Frontiers of Science lecture series begins Jan. 23

January 19, 2010

"Water: The Next Frontier" is the theme of this spring's Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science series, which begins on Jan. 23. This series of six public lectures, designed as a free minicourse for the general public, will take place on consecutive Saturday mornings from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in the Thomas Building on Penn State's University Park campus. No registration is required. Video recordings of each lecture will be archived for viewing at online.

This free public minicourse is a panoramic tour of the latest research on water, the miracle molecule that supports all life on Earth. Scientists who are working on the frontiers of this research will reveal their latest discoveries, from the molecular mysteries of this simple combination of hydrogen and oxygen, to how water changes our environment and our planet, to the political and social issues that affect both water quality and the use of scientific knowledge, to new water-management revelations from an ancient civilization.

The six lectures in the 2010 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science include:

Jan. 23: "Not Science Fiction: Using Microbes to Make Electricity and Clean Water," presented by Bruce Logan, Kappe professor of environmental engineering at Penn State in room 100 of the Thomas Building. Logan will discuss ways in which scientists are harnessing an unusual energy resource -- the organic matter in wastewater -- to generate both electricity and clean water. Can we transform today's wastewater treatment plants into tomorrow's power plants? Learn about fascinating new research on fuel cells designed to produce electricity, hydrogen and other energy sources directly from wastes.

Jan. 30: "Water: The Molecule That Shapes Our World," presented by Karl Mueller, professor of chemistry at Penn State in room 100 of the Thomas building. Water is one of the most fascinating substances on Earth, and without water our planet as we know it would not exist. Logan will guide the audience on a tour tour through the science surrounding the unusual properties of water, from the molecular level to the scale of rivers and oceans. Learn how the Earth has been shaped by wondrous interactions between water and other materials, and how water is shaping the future.

Feb. 6: "You're Going to Drink WHAT???: Using Living Machines to Clean Contaminated Water," presented by Rachel Brennan, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Penn State in room 101 of the Thomas Building. As the demand on the world's water supplies increases the need for recycling wastewater into drinking water is becoming a critical necessity in many communities. At the same time, concern is escalating over the health problems caused by endocrine-disrupting chemicals in recycled water from everyday items like plastic bottles, medicines and pesticides. Brennan will talk about the ways in which these chemicals can be removed from water using the roots of fungi in sustainable, energy-efficient "living machines."

Feb. 13: "The Global Water Crisis," presented by Gregory Knight, professor of geography at Penn State in room 100 of the Thomas Building. Is the Earth in a water crisis? Water has emerged from a largely regional and local issue to one of global proportions, linked by a variety of systems, including ownership, technology, geology, politics and the paradigms through which we think about our water resources. The audience will experience Professor Knight's innovative approach to untangling the complexity of global water issues as they learn how climate change will affect our planet's water supply.

Feb. 20: "Melting Landscapes: How Climate Change is Affecting Ice Under the Arctic," presented by Michael Gooseff, Hartz Family Career Development professor and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Penn State in room 100 of the Thomas Building. The Earth is warming, and glaciers and permafrost in the Arctic are melting. How do these changes affect the world's water resources in the Arctic and in the rest of the planet? Gooseff will explore the ways in which the consequences of changing Arctic hydrologic systems could change river networks and the atmosphere worldwide. He will share recent discoveries and photos of his latest Arctic expeditions.

Feb. 27: "Lessons from the Past: Research Reveals Ancient Civilization's Water-Supply Secrets," presented by Kirk French, lecturer in anthropology at Penn State in room 100 of the Thomas Building. New Penn State research has revealed how the large cities of the Mayas prospered for centuries as a result of this ancient Central American civilization's sophisticated water-management system. French will share the lessons that the Maya of the past can teach civilizations in the Americas today about protecting the Earth's water resources.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science. This year's series is sponsored jointly by the Penn State Eberly College of Science and the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information by telephone at 814-863-0901 or

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Last Updated May 21, 2015