2017 Dr. Bruce J. Nelson ’74 Distinguished Speaker Series
Citizen science movements challenge the world to consider radical, new relationships among scientists and engineers and non-experts. Rather than casting members of the public as passive recipients of scientific and technological information, speakers of the 2017 Nelson Series will offer models for engagement and collaboration designed to promote meaningful public participation in science.
Admission to this public lecture series is complimentary. Unless otherwise specified, events are held in the auditorium of the R. Michael Shanahan Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvey Mudd College located at 320 E. Foothill Blvd., Claremont. A dessert reception follows each lecture.
Kaberi Kar Gupta – Tuesday, Nov. 14, 7 p.m.
Founder and Principal Scientist at Urban Slender Loris Project
“The Precarious Night Life of an Ancient Primate and Human Denizens in a Modern City”
Kaberi Kar Gupta will discuss how she came to study the Slender Loris, the little-known, tiny primate that persists in urban forests, and how citizen engagement with nature is crucial to the conservation of urban biodiversity. Kar Gupta believes citizen science is an important tool in building connections between nature and communities.
Kaberi Kar Gupta is an interdisciplinary scientist and educator with a wide range of training and research experience in citizen science, community-based conservation, behavioral and habitat ecology, conservation biology, ecological leadership, political ecology and teaching in both the USA and India. Her main interests are in research and communicating science to bridge the gap between scientists, policy makers and community members. Gupta is an ecologist trained in wildlife biology from the Wildlife Institute of India and in anthropology from Arizona State University. She studied the slender loris (Loris tardigradus, a nocturnal primate distributed in southern India and Sri Lanka) in the wilder forests of the Kalakad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve for about a decade for her PhD thesis research. Kaberi continues this work through the Urban Slender Loris Project, a citizen-science based collaborative project among various academic institutions, environmental educators, nonprofit-organizations, city governments and the forest department of Karnataka, India, to develop a conservation program for the slender loris in urban Bangalore. The model of this project is based on community-based conservation that is done in urban areas. Earlier this year, Gupta joined the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences as a visiting research scientist and is leading The Chili Project as part of the Student Discover Program, an international project to survey the pollinators of chili plants.
Caren Cooper – Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, 7 p.m.
Assistant Director of Biodiversity Research Lab, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
“Citizen Science: How Ordinary People Are Changing the Face of Discovery”
Think you need a degree in science to contribute to important scientific discoveries? Think again. All around the world, in fields ranging from astronomy to zoology, millions of everyday people are choosing to participate in the scientific process, following protocols, reviewing data and sharing their observations. Based on her new book, Caren Cooper will share their stories, discuss the social good that can result and challenge old notions of who can conduct research, where knowledge can be produced, whom it serves and how solutions to some of our biggest societal problems might emerge.
Cooper is an associate professor of Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University, part of the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program in Leadership in Public Science, and assistant head of the Biodiversity Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. She studies bird ecology, conservation and management through the use of citizen science. Cooper is an advocate for the practices of citizen science, open science and science communication, pursuing scholarly inquiry into these areas, and bringing them all together to achieve Public Science. She is dedicated to training and mentoring students to become public scientists so they can pursue careers that weave science into the fabric of society.
During the early part of her career, Cooper was a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Recently released, Citizen Science: How Ordinary People Are Changing the Face of Discovery is her first book. She led the formation of an academic journal, Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, and serves on its editorial board. Cooper served as an advisor to the public television documentary miniseries The Crowd & The Cloud. She is a blogger at the Public Library of Science (PLOS) and Discover, guest blogger at Scientific American and director of partnerships at SciStarter.com.
Gwen Ottinger – Thursday, Oct. 26, 7 p.m.
Associate Professor, Department of Politics and Center for Science, Technology and Society, Drexel University
“From Sensing to Sense-Making: The Next Frontier of Citizen Science”
Communities concerned about air quality have a growing variety of low-cost ways to find out what they’re breathing. Innovation in sensor technology, however, has outpaced our ability to make sense of the data new sensors produce. Gwen Ottinger’s current project takes up the problem of sense-making, collaborating with residents of communities adjacent to San Francisco Bay Area oil refineries to develop tools for accessing, annotating and visualizing data from real time ambient air toxics monitors. Combining political theory with practical insights from the development of AirWatchBayArea.org, Ottinger argues that scientists and engineers are needed not only to invent new sensors but also to invent, in collaboration with communities, new conceptual frameworks that give meaning to sensor data.
Ottinger became interested in science and technology studies (STS) as an undergraduate engineering student in Georgia. As a graduate student in an interdisciplinary environmental studies program, she pursued questions about the human, political and environmental dimensions of science and technology. That led Ottinger to research the intersection of STS and environmental justice studies, focusing on social inequality in the distribution of environmental hazards and decision-making power. At Drexel University, she teaches classes in science and technology policy, environmental politics and citizen science. Her research group, the Fair Tech Collective, welcomes students from all levels and backgrounds who are interested in mobilizing science and technology to empower environmental justice communities and uses an apprenticeship model: Students learn by doing alongside more experienced researchers. Ottinger’s book Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges was awarded the 2015 Rachel Carson prize for being a work of social or political relevance by the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S). She has also received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation and currently serves as an elected member of the 4S Council and on editorial boards of Energy Research and Social Science and Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. Ottinger has been quoted in Grid Magazine, Public Source and by the National Public Radio affiliate WHYY, as well as other publications focusing on energy, design, science and the environment.
Kevin Esvelt ’04 – Tuesday, Nov. 7, 7 p.m.
Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“Ecological Engineering and Responsive Science”
Technological advances challenge traditional views of science as an enterprise best conducted by professionals working behind closed doors. The advent of CRISPR-based gene drive systems could enable researchers to unilaterally alter the traits of wild populations, but is it acceptable to develop technologies for engineering the shared environment in secret? What of the inherent conflict between a Rousseau-inspired view of the natural as an intrinsic moral good and modern notions of human and animal welfare? Perhaps most importantly, we now live in a world featuring technologies never anticipated in science fiction that allow individuals to unilaterally impact millions of others. Might ecological engineering be a catalyst for reforming scientific incentives to favor wiser collective decision-making in order to accelerate advances and avoid global catastrophic risks?
A 2004 graduate of Harvey Mudd College (chemistry and biology), Kevin Esvelt received his PhD in biochemistry from Harvard University in 2010. Esvelt is director of the Sculpting Evolution group at the MIT Media Lab, which invents new ways to study and influence the evolution of ecosystems. By carefully developing and testing these methods with openness and humility, the group seeks to address difficult ecological problems for the benefit of humanity and the natural world. Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab, Esvelt wove many different areas of science into novel approaches to ecological engineering. He invented phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE), a synthetic microbial ecosystem for rapidly evolving biomolecules, in the laboratory of David R. Liu at Harvard University. At the Wyss Institute, he worked with George Church to develop the CRISPR system for genome engineering and regulation, and he began exploring the use of bacteriophages and conjugation to engineer microbial ecosystems. Esvelt is credited as the first to describe how CRISPR gene drives could be used to alter the traits of wild populations in an evolutionarily stable manner (read more in the spring 2016 Harvey Mudd College Magazine). By emphasizing universal safeguards and early transparency, he has worked to ensure that community discussions always precede and guide the development of technologies that will impact the shared environment.