A sample of Public Talks offered
Earth 2.0 - Detecting a Second Origin of Life in our Universe
This planet we call home is teeming with life from the very depths of the ocean where no light penetrates, to small brine layers between ice crystals and near-boiling iridescent waters of Yellowstone. As we discover the vast diversity of extremophile life on Earth, our minds can only begin to imagine the possibilities for life to exist on other planets in the Universe. In this talk I present how we are going to characterize terrestrial planet atmospheres orbiting other stars with future missions, hopefully finding evidence of life in the Universe and answering the age-old question of "Are we alone?"
Story of Life on Earth
There is only one known planet with life, Earth. In this talk I cover the highlights of the history of life on our planet. We will first venture back to the earliest days of our Solar System with the formation of our planet and then the massive impact collision that formed the Moon. The Hadean era was characterized by the first basalt crust as Earth cooled and then the formation of the oceans and granite setting the stage for the origin of life. There is more we don’t know than we do know about life's origins; one of my favorite quotes is by George Whitesides: “It’s a long way from slime to Mozart – and it’s a long way from HCN to slime.” Though looking first at the Stanley Miller experiment and the emergence of biomolecules, I will show how this foundation is thought to have contributed to the origin of self-replicating systems and competition. This early life was anaerobic, living the Archean era. I then discuss how oxygenic photosynthesis evolved and why O2 may evolve on other planets where water and CO2 are present, and thus why it is a key biosignature for exoplanet characterization missions.
Ultraviolet light – friend or foe?
Ultraviolet light is famous for its destructive capabilities to life (and why we get those painful sunburns) but UV light is also important for some prebiotic reactions. In addition, UV light is vital to interpreting future observations of biosignatures, signs of life, on a planet orbiting another star. UV destroys some biosignatures like methane, but it produces others like ozone. Additionally, all false positives known to produce oxygen relate in one way or another to UV photolysis. Thus, we will be unable to interpret if a biosignature is real or not unless we also understand the UV environment of the host star and the way that light is absorbed or transmitted in the atmosphere, which is the main focus of my research. This talk discusses these aspects, the positives and negatives of UV, both from a planetary and biosignature interpretation context, as well as its potential benefit to the origins of metabolism balanced by its destructive potential to key biomolecules in the origin of life.
Public Speaking Workshop
Public Speaking did not come easy to me. I used to turn bright red, visibly shake and my voice would quiver. Over the past 10 years I've taken many courses on public speaking, participated in professional development series, and have practiced. I now offer a three hour workshop covering the basics of public speaking based on what I've learned in that time. The old addage: "It's not what you say, it's how you say it" is true and often ignored in traditional University public speaking courses. Van Edwards at Science of People had people watch TED talks and rate them on charisma, credibility, and intelligence. The twist is that half watched the TED talk on mute. The ratings were the same. I've developed Finding Connection, an interactive three-hour workshop on the voice and body performance aspects of public speaking. A primary focus of the workshop is finding connection with your audience and stage presence. We will techniques to combat stage fright, how to physically warm up your voice and body before a talk, and how to find connection with your audience. Other topics will include vocal resonance, posture, vocal intonation, and handling questions. It requires no advance preparation but will require audience participation! Please email me if interested in running this workshop at your institution.
Impostor Workshop"Impostor syndrome" often hits students in grad school and academics in general, and can be incredibly isolating. Have you ever secretly worried that others will find out that you're not as smart as they think you are? That if they only knew the thoughts in your brain they would see that you are just barely keeping up? When you do succeed, do you think, "Phew, I fooled 'em this time but I may not be so lucky next time?" Or do you think that "If I can do it, it must not be that hard. Anyone could!" If so, you are not alone. Despite evidence of their abilities, many successful, intelligent people feel like they are an "impostor" and their successes are due to external factors or luck. This hour and a half workshop is perfect for a lunch time gathering where we will discuss the impostor syndrome and identify steps to overcome impostor thoughts.
Examples of past public talks
I have given several public talks at Harvard in various capacities. Most recently I was invited for the "Next in Science" program at the Radcliffe institute for advanced study. The talk entitled, "How to Detect Life on Another Planet" is available online. I also gave a public astrobiology talk, "The Hunt for Extraterrestrial Life" at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics public observing night, and here is a five minute public talk called "Spectral Fingerprints of Another Earth" I gave at the Harvard Horizons Symposium as a Fellow in 2014:
I love science fiction, especially as it relates to life on exoplanets. After the movie Interstellar came out, I was a panelist at MIT for a public talk and movie screening about the science behind the movie. A naturephile, I gave a public astrobiology talk, "Finding Earth 2.0," at the Arunah Hill Days, a family-oriented weekend of astronomy, star gazing, nature walks, and science education in western Massachusetts. In May, I have been invited as a contributor to the Shona project on a remote Scottish island to give a public talk on the prospects for finding life on other planets and how that relates to our society.
I was recently on BBC Radio 4 Inside Science, interviewed Adam Rutherford, on the prospect of detecting biosignatures in the next few decades and the steps required to be prepare for observations with JWST and large ground-based observatories.
With NPR Boston I was interviewed live in a one hour segment with Christopher Lydon on Radio Open Source about finding Earth 2.0.