2016 Penn Science Café and Lightbulb Café Lecture Series

All events are held at:  

World Cafe Live
3025 Walnut St.
6–7 p.m.  

Since 2005, the Penn Science Café has shined a spotlight on Penn research in the sciences. The Penn Lightbulb Café debuted in 2011 to illuminate research in social science, arts and humanities. The lectures, held on Tuesday evenings at World Cafe Live Upstairs, are free and open to the public. Each talk begins at 6 p.m. and is followed by an audience Q&A session. Café goers can come early for 5-6 p.m. happy hour specials. RSVP not required. Seating is limited. The two lecture series are presented by the School of Arts & Sciences in partnership with the Office of University Communications. Dinner reservations are managed separately through World Cafe Live.   

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Tuesday, June 14 – Science Café
Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center, School of Arts & Sciences
“Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind”
Is it possible to make sense of something as elusive as creativity? Based on his research, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman offers a glimpse inside the “messy minds” of highly creative people. Revealing the latest neuroscience and psychology findings, along with engaging examples of artists and innovators throughout history, he will shine a light on the practices and habits of mind that promote creative thinking. Kaufman will untangle a series of paradoxes — mindfulness and daydreaming, seriousness and play, openness and sensitivity, solitude and collaboration — to show that, by embracing our own contradictions, we can tap into our deepest creativity.

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Tuesday, Jan. 26 – Science Café
Michael Platt, James S. Riepe University Professor of Neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine, professor of psychology in the School of Arts & Sciences and professor of marketing in the Wharton School
“Friendship and Your Brain”
Friendship, charity and empathy: How do these profoundly human feelings arise from the coordinated actions of our brains, bodies and genes? What are the roots of the social emotions in other animals? How does our social environment get “under our skin” to shape our lives and livelihood? Using his decades of experience studying the behavior and biology of rhesus macaques, Michael Platt, a Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor, and the James S. Riepe University Professor of Neuroscience, with appointments in the School of Arts & Sciences, Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School, will discuss the new science of friendship and what monkeys can teach us about ourselves.

Tuesday, Feb. 9 – Lightbulb Café
Peter Decherney, professor of English and cinema studies in the School of Arts & Sciences
"Hollywood’s Past and Future”
Hollywood has dominated global screens and imaginations for more than 100 years. Against the odds, movie studios have weathered economic crises, disruptive new technologies and powerful competition. Peter Decherney will draw on his new book, Hollywood: A Very Short Introduction, to offer five theses on Hollywood’s tenacity. What is the recipe that has allowed Hollywood to adjust to new challenges? And what can our media past tell us about our current moment and future?

Tuesday, Feb. 23 – Lightbulb Café
Cam Grey
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associate professor of classical studies in the School of Arts & Sciences
“An Earthquake That Shook the World: Seismicity and Societal Change in the Fourth Century C.E.”
Early in the reign of the brothers Valentinian and Valens, a massive earthquake shook the eastern Mediterranean. The July 21, 365 C.E., quake had an estimated magnitude between 8.0 and 8.5 on the Richter scale. Archaeological evidence has shown that destruction of buildings and temples spread from Crete to other parts of the Mediterranean. The earthquake is frequently connected to a tsunami that reached as far as Croatia, northwestern Greece, Libya and Egypt. Cam Grey will discuss the considerable literary, historical and archaeoseismological challenges that attend the project of reconstructing this earthquake and tsunami.

Tuesday, March 1 – Science Café
Michael Weisberg, professor and chair of philosophy in the School of Arts & Sciences
“Public (Mis)understanding of Evolution”
Ten years have passed since the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, one of the most prominent public forays into evolution in recent memory. But in the decade since what has changed about the perception of this topic? Michael Weisberg, an expert on scientific methods and evolutionary biology, discusses what we currently know about evolution, why people are still confused about it, what role religion and background play in their perceptions and what he learned on a recent research trip to the Galapagos to document evolution in action. He’ll share photos and video from the Galapagos trip and a preview of the short documentary series he and his colleagues are creating.

Tuesday, March 15 – Science Café
Brenda Casper, chair and professor of biology in the School of Arts & Sciences
“Studying Climate Change in a Land of Nomads: How Species Will Respond to New Conditions in the Mongolian Steppe”
Industrialized nations shoulder the biggest responsibility in contributing to anthropogenic climate change, but even the most remote areas of the globe bear the consequences. Brenda Casper and her students have spent years studying how future climate change will impact northern Mongolia, a semi-arid steppe where nomadic herders have practiced their livelihoods in much the same way for thousands of years. In this talk, she will explain what their work is revealing about how plants and soil bacterial communities will respond to future warming and land-use change and what that will mean for the region.  

Tuesday, April 5 – Lightbulb Café
Michael Horowitz, associate professor of political science in the School of Arts & Sciences 
Why Leaders Fight”
Michael Horowitz is the co-author of Why Leaders Fight and will discuss how world leaders engage in different types of military decision-making, depending on their personal experiences in life. Compiling the biographies of nearly 2,500 dictators, presidents, kings, heads of state and prime ministers from around the world since the 1800s, Why Leaders Fight uses the largest set of data on leader backgrounds to create a scale for risk-aversion and propensity for violence. The researchers used this scale to see if it can predict the leaders’ behavior when it comes to military aggression, and it worked.

Tuesday, April 19 – Science Café - POSTPONED
Lauren Sallan, assistant professor in Earth and Environmental Science Department in the School of Arts & Sciences
“The Rise of Tiny Fish”
The 64,000 living species of vertebrates dominate ecosystems on land (as tetrapods, including humans) and in the sea (as ray-fin fishes and sharks). The rise of vertebrates in the Paleozoic (542-250 million years ago) is usually cast as a gradual march towards bigger and better things. Paleontologist Lauren Sallan will show that new, 'Big Data' approaches to the early fossil record have shown that modern vertebrate biodiversity is the unlikely, but predictable, result of global change, environmental challenges, ecological interactions and even mass extinction.

Tuesday, May 3 – Lightbulb Café - POSTPONED
Rogers Smith
, associate dean for social sciences and Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts & Sciences
“Birthright Citizenship, Immigration and Presidential Politics in 2016”
For the last three decades, Rogers Smith has been one of the nation’s leading scholars of citizenship. In 1985, Smith and Yale professor Peter Schuck co-authored “Citizenship Without Consent,” which introduced the idea that it is technically within Congress’ power to deny birthright citizenship to children born to unauthorized aliens, though neither Smith or Schuck have ever favored such a policy. That issue has become prominent as part of the intense controversies over immigration America is experiencing today. In 1998, his book “Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History” provided an analysis of American nativist traditions and included an argument about the aims of the “natural born” citizenship requirement for the U.S. presidency, which has also become an issue in the current presidential campaign. In this Penn Lightbulb Café, Smith will discuss how citizenship and immigration issues link to the perspectives and prospects of the current presidential candidates.

Tuesday, June 14 – Science Café
Scott Barry Kaufman, scientific director of the Imagination Institute in the Positive Psychology Center, School of Arts & Sciences
“Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind”
Is it possible to make sense of something as elusive as creativity? Based on his research, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman offers a glimpse inside the “messy minds” of highly creative people. Revealing the latest neuroscience and psychology findings, along with engaging examples of artists and innovators throughout history, he will shine a light on the practices and habits of mind that promote creative thinking. Kaufman will untangle a series of paradoxes — mindfulness and daydreaming, seriousness and play, openness and sensitivity, solitude and collaboration — to show that, by embracing our own contradictions, we can tap into our deepest creativity. 

Tuesday, July 12 – Lightbulb Café - tbd

Tuesday, Aug 16 – Science Café - tbd