2015 Dr. Bruce J. Nelson ’74 Distinguished Speaker Series


While the eastern United States weathers severe storms, the West experiences historic drought. The 2015 Nelson Series explores all things water, from the basic science of this fascinating substance, to perspectives on how to manage California’s dwindling resources; from the impact of sea level rise on America’s beaches, to the challenges of water contamination in developing nations. Speakers at the forefront of water science, policy, and technology share their insights and potential solutions. Won’t you join us? Eau yes!

Admission to this public lecture series is complimentary. Events are held in the auditorium of the R. Michael Shanahan Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvey Mudd College located at 320 East Foothill Boulevard, Claremont. A dessert reception follows each lecture.

Inquiries may be directed to stewardship@hmc.edu, or call the Office of Stewardship and Events at 909.607.0943.

Water, Health and Development, Thursday, Dec. 3

Water is essential for life, but what if it’s too dirty to drink or too difficult to get? Access to clean water is one of the Millennium Development Goals, but some 750 million people still lack access and more than 800,000 die each year of water-related illnesses. Join us for a stimulating conversation among leading scientists and entrepreneurs, who will share their experiences and vision for a world in which water is no longer a global health challenge.

Charles Matlack ’04

CEO, PotaVida

As the CEO of PotaVida, a company founded with the goal of providing safe water with certainty, Charles Matlack is an entrepreneur who understands how to leverage for-profit business and technology development models to provide market-based solutions to the developing world. Matlack is the technical architect of PotaVida’s Smart Solar Purifier and led the effort that garnered a $40,000 prize in a design competition for PotaVida’s original concept. He received a BS in engineering from Harvey Mudd College and a master’s and [EF1] PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Washington. His dissertation work was on novel interfaces for enabling individuals to control prosthetics and computers using individual neurons in the brain.

Abraham Flaxman

Assistant Professor of Global Health, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington

Abraham Flaxman is the research lead for the Computational Algorithms research team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), whose mission is to improve health through better health evidence. Flaxman is the primary architect of a software tool known as DisMod-MR that IHME uses to estimate the Global Burden of Disease. Since 2008, Flaxman has written his popular blog, http://healthyalgorithms.com, which covers mathematics, computer science and his research at IHME. He earned his B.S. in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his PhD in algorithms, combinatorics and optimization from Carnegie Mellon University.

Tanja Srebotnjak

Hixon Professor of Sustainable Environmental Design, Harvey Mudd College

Tanja Srebotnjak joined Harvey Mudd College in 2014 as the College’s first “all-college” faculty position and founded the Hixon Center for Sustainable Environmental Design. Previously, she worked as a public health research fellow at the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco and as a senior fellow at the Ecologic Institute in San Mateo, California, and Berlin, Germany. She also worked for the United Nations and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. Trained as both an environmental statistician and a biostatistician, she uses her statistical and analytical skills to address a broad range of environmental and public health policy questions. Srebotnjak completed her PhD in environmental statistics and policy in 2007 at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and her MSc and Diploma in statistics at the University of Auckland, New Zealand (2001) and Dortmund Technical University, Germany (2000).

Hemi Thaker P16


Hemi Thaker is a successful entrepreneur, technologist and leader.  He has co-founded four companies, including Anue Systems, which was sold to Ixia Communications in 2012 and Sybarus Technologies, which was sold to Lucent Technologies in 1999. An Inc 500 CEO and a recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Central Texas in 2011, he has seventeen patents granted.  Hemi is also a co-founder of Waterloo Springs, a non-profit dedicated to creating self-sustaining ecosystems to continually better the lives of those in need using frugal engineering and design thinking. The Waterloo Springs team has designed, implemented and put into field trials a water transportation device drawing on “Build-Measure-Learn” principles to solve water access problems in developing countries. Hemi holds a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Alberta and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo.

Vanishing Beaches, Thursday, Nov. 19

As sea level rises and beachfront construction continues to intensify, beaches along developed ocean shorelines are increasingly endangered, and most will be lost in the next 50 years. In the long run, engineering attempts to hold the shoreline in place (e.g., seawalls) lead directly to beach destruction. To preserve beaches for future generations, Orrin Pilkey proposes that we must abandon current shoreline engineering methods and demolish or move buildings back from the beachfront.

Orrin Pilkey
Orrin Pilkey

Orrin Pilkey

James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology, Duke University

Orrin Pilkey is affiliated with the Division of Earth & Ocean Sciences in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, and is founder and director emeritus of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, which is currently based at Western Carolina University. Since arriving at Duke in 1965, Pilkey has co-authored or co-edited dozens of books and peer-reviewed papers, taken part in hundreds of town hall meetings, legislative hearings and public debates, and been cited in thousands of media reports on the transitory nature of barrier island geology and the need for sustainable development in ecologically fragile coastal ecosystems. The Last Beach (2014) is Pilkey’s most recent book, following Useless Arithmetic (2007), The Rising Sea (2009), The World’s Beaches (2011), Global Climate Change: A Primer (2011) and Pitfalls of Shore Stabilization (2012). Articles by Pilkey can be regularly found in the Coastal Care web pages, a site that focuses on coastal and beach issues and education. Pilkey has received numerous awards, among them the Francis Shepard medal for excellence in marine geology (1987), public service awards from various organizations, the Priestly Award (2003) and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the North Carolina Coastal Federation (2008). Duke University honored Pilkey with the naming of a building at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina. He received his B.S. in geology at Washington State College, his M.S. in geology at the University of Montana and his PhD in geology at Florida State University.

Drought in California — Disaster and Opportunity, Thursday, Oct. 22, 7 p.m.

California struggles through the fourth year of an exceptional drought that has caused major legal, socioeconomic and ecological impacts. A renowned panel of water experts and stakeholders will take stock of California’s water resource management in the context of climate change, population growth and other factors. They will discuss different policy, regulatory and technological options to alleviate pressures on this vital but dwindling resource. Do we have the political resolve to tackle this complex problem? What will it cost? Who will the winners and losers be?

Eric Garner

Managing Partner, Best Best & Krieger LLP

Managing Partner Eric Garner has practiced water law for more than 25 years at Best Best & Krieger LLP. He was involved in the Mojave Groundwater adjudication and represented the lead parties in the Santa Maria and Antelope Valley groundwater adjudications. Garner has advised clients throughout California on groundwater issues and was involved in the drafting of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Garner is an adjunct law professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. He has also been named a California Lawyer of the Year by California Magazine, one of the Top 100 Lawyers in California by the Daily Journal and the Water Law Lawyer of the Year in Los Angeles by Best Lawyers. Garner received his B.A. at Earlham College and his J.D. at the University of Michigan.

Anthony Metcalf

Professor of Biology, California State University, San Bernardino

Anthony Metcalf’s broad research focus is molecular evolution and molecular ecology. He is interested both in the evolution of genes and the evolutionary history and ecology of the organisms that possess them. His research, which encompasses the regional geographic patterns of genetic variation across taxa as well as conservation genetics, has been published in numerous journals, including the Journal of Nematology, Gene, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology and the Southern California Academy of Science’s Bulletin. Metcalf received his B.A. from Simon Frasier University, British Columbia and his B.S. and PhD from the University of California, Riverside.

Jack Safely

Imported Supply Unit Manager, Metropolitan Water District

Jack Safely manages the Imported Supply Unit at The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and is responsible for overseeing the management of Metropolitan’s contracts and agreements related to Colorado River Diversion and State Water Project facilities and supplies. He has over 25 years of experience in the municipal water industry, working at Metropolitan and the Western Municipal Water District and in consulting engineering. Safely’s experience includes long-term planning, developing and implementing water supply projects, environmental documentation, permitting and program management. He has also represented municipal agencies in groundwater management activities at several watermaster organizations in Southern California. Safely is a graduate of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

Brinda Sarathy

Associate Professor of Environmental Analysis, Pitzer College

Brinda Sarathy is the author of two books and several articles on society and the environment, including natural resource management, labor and environmental justice. Her recent book, Pineros: Latino Labour and the Changing Face of Forestry in the Pacific Northwest (University of British Columbia Press) was published in 2012. In her current project, Sarathy focuses on issues of environmental justice, particularly in cases of community mobilization around toxic waste. Her research on pineros has been supported by grants from the Ford Foundation, the Rural Sociological Society, the Morris K. Udall Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Sarathy received her PhD in environmental science, policy, and management in 2006 from the University of California, Berkeley, and has held fellowships at The CUNY Graduate Center and the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States.

Heather Williams

Associate Professor of Politics, Pomona College

Heather Williams joined Pomona College’s faculty in 1998 and serves as chair of the Department of Politics. Her research interests include Latin American politics, U.S.-Mexico borderlands, freshwater supplies and global water politics, and global politics of food and agriculture. She has received the Andrew Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellowship, the Haynes Foundation Fellowship and the American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, among other awards. In addition to her book Social Movements and Economic Transition: Markets and Distributive Protest in Mexico (Cambridge University Press, 2001), Williams’ work has been published in Latin American Perspectives, Politics & Society and CounterPunch. She earned her B.A. from Amherst College and her master’s in philosophy and PhD from Yale University.

Water – The Magic Molecule
Tuesday, Sept. 15

Without the remarkable properties of water, life as we understand it would be impossible. Michael Fayer will discuss the molecular nature of water and use this description to explore the unusual properties of bulk water. When confined in tiny pools containing from a few tens to a few thousands of water molecules, water behaves in different and interesting ways. Such nanoscopic water occurs in biology, geology, chemistry and technological applications. Fayer’s talk will offer insights into the unique physical and chemical properties of this substance we so frequently take for granted.

Michael Fayer

The David Mulvane Ehrsam and Edward Curtis Franklin Professor of Chemistry, Stanford University

Michael FayerMichael Fayer has made many critical contributions to the fields of molecular spectroscopy and molecular dynamics. His experiments on the dynamics of molecules in condensed matter, including glasses and liquids, have had a profound impact on many fields, and he is recognized as a major pioneer of many molecular spectroscopic methods that are now among the most widely implemented nonlinear optical techniques in chemistry. Fayer received his PhD in chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley and then joined the faculty of Stanford University. He is the author or co-author of over 400 peer-reviewed publications, and over 100 students and postdoctoral researchers have been trained in his lab. Fayer’s scientific work and educational activities have brought him numerous awards and honors, including the Ahmed Zewail Award in Ultrafast Science and Technology from the American Chemical Society (2014), the Ellis R. Lippincott Award from the Optical Society of America (2009), the Earl K. Plyler Prize for Molecular Spectroscopy from the American Physical Society (2000), the Stanford University Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching (1986), the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship (1983), the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation Teacher-Scholar Award (1977) and the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (1977). He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.