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Mills College

Department of Chemistry and Physics


The Chan-Norris Conversations in Science series

Spring 2017


Seminars held on Wednesdays in room NSB213 at noon.

Lunch provided!


Made possible by financial support from the Chan-Norris Endowment, the Dept. of Chemistry and Physics,

the Environmental Sciences Program, Career Services, the Provost’s Office

and a Mary Ann Childers Kinkead Faculty Innovation Grant.

Advocating the Chan-Norris endowment goal of enhancing and expanding the Mills College Natural Science curriculum.


Come join us for fun and enlightening conversations with some of the most interesting science-based professionals. In addition to talking about what they do and why, they are here to clue you in on some of the rewards and challenges of life after college in a science and tech-minded world.


Students in all majors invited. Not your typical seminar talk!


February 1

Dr. Marc Kastner

President, Science Philanthropy Alliance

Dr. Kastner is the president of the Science Philanthropy Alliance, a coalition of leading nonprofit institutions and foundations dedicated to increasing financial support for basic science research. Prior to leading the Alliance, Dr. Kastner had a long career at MIT including professor (since 1973), Director of the Center for Materials Science and Engineering (1993), head of Dept. of Physics (1998) and Dean of the School of Science in 2007. His early work focused on the properties of amorphous semiconductors. He with his collaborators invented the Valence-Alternation model relating the electronic properties of these materials to their chemical bonding. He also studied the relationship of the magnetic properties of high temperature superconductors to the electronic transport and optical properties. Kastner's group also fabricated the first semiconductor single-electron transistor later discovering the Kondo effect in these nano-structures. He is on the Science Advisory Boards of the National Cancer Institute and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. He is recognized by the scientific community as a member of the National Academy of Sciences,  fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is recipient of the David Adler Lectureship Award (American Physical Society) and the Oliver E. Buckley Prize (American Physical Society). He completed his B.S. (chemistry), M.S (physics). and Ph.D. (physics) at the University of Chicago.

Text adapted from the SPA and NAS websites.


February 15

Dr. Paul Davies

Regent's Professor and Director of the BEYOND Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, Arizona State University

Paul Davies is a British-born theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and best-selling author. He is Regents' Professor and Director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, co-Director of the Cosmology Initiative, and Principal Investigator in the Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology, all at Arizona State University. Previously he held academic appointments at the Universities of Cambridge, London and Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK, before moving to Australia in 1990, initially as Professor of Mathematical Physics at The University of Adelaide. Later he helped found the Australian Centre for Astrobiology. 


Davies’s research interests are focused on the “big questions” of existence, ranging from the origin of the universe to the origin of life, and include the nature of time, the search for life in the universe and foundational questions in quantum mechanics. He helped create the theory of quantum fields in curved spacetime, with which he provided explanations for how black holes can radiate energy, and what caused the ripples in the cosmic afterglow of the big bang. In astrobiology, he was a forerunner of the theory that life on Earth may have come from Mars. He is currently championing the theory that Earth may host a shadow biosphere of alternative life forms.


In addition to his research, Davies is known as a passionate science communicator, and is in demand world-wide for media appearances and public presentations. He has lectured on scientific topics at institutions as diverse as The World Economic Forum, the United Nations, the Commission of the European Union, Google, Windsor Castle, The Vatican and Westminster Abbey, as well as mainstream academic establishments such as The Royal Society, The Smithsonian Institution, the New York Academy of Sciences, The American Association for the Advancement of Science and hundreds of universities. He has twice debated scientific topics with the Dalai Lama, and contributed to numerous debates about science, religion and culture. His 28 popular and specialist books have been translated into over 20 languages, and are notable for presenting complex ideas in accessible terms. Among his best sellers are The Mind of God, About Time, How to Build a Time Machine, The Fifth Miracle and The Goldilocks Enigma. His latest book, The Eerie Silence, is about the search for intelligent life in the universe, and will be published in early 2010. Davies devised and presented a highly successful series of 45 minute BBC Radio 3 science documentaries, and a one-hour television documentary about his work in astrobiology, entitled The Cradle of Life. In Australia his many television projects included two six-part series The Big Questions, filmed in the outback, and More Big Questions. 


Paul Davies has won many awards, including the 1995 Templeton Prize for his work on the deeper implications of science, the 2001 Kelvin Medal from the UK Institute of Physics, and the 2002 Michael Faraday Prize from the Royal Society for promoting science to the public. In April 1999 the asteroid 1992 OG was officially named (6870) Pauldavies. In June 2007 he was named a Member of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s birthday honors list.

Text adapted from the BEYOND website.


March 2*** This is a THURSDAY

Dr. Seth Shostak

Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute

Seth claims to have developed an interest in extraterrestrial life at the tender age of ten, when he first picked up a book about the solar system. This innocent beginning eventually led to a degree in radio astronomy, and now, as Senior Astronomer, Seth is an enthusiastic participant in the Institute’s SETI observing programs. He also heads up the International Academy of Astronautics’ SETI Permanent Committee.


In addition, Seth is keen on outreach activities: interesting the public – and especially young people – in science in general, and astrobiology in particular. He’s co-authored a college textbook on astrobiology, and has written three trade books on SETI. In addition, he’s published more than 400 popular articles on science -- including regular contributions to both the Huffington Post and Discover Magazine blogs -- gives many dozens of talks annually, and is the host of the SETI Institute’s weekly science radio show, “Big Picture Science.” 

March 29

Dr. Mary Voytek

Senior Scientist, Astrobiology Program, NASA

Dr. Mary A. Voytek took charge of NASA’s Astrobiology Program in 2008, as Senior Scientist for Astrobiology in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA HQ. In addition to managing the Core and Strategic Astrobiology Programs, in 2015, Dr. Voytek formed Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS), a systems science initiative by NASA, to search for life on exoplanets.

Dr. Voytek came to NASA from the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, VA, where she headed the USGS Microbiology and Molecular Ecology Laboratory. Dr. Voytek’s primary research interest is aquatic microbial ecology and biogeochemistry. She has studied environmental controls on microbial transformations of nutrients, xenobiotics, and metals in freshwater and marine systems. She has worked in several extreme environments including Antarctica, the arctic, hypersaline lakes, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and terrestrial deep- subsurface sites. She has served on several advisory groups to Department of the Interior, Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and NASA, including the Planetary Protection Subcommittee. She has also supported NASA’s Astrobiology Program serving as a NASA representative to a number of COSPAR convened studies exploring the potential for life in the universe. She has held positions in several science societies and is currently a board member of the American Geophysical Union. She did her undergraduate work in biology at Johns Hopkins University, a M.S. in biological oceanography at University of Rhode Island and her Ph.D. in biology/ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Text adapted from the NASA and AGU websites.

April 12

Dr. Laurel Miner

Program Analyst, NIST

Dr. Laurel Miner is a program analyst in the Program Coordination Office in the Director's Office at NIST. She primarily covers NIST's strategy, planning, and performance efforts. As the lead for NIST's institute-wide planning efforts, Laurel develops, coordinates, and manages NIST's strategic planning processes. She is also a liaison between the Director's Office and performance and strategic planning functions at the Department of Commerce, where she contributes and coordinates the development, tracking, and reporting of NIST's efforts towards the DOC Strategic Plan. Laurel was selected to participate in the 2016 class of the NIST Foundations in Leadership Program.

Prior to joining NIST, Laurel was a science advisor to the Under Secretary of Science at the Department of Energy. There, she worked on a variety of strategic and planning issues, including acting as the managing editor for the Department's First Quadrennial Technology Review.

Laurel earned her masters and doctorate degrees in physics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She graduated magna cum laude with honors from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Text adapted from the NIST website.

April 19

Martin Wolfe

Distinguished Engineer, IBM

Martin (Marty) Wolfe is an IBM Distinguished Engineer and Client Technical Strategist, with a specialty in bridging business goals with the technologies used to create innovative solutions. He is a client strategist combining business and technical acumen and possessing a diverse IT and consultative background. He has both a knowledge of IT trends and requirements broadly and specific to industries such as Retail, Government, Logistics, and Manufacturing.  Marty builds and establishes trusted relationships from the practitioner level to the c-suite.  He is part of a select group of the most senior architects and engineers who define technical strategy and design for IBM’s largest clients around the globe. 


Marty is a clutch player, sought out by IBM’s executive leadership to build IBM’s technical and delivery capability and by client leaders and practitioners.  He can combine the definition of technical strategy, map it to business goals and then demonstrate working solutions to important business problems.


His current focus is using his architecture, delivery, and business acumen to ensure cloud technologies, new technology delivery models, and design thinking techniques are used to provide maximum business and IT value. He works directly with clients, shaping and defining their technology direction including how to most effectively use new and existing technologies, in direct support of business initiatives. Actual delivery of capability is vitally important and Marty focuses on ensuring the technology has real-world applicability, is mapped to business goals, and can viably be delivered and implemented. Given his combination of technical and business experience,


Marty has more than 20 years of experience as an Enterprise Architect, Systems Engineer, Chief Architect, Application Developer, and Inventor.  He continues to innovate having been awarded patents in technology infrastructure, augmented reality, and business modeling topics.  Marty has extensive experience in designing and delivering solutions using the most modern DevOps and Systems Engineering techniques.  Consulting and Architecture is not just about technology but also about building client relationships and solutions to solve real problems.  Marty has worked with major retailers, product manufacturers, package delivery companies and government agencies where he is both the technical advisor to the client and the technical conscience for the IBM team.  His ability to build long lasting and trusted technical advisor credibility with clients and IBM is evident through his appointment as an IBM Distinguished Engineer and the continued support he receives from key client leaders.


May 3

Dr. Lisa Dyson

CEO, Kiverdi

Dr. Lisa Dyson is the CEO of Kiverdi, an advanced technology company with a mission to commercialize the most sustainable protein, produced in a process similar to making yogurt, beer, cheese or bread, but using Kiverdi’s NASA-inspired innovations. The Kiverdi technology platform aims to disrupt industrial agriculture, an industry that is ripe for innovation, to help us feed a growing world. Previously, Dr. Dyson worked with executives of Fortune 100 companies at the Boston Consulting Group, where she helped them to develop high-impact strategies and execution plans to expand into new markets, facilitate post-merger integrations, define international governance models and identify millions of dollars in operational cost inefficiencies. Dr. Dyson holds a PhD in physics from MIT and has done research in bioengineering, energy and physics at Stanford University, UC Berkeley and Princeton University, among others. She was a Fulbright Scholar at the Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, where she received a master of science, and has degrees in physics and mathematics from Brandeis University.  


Questions? Contact Dr. Felisa Wolfe-Simon, Chan-Norris Visiting Professor,


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