Fall 2010 STEM Tuesday Seminars


STEM seminars are held at 4PM on the first and third Tuesdays of each month during the academic year in Hasbrouck 138. Everyone is welcome; no reservations are needed, and there is no charge. Parking is available in the Campus Center Garage.


September 21

Neil Stillings

Hampshire College

Dean, School of Cognitive Sciences

Space, Time, and Complexity: Thinking and Learning about the Earth and Climate”

Over the past six years the speaker has participated in two NSF-funded projects to promote research on thinking and learning in the geosciences, titled Bringing Research on Learning to the Geosciences and Synthesis of Research on Thinking and Learning in the Geosciences. The projects involved collaborations among researchers and teachers in the geosciences and cognitive scientists who work on learning and development; thinking and reasoning; visual cognition; and instructional design. The talk will describe what we learned on these projects, particularly about the roles of space, time, and complexity in thinking and learning about the earth and climate change.

October 5
Tina Grotzer
Harvard Graduate School of Education
“Reasoning about Causal Complexity: Climate Change and other Complex Problems”

Our world has never been simple, yet our minds often reduce complexity to

simpler forms as we process the information. In the Understandings of

Consequence Project, we have been researching how people deal with causal

complexity and how this can be a problem given some of the intractable

problems of our time, for instance climate change. The talk will

introduce some patterns that we default towards and how they differ from

ways of thinking that capture complexity and enable sustainability. I'll

share some of the work that we are doing in K-12 classrooms to help the

next generation deal with complex causality.


October 19

Jean Johnson

Executive Vice President, Public Agenda

"Are We Beginning to See the Light? A Look at the Public's Perspective on Energy, the Environment, Scientists and Science Education"

An informed public is crucial to solving the country's energy and

environmental problems, and the United States needs to ramp up science and

math education nationwide to maintain a strong economy. How well do

Americans understand these science and technology challenges? What can

scientists and science educators do to advance public understanding and

engagement on these issues?


November 2

Jonathan King                   

Molecular Biology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology”

 All around us people are learning with the aid of new technologies: children are playing complex video games, workers are taking online courses to get an advanced degree, students are taking courses at commercial learning centers to prepare for tests, adults are consulting Wikipedia, etc. New technologies create learning opportunities that challenge traditional schools and colleges. These new learning niches enable people of all ages to pursue learning on their own terms. People around the world are taking their education out of school into homes, libraries, Internet cafes, and workplaces, where they can decide what they want to learn, when they want to learn, and how they want to learn.

 November 16
Evan Hadingham 
Senior Science editor

December 7

Raymond S. Bradley

Climate System Research Center

Department of Geosciences

University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Where do we stand on Global Warming?


Global temperatures have risen by ~1°C since the end of the 19th century. This increase has not been linear, as there have been periods when temperatures were stable for short periods before rising once again. The reasons for these changes in the rate of temperature rise are related to anthropogenic factors (sulphate aerosol pollution versus greenhouse gas inputs to the atmosphere) as well as to natural factors (volcanic eruptions, solar irradiance variations, El Niño/Southern Oscillation [ENSO] fluctuations, etc). Over the last decade or so, temperatures have not risen at the same rate as in previous decades, and this has led to speculation that global warming is over. This view was reinforced by the unusually cold winter that many parts of the United States and western Europe experienced in recent months. However, such a conclusion was premature. January 2010 was one of the warmest Januaries on record when the entire globe is considered, subsequent months broke records for high temperatures, and the last decade was the warmest, globally, for many centuries. Extreme events this year have been common. Nevertheless, many politicians who do not favor controls on carbon emissions insist on presenting a one-sided view of the situation to the public. This effort has been reinforced by a relentless campaign to find and publicize a few errors in the IPCC 4th Assessment Report, to shake the public’s confidence in that Report’s main conclusions. Meanwhile, while the political bickering goes on, the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase, more heat accumulates in the oceans, sea-level keeps rising as glaciers and ice caps melt, and phenological indicators from many regions demonstrate disruptions to the seasonality of biological activity. And as these changes occur, world population keeps increasing, at a rate of ~240,000 people per day, most of whom will grow up to be subsistence or small-scale agriculturalists, who will be just as vulnerable to climatic anomalies as late prehistoric/early historic societies were. Climatologists, and other environmental scientists have a responsibility to ensure that the public, and the politicians they elect, fully understand these issues so that they can better appreciate the consequences of inaction over controlling greenhouse gas emissions.