In 1983 Millie Hughes-Fulford, Ph.D. became the first UCSF faculty- and first woman scientist-astronaut. She was assigned to NASA’s first dedicated medical mission STS-40 on Space Shuttle Columbia. Their medical subjects were humans, 30 rodents, and thousands of tiny jellyfish.

STS-40 specialists studied six body systems; cardiovascular/cardiopulmonary (heart, lungs and blood vessels); renal/endocrine (kidneys and hormone-secreting organs and glands); blood (blood plasma); immune system (white blood cells); musculoskeletal (muscles and bones); and neurovestibular (brains and nerves, eyes, and inner ear). Listen to Dr. Hughes-Fulford and hear firsthand the sense of accomplishment and joy of working in space.

Today’s International Space Station (ISS) is a product of the initial work started on STS-40. NASA had televisions stationed so Congress could observe us throughout our 18 hour workdays / 9 day mission. We will discuss the findings from the Scott and Mark Kelly ‘twins study’ that was released in 2019. Get an overview of today’s experiments on space medicine, life science sciences, physical sciences, astronomy, meteorology, and Earth disaster assessment. Review ISS’s past and current successes and results and get an update on ISS’s activities going on during our Scientific American 175th Anniversary cruise.

When Tom Wolfe wrote The Right Stuff in 1979, he researched post-war pilots flying experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft, and related their mental and physical characteristics to those the first Mercury astronauts needed in paving the way for NASA’s journey to the Moon.

How would a 2020 edition of The Right Stuff assess the skills and qualities future space explorers need? Who will the new astronauts be? What work will they do? What abilities will they need to live on a Moon base or a 2033 Mars Mission? Let’s examine these issues, and other critical ones: the possible geopolitical and commercial needs that may drive development and timelines of a Moon Base and a Mars Mission. Join Dr. Hughes-Fulford and get the big picture of the future’s “Right Stuff.”

Engage in blue sky (or Martian yellow sky) thinking as we look at the technical developments and preparations necessary for planetary exploration.

We’ll talk about the role existing technologies — like 3-D printing — might play in producing rockets, buildings, and equipment. Space exploration requires solutions for many other challenges, though, so Dr. Hughes-Fulford will sketch out potential projects and issues ahead: How will Moon or Mars colonists make the new habitats? Is it possible to make new rocket ships, moon base buildings, and equipment on the moon with 3-D printers? How would space colonists grow food, make water and live? Will we have the engineering savvy to make new plasma drives or warp engines that would turn the 8-month journey to Mars into a 29-day journey? What approaches might we take to radiation shielding and weightlessness during the journey and to the effects of chronic low gravity and radiation the surface of the Moon or Mars? Deepen your understanding of the material and technical “Right Stuff” that will form the infrastructure of the Space Age.


INTRODUCTION: Historic Cookbooks

Historic cookbooks offer us not only a glimpse into cuisines of the past, but reveal information about patterns of trade, gender roles, kitchen technology and even class-based biases. This series of lectures drops us down in several periods to explore the cookbooks in detail, who they were addressed to, how they were used and what they reveal about the taste preferences of our forebears and how this fits into the larger historical narrative.

The oldest recipes are in Akkadian cuneiform inscribed on clay tablets around 1500 BC. Why someone recorded these is a matter of speculation, but they reveal a sophisticated courtly cuisine. Among the ancient Greeks Archestratus was the first food writer discussing where to find the best bread, fish and other foods he found on his travels throughout the Mediterranean. His taste was very simple compared to the profligate cookbook attributed to Apicius, which shows how extravagant cooking had become in Imperial Rome.

A cuisine redolent with spices, perfumes and vibrant colors flourished in the medieval Muslim world. It was carried, along with recipes to European courts in the wake of the Crusades and direct contact with the East. This talk examines the royal cookbooks of medieval Europe such as the Forme of Cury written for Richard II and Taillevent’s Viandier written by the chef for Charles V of France. Why this unique style disappeared is equally fascinating.

The first printed cookbook was half borrowed from an earlier manuscript and half written by the humanist scholar Bartolomeo Sacchi, better known as Platina. It changed the nature of who used cookbooks and how. We will follow changes in taste and the proliferation of sugar in 16th century Ferrara with Messisbugo’s Banchetti and finally discuss the first cookbook that really teaches the reader how to cook, Scappi’s monumental Opera — the first illustrated comprehensive cookbook. Fine dining in the Renaissance, kitchen staff and organization and the structure of the meal will all be covered.

In the 19th century cookbooks were printed cheaply and for the first time they attempted to reach working class households. Cookbooks by celebrities like Francatelli and Alexis Soyer show a genuine concern for the plight of the working classes, soldiers and those suffering from the Potato Blight. I will also speculate on the future of the cookbook in the digital era.

DAVID CHRISTIAN, PH.D. — A Short History of the Universe and Everything Else

Beginning with the big bang we take stock of what we know of the origins of our Universe, of the stars, of chemical elements and of planets, moons and asteroids. Then Dr. Christian introduces some time-lines that we use to grasp the enormous span of events we’re examining.

We’ll identify the thread running throughout this story: how, step by step and threshold by threshold, a simple universe began to generate more and more complex things, despite the constant background work of entropy, which always threatened to break things down.

How was it possible in such a universe to build complex things such as the global world we live in today? Learn the latest on the source of our Universe’s remarkable orientation to creation.

Now we shift focus from an entire universe to a single planet within that universe — our own home planet, Earth. We survey what we know of the formation of our solar system and planet Earth. And then we ask: what was it about planet Earth that made it such a rich “Goldilocks’ environment for complex chemistry, so rich that eventually it generated living organisms? How did life appear on earth? Next, more big questions for which we don’t yet have a complete answer (although we know a lot more today than we did even 50 years ago): What is life? How likely is it that it has appeared elsewhere in the Universe?

Digging in we survey how life has evolved since it first appeared on Earth, and how its evolution has changed the Earth itself. Find out what the key stages in the evolution of the vast, complex and beautiful life-forms we see today were. Discuss how geology and biology combined to create the rich and complex planetary system of the biosphere. Examine one of the Big questions: how and why did the Earth’s surface stay life-friendly, despite incoming asteroids, a sun that was slowly heating up, and periods of climate change that occasionally threatened to shut down all life on Earth. Get the Big picture of why Earth is a living planet when its neighbours, Mars and Venus are not (or are no longer).

Our own species, Homo sapiens, emerged within the last few hundred thousand years. Very recently in universal time! And yet, in that time, we have done things that no other species has done in 4 billion years. What makes us humans so different? It’s a tricky question, and one that philosophers, biologists, theologians, and many others have wrestled with for centuries.

Big history seems to have a fairly simple answer. In one small but immensely significant respect, we are radically different from our close biological relatives. Hear how language, information flow, and transmission of memories gave humans the necessary control of critical resources and the power to exist in complex environments.

Dr. Christian then flows into human history, showing how, information has accumulated and our collective power over the environment has increased giving us increasing control of the resources and energy flows of the biosphere, allowing the emergence of larger, more populous and more complex human societies. Learn about our increasing ecological power in the “Anthropocene Epoch”, our epoch of earth history in which, for better or worse, a single species, our own, dominates change within the biosphere.

Where is it all going? Should we think about the future? Can we think about the future? We discuss what are the most useful ways of thinking about the future while acknowledging that we cannot know or predict the future. Explore ways of meeting the challenges that face us, supported by insights from Big History. We’ll ponder how humanity should use its immense, now planet-wide power and what we need to do to preserve the best of today’s world for future generations.

We’ll wrap our Big History sojourn up by looking at futures beyond our own species’. How will planet earth change in the next few billion years? How will the Universe change and how long will it exist? Astronomers and cosmologists have some very interesting answers to these questions. Join us for consideration of these profound questions and answers, and add your voice to the conversation!


Earth is a planet of frequent, extravagant change. Its near-surface environment has transformed over and over again across 4.5 billion years of history. Learn about the work of Dr. Hazen and his planetary science colleagues, who suggest that Earth’s living and nonliving spheres have co-evolved over the past four billion years.

The distribution of crystals on Earth, Mars, and other worlds mimics social networks, as commonly applied to such varied topics as Facebook interactions, the spread of disease, and terrorism networks. Network analysis of common rocks reveals stunning patterns similar to those of human social networks — patterns that provide new insights into the way planets evolve.

Carbon is everywhere, an intimate part of our lives from birth to death. We live on a carbon planet, and we are carbon life. No other element is so central to our wellbeing, yet carbon also plays a central role in grave uncertainties regarding our changing climate and environment. At once ubiquitous and mysterious, carbon holds the answers to some of humanity’s biggest questions.

How did life arise? Is life’s origin a cosmic imperative manifest throughout the cosmos, or is life an improbable accident, restricted to a few planets (or only one)? As scientists seek experimental and theoretical frameworks to deduce the origin of life, the astonishing concept of emergent systems provides a unifying approach.

JILL TARTER, PH.D. — Habitable Worlds

When I was a student, I learned that the Sun was the source of energy for all life, and that life-as-we-know-it could flourish only within narrow ranges of temperature, pressure, pH, and UV radiation. In the closing decades of the 20th century extremophiles changed all that. For me personally, an introduction to this marvelous world of life on our planet that broke all these rules occurred with Richard Ballard’s discovery of tube worms and their rich ecosystem surrounding a black smoker on the bottom of the ocean, 6,600 feet beneath the surface. Today we study extremophiles to understand the limits of life, and to help us understand the potential for life beyond Earth on distant worlds.

Until 1995, we knew of no planets orbiting main sequence stars except for the nine (then 8) that orbited our own Sun. Today we know of more than 4000 worlds orbiting other stars, some of them unlike any we’ve known before, in systems very unlike our own Solar System architecture. Although we’ve actually seen only a handful of these exoplanets (they were discovered indirectly through their effects on their stellar hosts) their richness and diversity are teaching us about how our own system probably formed.

On the basis of the type of star they are orbiting, their distance from that star, and their size, we have begun classifying exoplanets as being potentially habitable because they occupy the ‘Goldilocks’ zone; not too hot, not too cold, but perhaps just right for having atmospheres and liquid water on their surfaces. With the launch of the JWST observatory, and construction of specialized ground-based instruments, we will begin to be able to directly observe some of the very nearest exoplanets and start collecting enough of their reflected light to tease out the composition of some of the molecules in their atmospheres. The co-evolution of life and our own planet has profoundly modified Earth’s atmosphere imprinting a chemical imbalance that attests to biology on the surface. While it will require the next generation of really large life-finder telescopes to explore beyond the very nearest worlds, we can begin to learn how to discriminate against false positives and false negatives in our search for biosignatures indicative of life elsewhere.

Life on Earth boasts an extraordinary diversity from microbes to mathematicians. If we use technology as a proxy for intelligence, then we can attempt to discover technosignatures associated with distant worlds as a means of detecting evidence for intelligence beyond Earth. Searches for radio signals and, more recently, optical signals have been ongoing since 1960 under the label of SETI — the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. These searches will continue and improve in their reach, but the new telescopes being planned/constructed to study exoplanets may also provide us the opportunities to detect other evidence of extraterrestrial technologies, and we can look forward to a search for technosignatures occurring along with searches for biosignatures under the umbrella of astrobiology.