A Day of Genius with the 92nd Street Y

Saturday, December 05, 2020 1:30 pm - 5:00 pm

schedule

1:30 pm - 2:30 pm
The Scientific Genius of Marie Curie

Susan Lindee / University of Pennsylvania

The brilliant Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie lived a life of profound personal courage. Her experiences illuminate a culture of "pure science" now long gone, and they help us understand some of the continuing issues for women scientists. She and her future husband Pierre worked ceaselessly under what turned out to be very dangerous and unwise conditions: they isolated radium and polonium, launched the entirely new science of radioactivity, and basically founded a scientific empire. Curie defended her doctoral dissertation in the spring of 1903 and a few months later she and her husband were awarded the Nobel Prize. After her husband died, she continued her demanding scientific work, going on to win another Nobel Prize for chemical work with radium. She served heroically at the French front during World War I, when Curie and her teen-aged daughter Irene drove an X-ray truck she had outfitted herself, to help doctors assess the brutal wounds of the First World War.

When Curie died in 1934 of a form of anemia brought on by exposure to radiation, she was one of the most famous women in the world. Austere, reserved, and powerful, she became a symbol of female genius, the only female scientist commonly included in children's books and other popular sources. In this lecture, U Penn Professor Susan Lindee will explore her astonishing life and work and its implications for women in science today.

Susan Lindee / University of Pennsylvania

Susan Lindee is a Janice and Julian Bers Professor of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also the Associate Dean for the School of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Lindee has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Burroughs Wellcome Fund 40th Anniversary Award, as well as support from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

2:40 pm - 3:40 pm
The Remarkable Genius of Einstein

Matthew Stanley / New York University

Einstein’s name is synonymous with genius. His wild-haired, thoughtful-eyed face has become an icon of modern science. His ideas changed the way we see the universe, the meaning of truth, and the very limits of human knowledge. This course will examine how Einstein’s youthful philosophical questioning led to a revolution in science. We will discuss his creation of special and general relativity, and particularly how these epochal theories emerged from his seemingly simple questions about how we experience the world. His preference for easily-visualizable thought experiments means we will be able to engage deeply with the science with very little mathematics. Einstein also pioneered quantum mechanics, only to reject its strange consequences and eventually devote his life to overturning it through a unified field theory.

Einstein’s elevation to worldwide fame was closely tied to political and social developments such as World War I, Zionism, and the rise of the Nazis. As he became an incarnation of genius, people sought out his views on everything from world peace to the nature of God – and his opinions often had surprising links to his scientific work. The picture of Einstein we end up with is a figure somehow both revolutionary and deeply traditional, emblematic of the modern age and also profoundly uncomfortable with it.

Matthew Stanley / New York University

Matthew Stanley teaches the history and philosophy of science at NYU. He holds degrees in astronomy, religion, physics, and the history of science and is interested in the connections between science and the wider culture. He is the author of “Practical Mystic: Religion, Science, and A. S. Eddington” which examines how scientists reconcile their religious beliefs and professional lives. He has held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Study, the British Academy, and the Max Planck Institute. Professor Stanley was awarded a 2014-2015 Gallatin Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
The Political Genius of Frederick Douglass

David Blight / Yale University

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 and escaped from slavery in Baltimore, Maryland. He was taught to read by his slave owner mistress, and he would go on to become one of the major literary figures of his time. Douglass spoke often, using his own story to condemn slavery. By the Civil War, he had become the most famed and widely travelled orator in the nation. In his unique and eloquent voice, written and spoken, Douglass was a fierce critic of the United States as well as a radical patriot. After the war he sometimes argued politically with younger African Americans, but he never forsook either the Republican party or the cause of black civil and political rights.

Yale Professor David Blight’s lecture draws on new information held in a private collection that few other historians have consulted, as well as recently discovered issues of Douglass’s newspapers, as he did in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Fredrick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom.

David Blight / Yale University

David Blight is Sterling Professor of American History at Yale University. He is the director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale. His book, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom” won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for History. Professor Blight has also taught at Amherst College and Cambridge University.