265 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 csf@cambridgesciencefestival.org

Lunch with a Luminary: Linda Griffith

You should meet Linda Griffith. No, really, you should: it could be quite beneficial both to you and to her. Dr. Griffith works at MIT as a Professor of Biological Engineering, which is a department she helped create. She’s also Director of the Center for Gynepathology Research and a School of Engineering Professor of Teaching Innovation. Dr. Griffith’s research in tissue engineering has often captured public attention. When she first came to MIT, she worked on a project that involved growing cartilage in the shape of a human ear on the back of a mouse. Stories about the mouse first hit the news in 1995, and still pop up occasionally, such as in this Nova Documentary that aired last January. Dr. Griffith agrees to come to events like “Lunch with a Luminary” because she feels that scientists have a real responsibility to explain their work to the public—after all, any… Read More

Inspiring Minds: Meet Women in Science

Two summers ago, I worked at the Chulabhorn Research Institute in Thailand. Its tongue twister name comes from its founder, the youngest daughter of the Thai king. “When I grow up, I want to be just like Chulabhorn.” I remember one of my co-workers saying. “She’s an organic chemist and a princess!” Though it is unlikely my friend will grow up to be a princess, if she follows the trend that modern women are setting, she can be an organic chemist and just about anything else she pleases. Here are a few examples: Erika Ebbel Angle is a biochemistry student at Boston University. She’s also a former Miss Massachusetts. And an entrepreneur. While she was still an undergraduate, Erika founded an organization called Science from Scientists, which sends scientists into classrooms to give students a hands-on introduction to the joy of performing experiments. Linda Elkins-Tanton is a professor of geology… Read More

Questions with No Answers

I live-tweeted while watching the webcast of “Big Ideas, Busy People” on Friday, April 23. “Big Ideas, Busy People” was a brand new event during the Cambridge Science Festival where ten lecturers presented 5-minute presentations with a 5-minute question and answer session afterwards. It was a perfect event to live-tweet, as that helped me remember the many points made that evening. It was definitely easy to get lost in a concept, and then lose track of the presentation. I wanted to blog a post-festival write-up of this event right away, but then I attended “Lunch with a Laureate” on Monday, April 30th. Robert Merton, the 1997 Nobel Prize winner in Economics, was speaking. So many ideas were thrown out during both events that I feel I might end up condensing too much if I try to write a post-festival blog post from my notes. My tweets are still available from… Read More

Lunch With a Laureate: Dr. Richard Schrock

Environmental issues are very popular these days, and with good reason. I’ve heard many ideas suggesting how we can improve our environment or at least minimize the damage we do to it, ranging from driving more fuel efficient cars to using solar and wind powered energy. An equally important, though less publicized frontier for improving the environment, is in the production of chemicals. The chemical processes that produce fuel, drugs, and plastics also produce toxic waste. One way to improve the environment is to substitute a different chemical reaction which would produce the same end substance, but without the dangerous byproducts. Unfortunately, such “green” alternate reactions do not exist for many current manufacturing process, but scientists are hard at work to change that reality. In 2005, MIT’s Richard Schrock won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing one such new reaction. Schrock co-developed a reaction in organic chemistry called olefin… Read More

Thinking about Thoughts

The human mind does an incredible number of even more incredible things. Take, for example, the age old act of bartering. Whether trading ears of corn for livestock, or complex corporate negotiations, a large part of human enterprise has relied on our ability to think about others’ specific desires and intentions. We want what is best for us and our family or community, but realize that we need to compromise because the other party wants the same. Additionally, the other party may hold a grudge, or be ignorant towards current market values, and so on. All of this amazingly complex analysis happens at lightning speeds within the mind, while we haggle prices or make offers. We use this complex ability every day, and it has drawn the attention of many scientists. According to MIT Professor Rebecca Saxe: “Thinking about other minds is the foundation for both personal relationships and societal… Read More

Interview with an Artist

Joseph Choma is a student in Design and Computation at the MIT School of Architecture and Planning. He will present a special exhibit, “Design for the Ideal Polling Booth,” at the second floor of the MIT Museum from Saturday, 4/24 to Sunday, 5/2. He will personally be available for discussion by his exhibit on the second floor of the MIT Museum on Sunday, April 25th, from 1PM to 3PM. I recently got the chance to have an e-mail interview with Joseph, and here’s some of what we talked about.   Christine: Tell me about your project. Joseph: The project is called, Design for an Ideal Polling Booth. Its intent is to provoke thought and awareness on how easy it is for us to take seemingly little things like a “polling booth” for granted. The act of voting was once a fiercely aggressive act, which did not always take place within… Read More

Lunch With a Laureate: Dr. Jack Szostak

Nobel Prizes are sometimes awarded years after the research leading to them was conducted. Often the awarded scientist has moved on to other areas of research. Such is the case with Dr. Jack Szostak, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School and at Massachusetts General Hospital, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for research that he conducted in the 1980s. He won the Prize for his discovery of telomerase, an enzyme which is critical to the replication of DNA. It turns out that DNA cannot be copied all the way to the end of the strand. So if we had nothing to protect the ends of our chromosomes, they would become smaller and smaller each time they replicate. Thankfully, shrinking chromosomes are avoided by a wonderful protective mechanism called a telomere. A telomere is a non-coding stretch of DNA at the end of a chromosome… Read More

How Harvard women cut the keys to the Universe

“I’ll bet you that my HOUSEKEEPER can do a better job!” This – or something like this – was apparently the line yelled at a male assistant by Edward Pickering, head of the Harvard Observatory, in 1877. No one knows what blunder sparked the outburst, though we can bet that it was a whopper, given that women weren’t allowed even to operate a telescope at the time. But we do know that Pickering made good on his bet – first hiring his housekeeper, and then many other women, to measure the brightness of stars – and that winning it would prove to be probably his greatest contribution to science. Two of “Pickering’s harem” would devise entire new and efficient ways to classify the stars, while a third – Henrietta Leavitt – would do nothing less than revolutionize the way humans measured and understood their universe. (Edwin Hubble would simply use… Read More

Famous Scientists in Five Minutes

In what ways do our friends influence us? How do our minds think about other people’s minds? Where is the universe from – did it just come from nothing? They’re big questions, certainly. They can’t exactly be figured out in an afternoon. But the Cambridge Science Festival is holding an event called “Big Ideas for Busy People” where these questions, and more, will start being answered. In Big Ideas for Busy People, top scientists will talk about these ideas in the context of their own research at an evening event preceding the start of the Festival. Ten leading researchers from Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will present their work in precisely five minutes each, with five minutes available for questions from the audience. Ever wanted to know what will power cars in the next ten years? To get an idea of the event, one of the speakers is… Read More

Lunch With a Laureate: Dr. Eric Chivian

The rich intellectual environment of Cambridge has so many Nobel Laureates, and soon you’ll have the unique opportunity to meet one (or more) of them! Next month, from Monday, April 26 through Friday, April 30, is the Cambridge Science Festival’s week-long Lunch With a Laureate series, and the MIT Museum will host free daily lunchtime discussions with Nobel Laureates from 12-1 pm. Thursday’s lunch will be with Dr. Eric Chivian, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry who co-founded the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for its efforts to prevent nuclear war. In addition to his attempts to prevent nuclear warfare, Chivian founded Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment to increase awareness of environmental change and its effects on people. The Center champions the idea that people are an essential part of the environment… Read More