In the near future, several large-scale research projects now underway in astronomy, physics, biology, cybernetics and medicine have the potential to reshape our understanding of the universe and our selves. Join the University of Arizona College of Science as we provide a first-hand look forward into the workings of these far-reaching research programs and the diverse outcomes they each may offer. Six scientists will intimately describe their world-class explorations into deep space, particle physics, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, and the hidden workings of the human brain. Their insights and observations will provide a front-row seat to the epic scientific discoveries that the world may be making next.
Science that Transforms
John Schaefer, UA President Emeritus and President of LSST Corporation
Being built now, with “first light” planned for Fall 2015, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) will be very large and very different. Unlike previous telescopes, LSST will photograph the entire sky every night recording all movements and brightness changes and producing unprecedented volumes of data. Observing change is a key to answering pressing questions in astrophysics, cosmology, and fundamental physics. LSST will provide the fastest, widest, deepest eye of our new digital age and may also help us understand when Earth may next be at risk of being struck by an asteroid.
Elliott Cheu, Professor of Physics
Since the time of the Greeks, humans have sought to understand the most fundamental constituents that make up all things. The 27 km circumference Large Hadron Collider (LHC), built in a tunnel beneath the French/Swiss border, is designed to smash protons into each other as they race at 99.999999% of the speed of light. The recent start-up of the LHC could allow mankind to journey further into the mystery of matter as we probe the processes of the first second of time following the Big Bang. Hear how UA physicists’ involvement in this historic experiment is key to the LHC’s potential.
Vicki Chandler, Regents' Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Plant Sciences; Director of Bio5 Institute
Plants, from mosses to giant trees, are essential for human life on earth – we eat them, wear them, live in them and every breath we take depends on them. Our ability to understand plants – from their most minute cellular processes to their roles in ecosystems – is critical for the long-term sustainability of land life on our planet. Based at the UA, the iPlant Collaborative will provide global reach – bringing together scientists from many different fields to build a deep data infrastructure within which researchers can tackle some of the toughest problems facing life.
Daniel Dennett, Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University
Until Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species it was assumed that life forms were built to a pre-existing plan. When Darwin showed that small inherited modifications – shaped by survival – sufficed to shape life on Earth, he was greeted by criticism for his “strange inversion of reasoning”. A century later, Alan Turing added his own strange inversion: “in order to be a perfect and beautiful computer, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is.” Today, we can for the first time observe and understand Darwin’s reasoning – as the trillions of tiny robotic agencies called cells, that know nothing of the role they are playing, work together to compose the human minds that are able to discover this very fact.
Elena Plante, Professor and Head of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences
The ability of the human brain to think and communicate one’s thoughts is fundamental to our experience. For centuries, our ability to understand how human thought is represented and communicated had to be inferred from observing behavior following brain damage. The recent advent of new tools for noninvasive study of the normal brain has revolutionized our understanding of brain function, allowing us for the first time to visualize human thought. And we are only just beginning.
Paul Cohen, Professor and Head of Computer Science
Halfway through its first century, artificial intelligence has delivered some astonishing successes on narrowly defined tasks: cars that drive themselves, airline reservation systems you can talk to, search engines for the Web. Yet these accomplishments have failed to match the general, flexible, adaptive mind of a two-year-old child. By understanding the differences between childlike and computer intelligence, we set the stage for the development of really intelligent computers.
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