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Northwestern University

CIERA Spring Interdisciplinary Colloquium 2012
May 16th
Prof. Jim Kasting
(Penn State University)

How to Find a Habitable Planet
Over 500 planets have been found around nearby stars, plus ~1200 "planet candidates" around more distant stars (from Kepler), but none of them is thought to be at all like Earth. Some of the Kepler planets could be, but there is no way of telling. The goal now is to identify rocky planets within the habitable zones of their stars and to search their atmospheres spectroscopically for signs of life. To do this, we need new space-based telescopes such as NASA's proposed Terrestrial Planet Finders or ESA's Darwin mission (all of which are indefinitely postponed at the moment). If spectra of extrasolar planet atmospheres can be obtained, the presence of O2, which is produced from photosynthesis, or O3, which is produced photochemically from O2, would under most circumstances provide strong evidence for life beyond Earth. But "false positives" for life may also exist, and these need to be clearly delineated in advance of such missions, if at all possible. I will also contrast my optimism about the search for complex life with the more pessimistic view expressed by Ward and Brownlee in their book, Rare Earth.

CIERA Winter Interdisciplinary Colloquium 2012
March 10th
Tech L211
Prof. Edward Seidel
(National Science Foundation)

The Data and Compute-Driven Transformation of Modern Science
Modern science is undergoing a profound transformation as it aims to tackle the complex problems of the 21st Century. It is becoming highly collaborative; problems as diverse as climate change, renewable energy, or the origin of gamma-ray bursts require understanding processes that no single group or community has the skills to address. At the same time, after centuries of little change, compute, data, and network environments have grown by 12 orders of magnitude in the last few decades. Cyberinfrastructure---the comprehensive set of deployable hardware, software, and algorithmic tools and environments supporting research, education, and increasingly collaboration across disciplines---is transforming all research disciplines and society itself. Motivating with examples ranging from astrophysics to emergency forecasting, I will describe new trends in science and the need, the potential, and the transformative impact of cyberinfrastructure. I will also discuss current and planned future efforts at the National Science Foundation to address them..

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Past CIERA Interdisciplinary Colloquia