 22, 2017, began in Trondheim like the other days, with some scattered morning programs throughout the city. The first major address on this day came from an old friend, Lord Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal of England. Martin is such a wonderful speaker and gave us a start-to-finish lecture on the cosmological history of the universe. It was simply magnificent, and constituted a State of the Union message on our understanding of Big Bang cosmology. 

Following Martin came another outstanding speaker, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, on fact and fiction about climate change. The grim realities of what’s happening to the planet are obvious, and this lecture should have been required listening for anyone who is too thick to understand the science or is corrupted by monies from industries that want to deny the realities. Understanding the science of carbon dioxide induced warming goes back to the 1820s, in fact, as Katharine pointed out, and the same principles that allow us to understand human-induced, carbon dioxide driven global warming are at play every time you board an airplane (atmospheric dynamics) or cook a pizza in your oven (thermal energy laws). And yet global warming deniers do not seem to have a problem getting onto airplanes or cooking pizzas. Anyway, Katharine delivered a great lecture that summarized the science of global warming perfectly. 

Katharine Hayhoe delivers a spectacular address on the realities of climate change that the cranially-challenged should be required to hear, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

Next, the Smithsonian Institution’s Nancy Knowlton delivered a great talk on biodiversity in the oceans and the alarming trends that are happening in our “undersea universe,” with the sea temperature rise killing species and destroying coral reefs, as well as overfishing changing the dynamics of food supplies in the ocean in certain spots, which endangers the future of all species. It was another alarming, and worrisome, but brilliantly delivered lecture. 

The Smithsonian’s Nancy Knowlton describes the diversity of life in the oceans, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

The next talk was also mind-blowing, but in a more uplifting way. Emannuelle Charpentier spoke about her revolutionary research with CRISPR-Cas9, a gene splicing method that will completely change the life sciences in the future, offering the possibilities of treating many diseases in new ways. It was startling and one of the talks that set lots of people off on finding about more about the subject on their own, afterward. What an amazing future lies ahead for this science, now in its infancy. 

Emmanuelle Charpentier describes CRISPR-Cas9, a gene splicing technology that will revolutionize the life sciences, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

The Starmus Festival in full swing, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

After a short break, Nick Lane next took the stage and gave a talk about energy, matter, and the origin of life on Earth. Abiogenesis, the origin of life, likely took place in the ocean near hydrothermal vents, but we simply don’t yet know the details for sure, and probably never will. The biochemistry is pretty straightforward. Lots of organics existed in the ocean on early Earth, in comets and asteroids, and so on. We don’t know how you jumped from amino acids to the complexity of RNA and DNA as yet, but if you let organic chemistry run with the timescales involved, it’s not too hard to have atoms and molecules combine in the way that they would eventually self-replicate. 

Nick Lane talks about energy, matter, and the origin of life on Earth, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

John Delaney then stepped onto the stage and described next-generation science in the ocean basins. It was fascinating, and again gave us all caution about taking care of the planet. 

John Delaney describes next generation science in the ocean basins, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

I then had the great privilege to host a panel discussion for an hour about science education — its present state and where it’s going. The panelists were superb: May-Britt Moser, Dame Susan Bailey, Claude Nicollier, Torsten Wiesel, Alex Witze, Sandra Magnus, and Markus Reymann. We had a lively discussion about all aspects of education and the classroom, how to inspire kids, and the last round-robin question: if you could talk to a 10-year budding scientist right now, what would you tell her? 

Dave Eicher describes the educational panel discussion to come and prepares to introduce the participants, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

The Starmus Education Panel, moderated by Dave Eicher, and featuring May-Britt Moser, Dame Susan Bailey, Claude Nicollier, Torsten Wiesel, Alex Witze, Sandra Magnus, and Markus Reymann, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

Dave Eicher and Torsten Wiesel at the Education Panel discussion, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

Good friend and official Starmus photographer Max Alexander, always hard at work, Spektrum Hall, Trondheim, Norway, June 22, 2017.

It was another incredible, almost overwhelming day, and then we finished it off with a Prog Rock concert featuring The Pineapple Thief, which featured the singing and songwriting talents of Swedish singer-songwriter Jennie Abrahamson. 

Exhaustion! Bliss! To bed so we can get up and do it all again tomorrow! 

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