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One Day University with the Richmond Times-Dispatch: A Day of Genius

September 22, 2018 9:30 AM – 1:15 PM


9:30 AM - 10:35 AM
The Remarkable Genius of Albert Einstein: His Life and Universe

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.

10:50 AM - 11:55 AM
The Genius of Marie Curie: A Life in Science

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.

12:10 PM - 1:15 PM
The Restless Scientific and Political Genius of Benjamin Franklin

Richard Bell / University of Maryland

Franklin's genius is a puzzle. Born the tenth and youngest son of a decidedly humble family of puritan candle-makers in Boston in 1706, Franklin's rise to the front ranks of science, engineering, and invention was as unexpected as it was meteoric. Here is a man with only two years of proper schooling who later received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and St. Andrews as well as the eighteenth-century equivalent of a Nobel Prize for Physics.

Like his hero Isaac Newton, Franklin's great genius lay in optimizing, in tinkering, in improving, and in never being satisfied with the world as he knew it. In this talk we will examine many of Franklin's ideas to make life simpler, cheaper, and easier for himself and everyone else. It turns out that those ideas encompassed not only natural science and engineering—the kite experiments and the bifocals for which he is justly remembered—but also all sorts of public works, civic improvements, political trail-blazing, and fresh, new business ideas. His experimenter's instinct, his relentless drive to build a better world one small piece at a time, even encompassed innovations in medical device design, in music, in cookery, and in ventriloquism. Hardly the tortured genius, Franklin took a schoolboy's pleasure in everything he made. Experimenting was a constant source of beauty, pleasure, and amusement for him, even when things went wrong (which they did all the time).

Richard Bell / University of Maryland
Richard Bell is a Professor of History at the University of Maryland. He has served as the Mellon Fellow in American History at Cambridge University, the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society, a Mayer Fellow at the Huntington Library, as a Research Fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Abolition and Resistance at Yale University, and a Resident Fellow at the John W. Kluge at the Library of Congress. He is also a frequent lecturer and debater on the C-SPAN television network. Professor Bell is the recipient of more than a dozen teaching awards, including the 2017 University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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