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Mills College

Department of Chemistry and Physics


The Chan-Norris Conversations in Science series

Spring 2018


Seminars held on Wednesdays in room NSB 213 at noon.

Lunch provided!

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

the Environmental Sciences Program, the Provost’s Office, a Mary Ann Childers Kinkead Faculty Innovation Grant

and the National Science Foundation.


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, engineering and technology-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!

Jan. 31, 2018

Eric Siegel

Director, University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

As Director of the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley, Eric Siegel has the good fortune to lead one of the world’s finest living collections of plants. He moved from NYC to Berkeley in 2015 with his wife and one of his twin daughters who recently completed her second year at Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall).

From 1997-2015, he served as Director and Chief Content Officer at the New York Hall of Science, where he led the development of new initiatives at the museum in education, exhibition, technology, and youth programs and had a major hand in planning, fundraising, and partnerships. He led the development of 5 major exhibitions and programs, with budgets of $20,000,000 and led a staff of 150 full and part time employees. 

Since 1981, when he was part of the team that founded the new Bronx Museum in the South Bronx, Eric has been in senior roles in art and science museums and has taught, consulted, and published extensively in the museum field.  He worked at two world-renowned (but very different) botanical Gardens in New York City, Wave Hill and the New York Botanical Garden.


He has consulted with They Might be Giants, the Jet Propulsion Lab, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tech Museum of Innovation, the Oakland Museum of California, the Science Museum of London, and other clients. He has been President of the National Association for Museum Exhibitions; on the graduate faculty at New York University; Board Member of SolarOne, an urban environmental organization in NYC; and Chairman of the Museums Council of New York City

Eric has an undergraduate degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Michigan, graduated from the CORO Leadership New York program, and holds an MBA in arts administration from SUNY Binghamton. In 2014, Eric was awarded the Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Award for Exceptional Leadership in the Field by the Association of Science and Technology Centers; and his museum, the New York Hall of Science, was awarded the National Leadership Award by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.  

Feb. 21, 2018

Dr. Meghna Das Thakur, Ph.D.

Scientist, Genentech

Meghna Das Thakur received her Ph.D from Washington University in St Louis in 2010 in Gregory Longmore's lab where she studied the Role of Ajuba LIM proteins as negative regulators of the Hippo growth-signaling pathway. Dr. Das Thakur then moved to California and did a joint research project at Novartis Institute for BioMedical Research and UCSF as a Presidential Posdoctoral candidate where she generated preclinical melanoma models to study acquired resistance to BRAF and MEK inhibitors, and developed methods of forestalling the onset of resistance by altering dosing regimens which has since been tested in the clinic. In 2013 she took on a Scientist role in Novartis where she led efforts to build GEMM and Patient Derived Xenografts models to generate clinically relevant resistance to targeted therapies.


Meghna Das Thakur has been a part of Genentech’s Oncology Biomarkers group since May 2014 and has been the Biomarker lead for the Innovative Pediatric Oncology Drug Development (IPODD) program. In this role, she worked towards building an internal knowledge base for pediatric diseases through collaborations and leveraging past (Avastin) and ongoing (Cancer Immunotherapy and Targeted inhibitor) pediatric trials to develop and execute comprehensive biomarker strategies that are specific to pediatric diseases.

Since then Dr. Das Thakur worked on the Cancer immunotherapy combination Ph1b trials which led to ongoing registrational trials in CRC and melanoma. In addition she was on a Phase 1b combination clinical trials platform where her focus was on GI disease area strategies with a goal to propose novel immunotherapy combinations. To this end, beyond her biomarker work on trials she has been working on CRC, Gastric Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer datasets from internal trials and through external collaborations allowing her to dissect their disease biology and help inform new combinations in these hard to treat indications.


In the last year and a half, Dr. Das Thakur has been leading the Biomarker efforts for a Molecule called CEA-TCB that binds T-cells and tumour cells simultaneously. CEA-TCB was studied in patients with carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)-positive solid tumours, including microsatellite stable (MSS) metastatic colorectal cancers (mCRC) that overexpress CEA. She is now researching predictive biomarkers and the pharmacodynamics of this drug in ongoing clinical trials.

March 7, 2018

Dr. Jill Tarter, Ph.D.

Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI, SETI Institute

Jill Tarter holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and serves as a member of the Board of Trustees for that institution. Tarter received her Bachelor of Engineering Physics Degree with Distinction from Cornell University and her Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of California, Berkeley. She has spent the majority of her professional career attempting to answer the old human question “Are we alone?” by searching for evidence of technological civilizations beyond Earth. She served as Project Scientist for NASA’s SETI program, the High Resolution Microwave Survey and has conducted numerous observational programs at radio observatories worldwide. She is a Fellow of the AAAS, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Explorers Club, she was named one of the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2004, and one of the Time 25 in Space in 2012, received a TED prize in 2009, two public service awards from NASA, multiple awards for communicating science to the public, and has been honored as a woman in technology. She was the 2014 Jansky Lecturer. In 2015 she became President of the California Academy of Sciences. Asteroid 74824 Tarter (1999 TJ16) has been named in her honor. Since the termination of funding for NASA’s SETI program in 1993, she has served in a leadership role to design and build the Allen Telescope Array and to secure private funding to continue the exploratory science of SETI. Many people are now familiar with her work as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact.

Apr. 11, 2018

Marc Kaufman

Author and Journalist, National Geographic Books, Simon & Schuster, The Washington Post

Mr. Kaufman had the very good fortune to be a writer for more than three decades, and to often travel the world as part of his reporting.  He has written for newspapers, for magazines, he has written two books and now he write an online column about exoplanets and astrobiology for NASA.  The site is called Many Worlds (


But in keeping with his difficulty in staying in one place, Mr. Kaufman spent substantial time in 2017 at the Earth-Life Science Institute in Tokyo.  ELSI is an up-and-coming origins of life institute, and they asked him to learn about who they were and what they were doing.  The result was a half-book.


His involvement with science writing began only a little more than a decade ago, when as a Washington Post reporter he was asked to cover NASA.  Previously he had been a foreign correspondent for the Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer, a beat reporter writing mostly about social issues, and a frequent writer of longer stories for, among others, the Post and Inquirer Sunday magazines, as well as Smithsonian Magazine and the Conde Nast Traveler.


He has been primarily a science and space writer since taking on the NASA beat at The Post in 2006, and that has led to my writing two books.  They are “First Contact:  Scientific Breakthroughs in the Search for Life Beyond Earth” (Simon & Schuster) and “Mars Up Close; Inside the Curiosity Mission” (National Geographic Books.)


Mr. Kaufman no longer works for a newspaper, but his goal is to keep writing and never retire.


He has been married for some forty years and has two grown children.


He graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in English and later from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Apr. 25, 2018

Dr. Michael T. Margolis, MD, FACS, FACOG, FPMRS

Assistant Clinical Professor, Dept. of Ob/Gyn, UCLA

Gynecology Rotation Site Director, VMC Ob/Gyn Residency Program

Visiting Lecturer, Dept. of Ob/Gyn, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Mbarara, Uganda

BONUS SEMINAR: May 2, 2018

Janis Barbour and Linda Cliff

members of the P.E.O. Sisterhood

(bonus^2: Felisa's pre-career development short course: CVs, personal statements and interviews for futures in STEM)


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


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