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Bright Horizons 11 Seminars

Eastern Caribbean • January 14th – 21st, 2012






The conference fee is $1,475 and includes all seminars below. (Each seminar is 90 minutes.) Classes only take place when we’re at sea, between the hours of 8:30am and 7:30pm.


Einstein in a Nutshell

Speaker: Richard Wolfson, Ph.D.

Of difficult ideas, it’s sometimes said “It would take an Einstein to understand that.” Surely this must apply to Einstein’s own ideas. But no! Einstein’s most famous contribution to science — his theory of relativity — is based on an idea so simple it can be stated in a single English sentence. From that simple idea follow conclusions that have revolutionized our notions of space, time, and causality. Einstein’s special theory of relativity shows that measures of time and space are no longer absolutes, but depend on one’s point of view. Einstein’s general theory of relativity shows how gravity reflects the geometry of space and time — a geometry whose curved spacetime is rich with such phenomena as black holes, wormholes, and gravitational lenses that make the universe itself act like a giant telescope. This lecture develops the ideas of Einstein’s relativity theory from its underlying simple principle, and shows how the seemingly bizarre and sometimes paradoxical results of relativity are but logical consequences of that principle.

Here are the slides (6mb file).

Wild Sun!

Speaker: Richard Wolfson, Ph.D.

Our Sun seems a staid, reliable star. Five billion years old and with another five billion years to go, it should be in the midst of a calm middle age. Actually, though, the Sun seethes with activity. Violent eruptions — the most energetic events in the solar system — send billions of tons of high-energy particles into interplanetary space. When they’re aimed at Earth, these solar storms damage satellites, disrupt communications and terrestrial power systems, and treat us to brilliant auroral displays. Solar activity, closely associated with sunspots, varies in a 22-year cycle whose origins and regularity we still don’t fully understand. But a host of new spacecraft is giving an unprecedented look at our star. Spacecraft have flown over the Sun’s poles, taken 3-dimensional pictures of solar eruptions, imaged the Sun’s surface with better resolution than your high-definition TV, probed the solar interior, and even observed events on the backside of the Sun. This lecture explores our new understandings of the Sun and of the intimate link between Sun and Earth.

Here are the slides (4mb file).

The Search for Exoplanets

Speaker: Marc Davis, Ph.D.

In the past decade research using a variety of telescopes and methods has shown that planets are very common to stars like our own. Join Dr. Marc Davis for an indepth look at the major research being done by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. You’ll get the details of exoplanet exploration direct from this scientist, who pioneered techniques to detect planets outside our solar system. Learn the differing approaches Kepler, Spitzer, and Hubble programs are applying to the search for exoplanets. Take home a sharper view of exoplanetary studies and be able to do an informed assessment of the rare earth hypotheses and mediocrity principle.

Gravitational Lensing

Speaker: Marc Davis, Ph.D.

Einstein became a worldwide celebrity when his prediction of the bending of light by the sun was confirmed during a solar eclipse in 1918. Since then, more examples of the bending of electromagnetic radiation through gravitational lensing have been observed and defined. Gravitiational lenses make it possible for current scientists to explore the shape and substance of the universe. They have proven that enormous amounts of dark matter exists around all galaxies and clusters of galaxies. Dr. Marc Davis will present the basics on the properties and types of gravitational lenses and how the measurement of lensing evolved. He will show some fabulous examples of gravitational lensing which were strong enough for multiple images to be formed and talk about current directions in research using gravitational lenses. You’ll emerge prepared to look ahead and appreciate the discoveries that gravitational lenses make possible.

Here are the slides (7mb file).

Galaxies and the Clustering of Galaxies

Speaker: Marc Davis, Ph.D.

Survey the cosmic terrain, with Dr. Marc Davis as your guide. Get ready for a discussion of the large-scale structure of the universe which astronomers have discovered over the last 25 years. You’ll get a handle on landmarks such as the Great Wall, the Sloan Great Wall, the WMAP Cold Spot, and the gigantic clusters of galaxies connected to each other by huge filaments and voids stretching to distances on the order of 100 million light years.

How did such structure originate? How did our galaxy form? What does this tell us about the dark matter and about the initial conditions of the universe? Join Dr. Davis for an awe-inspiring and thought provoking discussion, and get a grasp of the surprising cosmography of the universe.

Here are the slides (6mb file).

Why Does our Universe Have a Beginning?

Speaker: Marc Davis, Ph.D.

Observations funded by NASA have led to extremely refined models of cosmology, and we now know that the universe is 13.7 billion years old. Why is it that old, why does it have a beginning? How can questions like this actually have answers? The best answer, inflation, has endured, and gone on to answer other puzzling issues in cosmology.

Inflation theory described a model of the early universe, 25 years ago. Since then the theory has been refined but the original idea is solid. Not only does inflation provide an answer to questions about the early universe, it also can explain why the universe is approximately homogeneous and isotropic, a problem that nobody expected to be solved. The explanations provided by inflation are so convincing that all cosmologists believe in inflation, in spite of its highly speculative nature.

Dr. Davis lays out the components of inflation theory, the observational tests that support it, and alternative theories so you can enjoy the confirmations and developments to come.

Here are the slides (3mb file).


Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Extreme Fermented Beverages

Speaker: Patrick McGovern, Ph.D.

The history of the human species and civilization itself is, in many ways, the history of fermented beverages. Drawing upon recent archaeological discoveries, molecular and DNA sleuthing, and the texts and art of long-forgotten peoples you’ll journey back in time with Dr. Patrick McGovern to the days when early humanoids probably enjoyed a wild fruit or honey wine. Follow the course of human ingenuity in domesticating plants necessary to make and preserve wines, beers, and “extreme fermented beverages”: the grapevine in the Middle East, rice in China, and the cacao (chocolate) tree in the New World.

Dr. McGovern gives you an insider’s account of the discovery of the most ancient chemically-attested alcoholic beverage in the world, a mixed fermented beverage of rice, hawthorn fruit/grape, and honey dating back to about 7000 B.C in China. Analyses of residue in some of the world’s earliest pottery from Jiahu in the Yellow River yielded information that tell us the basic techniques and ingredients creating this brew. Dr. McGovern also profiles a fermented beverage made from the fruit pod of the cacao tree, as based on analyses of circa 1200 B.C. potsherds from Honduras. As one of the earliest chemically attested instances of chocolate in the Americas, this beverage might well have been the incentive for domesticating the cacao tree.

Early beverage-makers produced drinks that were mind-altering substances, medicines, religious symbols, and social lubricants all rolled into one. Join Dr. McGovern for an in-depth look at the study of fermented beverages, from residues on a potsherd to laboratory analyses to commercial re-creations of ancient brews. You’ll gain a renewed appreciation of fermented beverages’ role in the world’s collective heritage.

Royal Purple: The Dye of Gods and Kings

Speaker: Patrick McGovern, Ph.D.

Open a door into a fascinating past by joining Dr. Patrick McGovern and exploring the most valuable dye of antiquity: Royal Purple (or Tyrian Purple). The story illustrates the role of both a chance discovery of a dye factory in Lebanon from the 13th century B.C. and pioneering biomolecular archaeological investigation, in producing direct chemical documentation of the existence of true Molluscan Purple. This dye compound (6,6’-dibromoindigo), the stuff of both legend and history, is produced naturally only from mollusks of a world-wide family of species including Mediterranean Murex and Peruvian Concholepas. Royal Purple was worth more than its weight in gold — it took 10,000 mollusks to produce one gram of the dye) — and became the prerogative of priests and kings. The Israelite temple of Solomon was bedecked in its color, and the sail of Cleopatra was dyed with it at the Battle of Actium. Find out about the interplay of science, history, politics and religion in cultures around the world — Phoenicia, Israel, Peru, east Asia, Mesoamerica — where species of the Purple-yielding mollusks were culled for food, their dyeing potential in textiles, and ultimately their symbolic and religious significance.

The trail of Royal Purple fascinates with Canaanite and Phoenician myth, archaeological sites, art, linguistics and history, and segues into the evolution of the field of biomolecular archaeology. Dr. McGovern and colleagues went on to reconstruct the ancient Roman Purple industry by culling the writings of Pliny the Elder for linguistic and descriptive clues of the process which could be chemically tested. The industry’s often closely guarded secrets remained well protected under the aegis of Nero, who issued a decree in the 1st century A.D. that only the emperor could wear Purple. You’ll gain a richer sense of how intense interdisciplinary research can illuminate a luxury product of antiquity, whose color still captivates modern humans.

The First Wine: An Archaeochemical Detective Story

Speaker: Patrick McGovern, Ph.D.

Grape wine, the premier fermented beverage of Mediterranean and Near Eastern civilizations with its special medicinal benefits and psychotropic effects, was likely discovered and enjoyed early in human prehistory. Although the leather and wood containers holding this beverage in the Paleolithic period have long disappeared, it is now possible by biomolecular archaeological techniques to identify the beverage inside pottery jars of the Neolithic period. What has this detective work revealed?

Join Dr. Patrick McGovern for a look at the chemical data yielded by the study of ancient wines, and the collaborative work that brings these findings back to life, both historically and in modern gustatory enjoyment. Find out how specific winemaking practices, such as adding tree resins to wine, in Iran circa 5400 B.C. contributed to the medicinal practices of the ancient world, and how they live on today. Explore how Italian and American scientists identified the longest sequence of ancient wine yeast DNA and how it probably served as a precursor to the modern wine, beer, and bread yeasts. Dr. McGovern details how wine became important to Egyptian society, impacting religious ritual and mythology, social custom, agriculture, the economy, and medical care. He’ll discuss his analyses of the earliest wine from Egypt: some 700 jars of wine or 4,500 liters of wine which accompanied one of the first pharaohs of Egypt, Scorpion I, into the afterlife in his tomb at Abydos. You’ll hear about his latest joint project with the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania, “Archaeological Oncology: Digging for Drug Discovery”. Its first fruits have demonstrated very effective anti-cancer properties of herbs and tree resins used in grape winemaking and rice beer making in the Middle East and China.

The Near Eastern wine culture was carried by the Phoenician seafarers, along with the alphabet and Royal Purple dye making, across the Mediterranean Sea. It spread from there throughout the world. Gain a deeper appreciation of how ancient wine provides an entrée into a deeper understanding of the religions, socio-economies, cuisines, and pharmacopoeias of the ancient world.

Ancient Beer: A Global Perspective

Speaker: Patrick McGovern, Ph.D.

Wine, which can be made from a plethora of fruits in Africa, was likely being made and enjoyed by humans at the dawn of our species. Beer, which does not harbor resident yeast like fruit and requires extensive processing of a carbohydrate source, is more difficult to make. Despite the greater expertise needed, humans were remarkably inventive in taking their native carbohydrates, and either chewing them to break the carbohydrates down into sugar by enzymes in our saliva, or malting or letting fungi do the job. Join Dr. Patrick McGovern as he surveys the worldwide beer terrain. Learn about ancient ingredient choices and manufacturing methods, the significant role beer played in societies (e.g., the Great Pyramids would probably still be a gleam in a Pharaoh’s eye if not for beer), and the laboratory science that confirms and makes sense of the many strands of chemical, archaeological, artistic, and linguistic evidence for ancient beer.

Get an archaeologist insider’s account of how our homeland Africa is still a continent awash in beer and how he discovered the earliest barley beer at a site in Iran.

Hear about Dr. McGovern’s journeys to South America and his study of Mesoamerica, where the astonishing domestication of maize took place, laying the foundations for large-scale corn beer production that powered the Mayan, Aztec, and Incan empires.

You’ll learn about the McGovern laboratory’s finding of a 9000-year-old mixed beverage of fruit, honey and rice — the oldest chemically identified alcoholic beverage to date — from jars at site of Jiahu in the Yellow River valley in north-central China.

Along the way, you’ll gain a much deeper appreciation of the inventiveness of our species in concocting fermented beverages, and beer’s role in the dramatic change in human existence as we went from hunting-gathering to creating cities and societies.

• • • PRIMATOLOGY • • •

Morality: A Darwinian View of the Moral Emotions in Man and Animals

Speaker: Frans de Waal, Ph.D.

Homo homini lupus — “man is wolf to man” — is an old Roman proverb popularized by Thomas Hobbes. While it is demonstrated in law, economics, and political science the proverb fails to do justice to our species’ thoroughly social nature let alone to dogs, which are among the most gregarious and cooperative animals.

For the past 25 years, this cynical view has also been promoted by an influential school of biology, followers of Thomas Henry Huxley, which holds that we are born nasty and selfish. Accordingly, it is only with the greatest possible effort that we can hope to become moral beings.

Charles Darwin, however, saw things differently: he believed in continuity between animals social instincts and human morality. He wrote an entire book about The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Modern psychology and neuroscience support Darwin’s view about the moral emotions. Human moral decisions often stem from “gut” reactions, some of which we share with other animals.

Dr. de Waal will elaborate on the connection between morality and primate behavior. Other primates show signs of empathy, reciprocity, and a sense of fairness that promote a mutually satisfactory modus vivendi. Review the evidence for continuity and see if you support the view that the building blocks of morality are older than humanity.

On the Possibility of Animal Empathy

Speaker: Frans de Waal, Ph.D.

The excessive fear of anthropomorphism and the behaviorist taboo on animal emotions has kept the possibility that animals have empathy and sympathy from receiving much systematic attention.

Actual animal behavior, however, would lead one to agree with Charles Darwin that “Many animals certainly sympathize with each other’s distress or danger.” In Dr. de Waal’s work with monkeys and apes, he has found many cases of one individual coming to another’s rescue in a fight, putting an arm around a previous victim of attack, and other emotional responses to the distress of others. In fact, the entire communication system of nonhuman primates seems emotionally mediated.

Learn about expressions of empathy in animals. Dr. de Waal will present a “Russian doll” model of how animals perceive others. The model’s core mechanism of emotional linkage arises from a direct mapping of another’s behavioral state onto the subject’s representations. This Perception-Action Model provides the basis for higher levels of linkage, in which there is an increasing distinction between “self” and “other”, so that the other is recognized as the source of felt emotions. This recognition permits responses to be geared specifically to the other’s situation, thus increasing the effectiveness of sympathetic support, care, and reassurance as observed in dolphins, apes, and elephants. The connection between perspective-taking and mirror self-recognition (MSR) will be elaborated upon, including our recent demonstration that Asian elephants recognize themselves in a mirror.

Absorb primatology’s observations of emotionally mediated interactions, and explore the latest thinking on animal empathy.

A Social, Political, and Cultural Brain: What Primates Know About and Learn From Each Other

Speaker: Frans de Waal, Ph.D.

Primates live in complex societies in which they compete, try to become dominant, but also help friends and kin. At Living Links we test the knowledge of monkeys and apes about each other, including the power relations among primates. Several recent experiments will be discussed, such as: a) the role of policing by high-ranking “peacekeepers” and how their behavior stabilizes society; b) how primates distinguish gender — do they have a gender “construct” in that they find it easier to determine the gender of familiar individuals; c) how do chimpanzees and bonobos complement “regular” primate communication (facial expressions and vocalizations) with hand gestures and does this bear on language evolution, and; d) what do primates learn from each other — do they have cultural capacities in that they adopt behavior shown by others in their group? We know from the wild that many animals, especially our closest relatives, show cultural variation. Their behavior differs from group to group based on the transmission of knowledge, skills, or habits. Delve into the up and coming field of “cultural primatology” and find out about the surprising foundations of primate societies.

• • • BOTANY • • •

Plant Sex Made Easy

Speaker: Spencer C.H. Barrett, Ph.D.

Flowering plants display spectacular floral diversity and complex sex lives. The reproductive strategies of plants exhibit greater variety than those of any other group of organisms — why is this?

You’ll find the answer in the immobility of plants and their need to engage the services of agents of pollen dispersal to promote cross-pollination.

Join Dr. Barrett for a discussion of a variety of fundamental questions about plant sex including why some plants give up outbreeding and why others evolve separate sexes (male and females). You’ll look at some bizarre floral adaptations associated with pollination and learn how experimental studies help understand how they function.

The knowledge of plant reproduction you’ll gain is crucial for understanding plant breeding and biotechnology, conservation biology, and the environmental consequences of genetically modified crops. Plant sex is fascinating — if you can work out all the parts!

Here are the slides (4mb file).

Darwin’s Legacy: the Form and Function of Flowers

Speaker: Spencer C.H. Barrett, Ph.D.

Charles Darwin studied floral biology for over 40 years. His books about plant reproduction provided the conceptual foundation for understanding floral adaptations that promote cross-fertilization and the mechanisms responsible for evolutionary transitions in reproductive systems. Many of Darwin’s insights, gained from careful observations and experiments on diverse species, remain remarkably relevant today and have stimulated current research on floral function and the evolution of mating systems.

Explore Darwin’s seminal contributions to reproductive biology and find out about current research on topics to which he was dedicated like the benefits of cross- versus self-fertilization and the transition from animal to wind pollination.

Post-Darwinian theories on floral function now recognize the importance of male as well as female reproductive success in shaping floral adaptation. This has helped to link work on pollination biology and mating systems, after a long period of isolation since Darwin’s first efforts to integrate them. Discover a key yet lesser know aspect of Darwin’s studies, updated. You’ll look at flowers with a new perspective!

Here are the slides (2mb file).

Plant Evolution on Islands

Speaker: Spencer C.H. Barrett, Ph.D.

Islands have long held a fascination for biologists and those interested in natural history. The distinctive floras and faunas of islands were of considerable significance to Darwin and Wallace in developing their ideas on evolution. The recognition that islands can act as “evolutionary laboratories” has stimulated much research on island groups, providing some of the clearest evidence for natural selection and the mechanisms that drive evolutionary diversification.

Why do islands provide such a rich source of biological novelty for evolutionary enquiry? To answer that, we’ll first delve into the characteristic features of plant species on islands and compare the reproductive biology and genetics of island and mainland plant populations. Then Dr. Barrett will use examples from his own research on Caribbean islands to illustrate several general problems that are faced by plants that colonize and persist on islands. These include how plants get to islands in the first place, and then how they find a mate once they are there. You’ll learn how modern molecular DNA approaches can address questions about the ancestry of plant colonists and their time of arrival. Put it all together and get food for thought for your island explorations.

Here are the slides (3mb file).

Plant Invasions — More Than Just a Nuisance

Speaker: Spencer C.H. Barrett, Ph.D.

Biological invasions cause huge economic losses and are a major threat to biodiversity and ecosystem function. Plant invasions continue to occur throughout the world, exacerbated by the globalization of trade. They transform landscapes, interfere with waterways and reduce productivity in agriculture and forestry.

Where do plant invaders come from? What are their common characteristics, and how best can we control them? To answer these questions, we’ll learn about the new applied science field of invasion biology, which integrates traditional approaches to weed management with ecological and evolutionary principles. Dr. Barrett will brief you on his research demonstrating that some plants can evolve rapidly in response to local environmental conditions in their adopted homes, whereas others are genetically uniform but nonetheless can be highly successful.

Get the latest findings on invasive plants and the new approaches to plant invader control and policy.

Here are the slides (1mb file).


Global Warming: State of the Science

Speaker: Richard Wolfson, Ph.D.

The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest 10-year period since record keeping began in the mid-19th century — and almost certainly the warmest decade of the past two millennia. The climate of recent years is only one of many new pieces of evidence for an unprecedented warming of our planet since the late 20th century. Both observations and modeling suggest independently that the dominant cause of this warming is human activity — most significantly, our fossil fuel consumption and the resulting increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. This lecture reviews the latest evidence for human-induced global warming, explores the science behind our changing climate, and outlines scenarios for possible climate futures.

Here are the slides (9mb file).

Energy Futures

Speaker: Richard Wolfson, Ph.D.

Humankind uses energy at a prodigious and ever-increasing rate. The greatest proportion of our energy comes from fossil fuels, whose remaining supplies are measured in decades for oil and gas, centuries for coal. Of more immediate concern than running out is the impact fossil fuels have on our planet. From oil spills to mining to toxic pollution to climate change, no aspect of our fossil-fueled energy system is without environmental consequences. We face the monumental task of reshaping our energy system to run on sustainable sources that inflict less environmental damage. Fortunately, alternatives are available today, and more will become technologically and economically viable in the future. Hopeful, too, is the fact that human energy consumption remains a small fraction of the energy flows that power Earth’s natural systems. This lecture surveys current patterns of energy use and how we got here, and then takes a realistic look at sustainable energy futures.

Here are the slides (8mb file).

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