Saturday Morning Physics

Saturday Morning Physics is a series of multimedia cutting-edge science talks for general audiences. During the Winter 2006 LSA Theme Semester, Explore Evolution, many of the talks will have evolutionary science as theme. The talks are free and open to the public. High school students are especially encouraged to attend, and audience members of all ages are welcome.

Talks take place at 170 Dennison Building, 500 Church Street on the University of Michigan’s central campus.

The winter term Saturday Morning Physics series is sponsored by the U-M Department of Physics and gifts from friends of the program, and the Winter 2006 LSA Theme Semester, Explore Evolution. Videotape funding is provided by Pfizer Inc.

For more information, please view the U-M Physics Department website,

January 21

Evolution: The Fossil Record and the Origin of Whales

Philip Gingerich, U-M Geological Sciences and Museum of Paleontology

Evolution is a science of change through time, founded in the 18th and 19th centuries to describe and explain fossils that geologists observed to differ in successive layers of the earth’s crust. Microevolutionary studies in paleontology link species through close intermediates and address change on short time scales. Macroevolutionary studies trace profound changes in body plans through longer intervals, as seen in the origin and early evolution of whales.

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January 28

Nanomedicine - a New Frontier for Physics

Jens-Christian Meiners, U-M Physics

Life emerges on the nanometer length scale between the size of a molecule and a cell. Discover the often surprising and counterintuitive physical principles that govern biological systems on that scale, and look at how they inspire new approaches in the development of medical diagnostics and therapeutics.

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February 4

Evolution of Infectious Diseases: From Host-Parasite Arms Races to Superbugs

Johannes Foufopoulos, U-M School of Natural Resources

Pathogens have always existed in a changing environment where keeping up with the quickly shifting immune defenses of the host is key for survival. Because of their impressive capacity to respond rapidly to change, bacteria and viruses have been able to evolve multiple molecular answers to many of today’s antibiotics. Learn how the rise of antibiotic resistance can impact your life and what is being done to deal with this challenge.

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February 11

Genomes and Evolution

George Zhang, U-M Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

How big is a genome and what elements are in a genome? How does the genome change in evolution? Do genomic studies provide any novel perspectives on the structure, function, and evolution of cellular life? How will genomics change our daily lives in the future?

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February 18

Natural Selection & the Regulation of Defense Responses: How much suffering is enough?

Randolph Nesse, U-M Psychiatry & Psychology

If natural selection is so great, then why is life so full of pain, cough, nausea, fever, anxiety and fatigue? A signal detection analysis reveals it is for the same reason that smoke detectors scream when we make toast. Knowing that most instances of defensive arousal are unnecessary but completely normal offers the missing scientific foundation for deciding how we should use new drugs.

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March 11

How Old: The Physics of Dating Artifacts

Fred Becchetti, U-M Physics

Documenting the course of evolution depends on the accurate dating and sequencing of ancient artifacts. Physics has provided some of the primary techniques for doing this, in particular radioactive dating such as C14 dating. The basic techniques and some of the recent developments in this field will be reviewed together with some of the implications.

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March 18

Scientific Uncertainty and Public Policy:
Moving on Without All the Answers

Henry Pollack, U-M Geological Sciences

One frequently hears scientific uncertainty offered up as an excuse to avoid making important public policy decisions. We will hear about sources of uncertainty, both real and 'manufactured', and offer perspectives on why policy formulation must proceed in the face of uncertainty.

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march 25

Mars and the Evolution of Thought

Eric Rabkin, U-M English Language & Literature

Once the gods fought in our heavens; now we see the orderly progress of stars. Once the night sky harbored our enemies; now we see planets as resources for the taking. This lecture will consider how, driven in part by our changing understanding of the Red Planet, these shifts and others reflect the evolving of self-conceptions of humanity.

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April 1

Evolution of Robotics

Peter Swanson, FANUC Robotics America, Inc.

Take a look at how an industrial robot works, and how it has evolved with improvements in processing power and control technology. See how robotic technologies are being used in telepresence and autonomous vehicles. Look to the future as haptics, prosthetics, and exoskeletons begin to blur the line between human and robot.

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April 8

An Evolutionary Guide to the Tree of Life

David Mindell, U-M Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,
and Museum of Zoology

Observe an illustrated overview of life's diversity together with discussion of the history of evolutionary thought, and the computational challenges involved in discovering the patterns of life's diversification over the past 3.8 billion years.

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April 22

Applied Evolution: Domestication,
Disease, Crime & Culture

David Mindell, U-M Ecology and Evolutionary Biology,
and Museum of Zoology

Understand how evolutionary biology is much more than an explanatory concept, and that it is indispensable to the world we live in. When we domesticate wild species for agriculture or companionship; when we manage our exposure to pathogens and prevent or control epidemics; when we foster the diversity of species and safeguard the functioning of ecosystems; and even when we link biological crime scene evidence to suspects: in each of these cases, evolutionary biology is applied.

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Distinguished Speaker

Saturday Morning Physics

Origins Symposium

Film Series

Evolution & Culture
Colloquium Series

Museum of Life and Death

Special Events

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads