December 6, 2009 § Leave a comment


Do we see what is real? Or is what we see a construction of our brain? What convinces us that what seems so, is in fact so? The eyes are notorious liars. We are repeatedly fooled by appearances. The more we learn about the brain, the more it appears that what we take as reality is indeed construed by the brain.

Anna Ipata, of the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University, will tell us how the brain discounts much visual information, and selects only what it needs to obtain a certain kind of knowledge of the world.

Apposite music will be provided by PewPew and the QQ’s, a New York garage band that demonstrates what happens when neuroscientists stop paying attention to their science.


November 1, 2009 § Leave a comment


Molecules have shapes, and their geometries determine ultimately their every chemical, physical and biological property. Tiny electrons, scooting around the much bulkier atoms, and governed by the lovely logic of quantum mechanics, actually tell those big guys how to arrange themselves.

An expert on la liaison chimique, Odile Eisenstein of the University of Montpellier, France, takes us by the hand into the world of molecular shapes, from the simple tetrahedron of methane to the less intuitive world of molecules containing metal atoms. Gerard Parkin, who is rumored to make a living studying such molecules, will do some non-electronic magic. And making shapes, exploring different forms of holding energy together, sometimes in “nonintuitive” ways, will also be expressed in the music of Todd Capp and his quartet (Todd, Bryan Eubanks, Andrew Lafkas, and Joe Giardullo).


October 4, 2009 § Leave a comment


Charles Darwin’s last sentence in The Origin of the Species reads: “There is grandeur in this view of life…from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.” Grandeur indeed. To celebrate, and to preserve.

Lisa Karrer is an internationally celebrated composer, vocalist and multi-media performance artist. She brings us “Schismism: Natural Law”, a solo performance inspired by Darwin’s exploration of evolution and universal connectedness, in collaboration with composer/musician David Simons. In the spirit of natural selection, the audience will decide the sequence of events in real-time during the performance.

And Shahid Naeem from Columbia University will join us reflecting on the consequences of the modern day unraveling of the entanglement of biological diversity evolution has spun over the last 3.5 billion years. His laboratory’s motto is “Ecology With No Apology,” and explores the environmental consequences of widespread losses in biodiversity, or the disentanglement of what Darwin called, the “entangled bank.”


September 6, 2009 § Leave a comment


People make up worlds out of bricks, molecules, words, thoughts. There’s probably no better example than Entertaining Science itself–created 7 years ago when K.C. and Roald and Oliver and the Minister of Culture of this temple, Robin, concocted a program on the art and science of nothingness. (That in turn inspired the creation of yet another made-up world–KC’s Categorically Not! series in Santa Monica–another story.) This is our reunion!

The constraints of the so-called “real world” seem limiting to people. But as the late physicist Frank Oppenheimer pointed out: There is no “real world” except as we make it up. Largely in response to his horror at the bombing of civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Frank created a “museum of human awareness” – the Exploratorium in San Francisco —a place where art and science allow people to discover that they can understand the complex world around them. Author and USC professor K.C. Cole will tell the story of the “other Oppenheimer” and the world he created, drawing on her new book: Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the World He Made Up.

Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks will speak about how the brain, like nature, abhors a vacuum–and how, for instance, if there is no visual perception, as in the blind spot which all of us have, or in those who have lost their sight, the brain will create its own virtual reality by images or hallucinations. And Roald will ponder why we think up new molecules.


June 7, 2009 § Leave a comment


What do a downtown duo exploring unusual acoustic instruments of wind, water, earth and metal, intricate textures, loops and grooves and a chemical engineer have in common. Let’s find out! Pablo Debenedetti of Princeton, an expert on fluids and amorphous solids of all sorts, will co-examine familiar and strange water, in all its life-enhancing properties — chemical, physical, sociological and…musical with the musicians of Lyrebyrd – Katie Down and Matt Darriau. Down, a downtown theatrical sound designer and composer also known for her musical antics in the Ukuladies, plays flute, glass harp and glass objects, steel cello, lithophone, and other assorted sounds. Darriau, of Klezmatics and Paradox Trio fame, is known for his expertise on Bulgarian kaval and gaida, Irish flute, alto sax and clarinets.


May 3, 2009 § Leave a comment


Over millions of years, bacterial pathogens have co-evolved with their hosts, i.e. us! The biochemical interactions between microbes and the proteins in our cells are remarkable, intricate, a dance of sorts. Cindy Quezada, of the Stebbins Laboratory at Rockefeller University, will tell us about a newly discovered class of tools (NEL domains) used by some pathogens to take over ubiquitination, a key biological process. Ubiquitin can tell a protein where to go, what to do, and who to mingle with in the cell.

Nelida Tirado, hailed as “magnificent” by the New York Times and featured as one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” leading dancers in 2007, will culminate the evening by illustrating (accompanied by Cristian Puig on guitar/vocals and Peter Basil on cajon) intricate interactions of a different kind – those evolving between a dancer, singer, and guitarist in flamenco. Just like ubiquitin, a flamenco dancer signals – the spontaneous communication that arises between the dancer and musicians results in an emotional, passionate and improvised performance. Join us for a night of dancing…in the gut and from the gut. ¡Olé!


April 5, 2009 § Leave a comment


There seems to be no shortage of ways to end things. Yet endings may be beginnings as well. Astrophysicist Nidhal Guessoum, also a writer and thinker on issues of science and religion in the world of Islam, will show the many ways of annihilation – from his work on matter and antimatter in the universe, to PET, a remarkable medical diagnosis tool based on the tell-tale signs of annihilation, through mysticism to video games bent on destroying worlds, and new ideas on rocket propulsion.

Did you know that 10 billion tons of antimatter are produced and annihilated each second in our galaxy — and astrophysicists can’t figure out where that comes from?!

Fred Buchholz is a special effects man, with a very interesting career. That he has an ATF Permit to use High Explosives and is a licensed New York City Pyrotechnic hint at one side of what he does; his remarkable effects for the Muppets, TV and Film show other ways of inducing people to suspend disbelief.

Fred will show some clips from his work with the Muppets, The Sopranos, as well as several feature films and talk about his work.

And magician extraordinaire Mark Mitton will annihilate things for sure. Watch out, it may be you!


March 1, 2009 § Leave a comment


Does theory guide experimental science or does metaphor? By using the very small–nanometric bits of matter and void–and an architectural metaphor as guide, materials chemist and nanoarchitect Debra Rolison describes how to adapt ethereal aerogels into materials that exhibit more: more opportunities to design functional materials with higher performance. Aerogels are the lightest solids known: composities of being and nothingness in which a thread-like network of solid (oxide, carbon, ceramic) winds through a sea of void. Just as the open space in buildings is critical to their usefulness–and aesthetics–so, too, the interconnected nothing in nanoarchitectures is critical to painting the walls, laying electrical wiring, and bestrewing about functional objets d’art. More of less truly is more!

April Tsui, an artist and designer from Los Angeles, will bring us a marvelous show and tell of her exploration of aerogels and a number of other materials, including bubblegum. She will talk about how aerogel taught her to look at materials from a childlike perspective. Her creative process is a journey about finding that moment of wonder to get lost in and play. In replicating one moment, she made the jump from bubblegum to creating dynamic textures.

And Roald Hoffmann may read some poems on materials.


February 1, 2009 § Leave a comment

From Old Testament priests to southern Africa, geneticist David Goldstein expands scientific orthodoxy to describe how patterns of genetic variation can be used to study Jewish history. Along the way we learn not only how different Jewish populations may have formed and how they relate to one another, but also about what kinds of genetic variation human populations carry, and what that variation means, in both health and disease.

Variation of another kind will be will be provided by Reuben Radding (bass), Ben Holmes (trumpet) and Joey Weisenberg (guitar/mandolin). This trio of frequent collaborators will present some of their favorite Jewish music, including tunes from the repertoire of Dave Tarras, Naftule Brandwein, and others.


January 4, 2009 § Leave a comment


Miriam Rothschild, the distinguished British entomologist, is brought to life by musician, playwright and actor Claudia Stevens in her short solo play, Flea. Dame Miriam despairs over being unable to save the world. At last she solicits advice from a flea, which encourages her to recreate an early experiment.

San Francisco Bay Area composer Allen Shearer provides the music, both pre-recorded and performed live by Claudia. And especially for tonight’s presentation at the Cornelia Street Café, Allen has added a short piece for solo flute, played by chemist and musician Jerry Meinwald. Who, using Rothschild’s brilliant experiments on the control of flea reproduction by the steroidal hormone level in a host-rabbit’s blood as a jumping off point (!), will then tell us why steroids have intrigued chemists and biologists for over 200 years, what they actually are, where they come from, why we can’t live without them, and how they are exploited by such diverse life forms as fireflies, toads, and Asian snakes.

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