Previous Evnin Lectures

Evnin Lecture Series

The Evnin Lectures were established with a gift from Anthony B. Evnin '62 to promote a broader and deeper understanding of the critical roles of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in all aspects of human endeavor. Since 1991, the Council on Science and Technology has invited luminaries in the fields of STEM and science communication to explore topics of interest to a broad audience. These lectures are free and open to the public.

Academic Year 2018-2019

Ge Wang with studentsDrawing from his new book "ARTFUL DESIGN: TECHNOLOGY IN SEARCH OF THE SUBLIME" Ge Wang *08 captivated students and community members on Thursday, April 18, 2019 as he dissected the designs of everyday tools, musical instruments, toys, and social experiences; examining the ways in which we shape technology and how technology shapes us and our society.

Ge Wang*08 is an Associate Professor at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).  He researches artful design of tools, toys, games and social experiences.  Ge is the architect of the ChucK music programming language, director of the Stanford Laptop Orchestra, co-founder of Smule and designer of the Ocarina and Magic Piano apps for mobile phones. He is a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow and the author of ARTFUL DESIGN: TECHNOLOGY IN SEARCH OF THE SUBLIME, a photo comic book about the ethics and aesthetics of shaping technology.  Based on the book, Ge is currently teaching a new critical thinking course at Stanford, "THINK66: Design that Understands Us."

Nergis Mavalvala

*photo courtesy of the MacArthur Foundation

Nergis Mavalvala spoke to a packed house on October 10, 2018, about the historic underpinnings, recent findings, and future goals of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) project. Using a multimedia presentation, Dr. Mavalvala described how the LIGO instruments are able to map the collision of high-mass objects like black holes and neutron stars. For black holes, which emit no light, these measurements mark the first opportunity to collect observations confirming predictions made by Einstein about how gravity would be affected by these collisions. A recording across multiple LIGO sites of the collision of neutron stars enabled astronomers to focus their telescopes on a narrow part of the sky, thereby creating a rare record of the elements—including gold—generated during the supernova event. The talk was a great illustration of how science and engineering build on each other, and how pure research can promote a sense of wonder about our universe, and can motivate technological advances that may lead to decades of work in applied science and engineering.

Academic Year 2017-2018

STEM and Policy in Service to Humanity
Thursday, March 8, 2018

Rush HoltDr. Rush D. Holt, Jr. is the current Chief Executive Officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a former congressional member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In his role with AAAS, Holt leads the world’s largest multi-disciplinary scientific and engineering membership organization. On Capitol Hill, Holt established a long track record of advocacy for federal investment in research and development, science education, and innovation. Holt delivered the Evnin Lecture addressing the intersection of science, policy, and public service.

February 6, 2018

Danielle FeinbergDanielle Feinberg, Director of Photography for Lighting at Pixar, spoke to a very crowded house about her journey from programming as a young girl to helping to build magical worlds in several Pixar movies. She walked the audience through how she and her colleagues use physics and basic geometry to create complex scenes like the marigold bridge to the Land of the Dead in Coco, showing how the animations evolved from their initial conception to final animation. Lighting is often the key in setting the mood of a scene, guiding the audience’s attention, and injecting life into characters. Feinberg finished by discussing how amazing it is to use science and art to create worlds that no one has seen before, and how special it was to work on Coco, which was so well received by people from the Mexican culture the movie tried to capture. To learn more, see this article for Feinberg discussing Coco and talk discussing some of her pre-Coco movies.

Academic Year 2016 - 2017

What else might Physical Thinking look like?
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Norah Zuniga Shaw shared her work as a creative director for interdisciplinary projects and her vision for fostering better futures through collaborations driven by creative motion and choreographic thinking.

NORAH ZUNIGA SHAW is an artist, facilitator and creative director focusing on choreographic ideas as the locus for interdisciplinary and intercultural discovery. She is known for her award-winning digital projects integrating art and science research. Shaw tours her work internationally and since 2004, has been based at The Ohio State University.

Embracing Curiosity: Mary Roach in conversation with Robert Krulwich

Sometimes simple questions have the most surprising answers.

Mary Roach is a New York Times bestselling science writer whose work has explored the limits of the human body. Her most recent book is Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War. By combining a humorous approach to her subjects with a probing curiosity, Mary communicates complex ideas and scientific research in a deeply engaging manner.

Robert Krulwich is a Peabody-award winning science journalist at WNYC and the co-host of Radiolab. He has devoted his career to bringing science to a wider audience by demystifying dense ideas, and highlighting the human stories behind the science.

Mary and Robert have a knack for uncovering fascinating stories in places no one thought to look, and asking questions that no one else thought to ask. Their works exemplify a uniquely personal, often humorous approach to communicating science. In this wide-ranging conversation, they'll reveal how they communicate complex ideas with simplicity, make the inaccessible accessible, and uncover the wonder and delight in everyday questions.


Academic Year 2015 - 2016

Prof. Francisco Valero-Cuevas, University of Southern California


Finger and leg dexterity allows us to dynamically stabilize our interactions with objects and the world around us, such as when buttoning a shirt or
landing from a jump. It is critical to chart the development or loss of dexterity in people recovering from a stroke or injury, athletes in training or even in healthy growing children. Quantifying this varied ability so that it can accurately measured has been a challenge, however. The laboratory of Valero-Cuevas has developed the strength-dexterity paradigm to quantify dexterity of the fingers and legs by asking subjects to use low forces to compress a slender and compliant spring prone to buckling. Because the task becomes increasingly unstable as a person compresses the spring, the maximal level of sustained compression quantifies a subject’s ability to dynamically stabilize an object, and thus quantifies their dexterity. Valero-Cuevas will present several clinical and athletic studies indicating the utility of this approach to understanding the integrity of the neuromuscular system in health and disease. Moreover, by quantifying expected changes of dexterity with age, and revealing unexpected sex differences, he will propose avenues for understanding and promoting dexterity in clinical populations and elite athletes.

Academic Year 2014 - 2015

Prof. Jordan Ellenberg 
University of Wisconsin-Madison

"How to Get Rich Playing the Lottery*"

For seven years, a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology exploited a loophole in the Massachusetts Lottery's Cash WinFall to win game after game, eventually pocketing more than $3 million. Ellenberg will reveal how they did it, how they got away with it, and what it all has to do with the mathematical notions of expected value and projective geometry.

*We will not actually help you get rich playing the lottery.


2013 Evnin Lecture

John Maeda
Rhode Island School of Design, President

"STEM to STEAM: The Meaning of Innovation"

Co-sponsored by the Lewis Center for the Arts and the School of Engineering and Applied Science. 

Leaders think STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is the way to innovate. We need to add "Art" to turn "STEM" into "STEAM." 

In the current moment of economic uncertainty, every economy is taking stock and once again turning to innovation as the silver bullet that will guide us forward. Yet in the eyes of many leaders, innovation seems tightly coupled with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math -- the STEM subjects. Maeda posits that we need to add "Art" to turn STEM into STEAM. Through his experiences as president of the US's leading art and design college, Maeda argues that the critical thinking, critical making and creative leadership which is embodied at RISD can lead us to an enlightened form of innovation where art, design, technology, and business meet. He shares lessons from his journey as an artist-technologist-professor turned president to reveal a new model of leadership for the next generation of leaders.


John Bravman
Bucknell University, President

"Intellectual Property and Courtroom Science: It’s Not CSI"

Movies across a broad range, from serious dramas such as “Presumed Innocent” to farcical comedies such “My Cousin Vinny,” along with hit television series such “Crime Scene Investigator” and “Law and Order,” have introduced millions to some version of science in the courtroom. But whereas dramatic versions of judicial proceedings feature suspenseful and even thrilling depictions of last–second discoveries, “ah-hah” moments, and “gotcha” testimony, the real world of intellectual property lawsuits is very different, and offers a distinct view of science in service of the law. There are rarely any surprises…just some very skillful and usually very smart people engaged in highly formalized intellectual combat, with millions and sometimes even billions of dollars at stake. This talk, based on almost fifteen years of service as an “Expert Witness” and some fifty legal proceedings, will take you inside one area of the law that seems to be growing almost without bounds, and which is especially important in a “knowledge economy.”


2012 Evnin Lecture

Professor Steven Strogatz
Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics
Cornell University 

"Doing Math in Public"

In the spring of 2010, Steven Strogatz wrote a 15-part series on the elements of math, from basic to baffling, for the New York Times. To his surprise -- and his editor's -- each piece climbed the most emailed list and elicited hundreds of appreciative comments. In this talk Steve described his adventures in bringing math to the masses, and touched on his new book, The Joy of x, as well as his sequel series for the Times this fall.


2011 Evnin Lecture

Professor Cynthia Breazeal
MIT Media Lab 
Director of the Personal Robots Group 

"Robots as a Social Technology"

As a doctoral student and then postdoctoral fellow at MIT's Artificial Intelligence lab, Breazeal developed Kismet, an anthropomorphic robotic head that has been widely featured in international media and is the subject of her 2002 book Designing Sociable Robots. Professor Cynthia Breazeal now directs the Media Lab's Personal Robots group at MIT, and her research explores expressive social exchange between humans and humanoid robots. She is particularly interested in developing creature-like technologies that exhibit social common-sense and engage people in familiar, human terms. She continues to develop anthropomorphic robots as part of her ongoing work of building artificial systems that learn from and interact with people in an intelligent, life-like, and sociable manner. Nexi, a mobile, dexterous social robot developed by Breazeal's research group, was named one of the 50 Best innovations of 2008 by Time magazine.


2010 Evnin Lecture

Professor Joseph A. Gallian
Department of Mathematics & Statistics

University of Minnesota, Duluth  
President, Mathematical Association of America

"Breaking Driver's License Codes"

Professor Gallian earned media attention in 1991 when he became interested in the methods used by Minnesota and other states for assigning drivers' license numbers. Many states use complicated algorithms or formulas to assign drivers' license numbers but keep the method confidential. Just for the fun of it, Professor Gallian attempted to figure out how the states code their license numbers. In his April 13 lecture, Professor Gallian will discuss how he was able to break the codes for several of the states. The talk illustrates an important problem-solving technique that is not emphasized in mathematics classes. Moreover, it illustrates the fact that sometimes things done just for the sake of curiosity can have applications. Professor Gallian is a nationally recognized mathematician and expositor, known for his humorous and engaging lectures. His lecture on April 13 will be addressed to a lay audience and is open to all.


2009 Evnin Lecture

Professor William T. Newsome 
School of Medicine 
Stanford University

"Of Neurons, Decisions and Value: Probing the Unconscious Math of the Brain"


2008 Evnin Lectures

Professor Neil G. Turok 
Chair of Mathematical Physics 
Centre for Mathematical Physics 
Cambridge University

"What Banged ? "

Professor Neta A. Bahcall 
Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy

"The Dark Side of the Universe "


2007 Evnin Lecture

Professor Cynthia Kenyon 
Herbert Boyer Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics 
University of California, San Francisco

"Genes from the Fountain of Youth "


2005 Evnin Lecture

Professor Steven W. Squyres 
Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy 
Cornell University

"The Mars Exploration Rover Mission "


2004 Evnin Lecture Series

Beyond Fear: Response to Bio- and Cyber-Terrorism

Professor Steve Block 
Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Applied Physics 
Stanford University

"Facing the Growing Threat of Bioterrorism "


Professor Gerald Fink
Department of Biology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Science in an Age of Terrorism: Freedom and Responsibility"


Mr. Bruce Schneier
Founder and CTO
Counterpane Internet Security

"Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World " 


2003 Evnin Lecture Series

Fire, Water and Ice: Catastrophes in Earth History

Professor Haraldur Sigurdsson 
Department of Geosciences 
University of Rhode Island

"When Fire Conquers Water: Eruptions of Sumarine and Subglacial Volcanoes"

Professor Paul Hoffman
Department of Geosciences
Harvard University

"Snowball Earth: Surprise in Deep Time"

Professor William Ryan
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Columbia University

"Causes and Consequences of the Catastrophic Black Sea Flood"


2002 Evnin Lecture Series

Science and Technology for the new Millennium

Professor Geoffrey W. Marcy 
Department of Astronomy 
University of California, Berkeley

"Planets and the Prospects for Life in the Universe"

Professor Edward W. Felten
Department of Computer Science
Princeton University

"Cryptography: Secret Codes, Spying and E-Commerce "

Dr. Charles Elachi
Director, NASA - Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California

"Space and Earth Exploration 2010: Opportunities and Challenges"


2001 Evnin Lecture Series

Space Exploration

Dr. Story Musgrave 
NASA Astronaut 
Veteran of six space flights

"An Artist's View of the Universe"

Dr. Neil De Grasse Tyson
Department of Astrophysical Sciences

"Space Travel Troubles"

Professor John Richard Gott, III
Department of Astrophysical Sciences

"The Geometry of Space"


2000 Evnin Lecture Series

New Vision of Science at Princeton

Professor Shirley M. Tilghman 
Howard A. Prior Professor in the Life Sciences 
Department of Molecular Biology

"The Revolution in Genetics"

Professor Ignacio Rodriguez-Iturbe
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

"Rivers and Forests: Infinite Patterns with Fundamental Unity"

Professor Jonathan D. Cohen
Department of Psychology

"Dynamic Imaging of the Human Brain: A Window on the Mind"


1999 Evnin Lecture Series

Science and the Public Interest

Dr. Rush Holt 
U.S. House of Representatives 
Washington, D.C.

"Asking Good Questions: A Congressman looks at Science Education"

Dr. David A. Kessler
Dean, Yale University School of Medicine

"The Tobacco Wars"


1998 Evnin Lecture Series

Controversies in Science

Dr. Peter Raven 
Director, Missouri Botanical Garden 
St Louis, Missouri

"The Vanishing Life of Earth: Do We Really Care?"

Professor Wallace S. Broecker
Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory
Columbia University

"Unpleasant Surprises in the Greenhouse?"

Professor Robert A. Pascal, Jr.
Department of Chemistry
Princeton University

"Toxins, Drugs and You - How Much is Too Much?"


1997 Evnin Lecture Series

Science and Engineering

Dr. Sheila Widnall
Secretary of Air Force
Pentagon, Washington D.C.

"On Guard and on Orbit: Air and Space Force Capabilities in the Information Age"

Dr. Robert E. Williams
Director, Space Telescope Science Institute
Baltimore, Maryland

"Probing the Universe with the Hubble Space Telescope"

Dr. Nathan Myhrvold
Chief Technology Officer, Executive Committee
Microsoft Corporation

"The Next Fifty Years in Software"


1996 Evnin Lecture Series

Science and Ethics

Dr. John P. Holdren
Class of 1935 Professor of Energy, Energy & Resources Group
University of California, Berkeley
Chair of the Executive Committee, Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs

"Scientists, Technologists and the Human Condition: Reflections on some Ethical Dilemmas and Choices"

Dr. Robert H. Kirschner
Director, International Forensic Program
Physicians for Human Rights
Chicago, Illinois

"The Forensic Sciences and Human Rights: Tracking down Torturers"

Dr. Nancy S. Wexler
Higgins Professor of Neuropsychology
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University

"The Cassandra Complex: Who WIll Heed the Warning? Huntington's Disease and Genetics Today"


1995 Evnin Lecture Series

The Next Big Questions in Science

Dr. Arnold J. Levine
Harry C. Wiess Professor in the Life Sciences
Chair, Department of Molecular Biology
Princeton University

"The Genetic Origins of Cancer in Humans"

Dr. Richard Axel
Higgins Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
Professor of Pathology
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia University

"The Molecular Logic of Smell"

Dr. Herbert E. Huppert
Institute of Theoretical Geophysics
Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics
University of Cambridge

"What Controls the Next Big Volcanic Eruption?"


1994 Evnin Lecture Series

Recent Discoveries in Science

Dr. David Wilkinson 
Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics
Princeton University

"Who Ordered This Universe?"

Dr. Eric R. Kandel
University Professor, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University
Senior Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

"The Remembrance of Things Past: Genes, Synapses and the Biological Basis of Memory"


1993 Evnin Lecture Series

Science and Art

A Talk on the Science of Chaos by Professor Albert Libchaber
James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics
followed by
A Dance Concert Inspired by Concepts & Images Found in Chaos Theory
by Geulah Abrahams Danceworks

"Chaos in Science and Choreography"

An Exhibition of Interactive Sculpture
James Seawright, Director of Visual Arts Program
Princeton University

"Four Works by James Seawright"

Commissioned by Alexandra Navrotsky
Albert G. Blanke, Jr. Professor of Geological and Geophysical Sciences
Composed by Timothy Vincent Clarke
St. Louis composer
Performed by Betsy Feldman
of the contemporary chamber music ensemble, Synchronia

"Orchestrations 2: Under Pressure"


1992 Evnin Lecture Series

Science and Public Policy

Dr. Eric S. Lander
Member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Associate Professor of Biology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Reading Human Heredity: Scientific, Social and Ethical Issues in the New Human Genetics"

Professor Frank Von Hippel
Woodrow Wilson School
Princeton University

"Dismantling the Doomsday Machine"

Dr. Frank Press
President, National Academy of Sciences
Washington, D.C.

"Can Scientists Provide Credible Advice in Washington?"


1991 Evnin Lecture Series

Modern Views of the Universe

Dr. Fang Li Zhi
Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton, N.J.

"Is the Universe a Small One?"

Professor David Spergel
Department of Astrophysical Sciences
Princeton University

"The Search for the Dark Matter, the Unknown 90% of the Universe"

Professor Margaret J. Geller
Center for Astrophysics
Cambridge, MA

"Where the Galaxies Are"