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Massachusetts Institute of Technology  /  MIT Museum
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Media Announcement
New Fall Series at MIT Museum
October 12, 2011


MIT Museum Presents Life in the Universe: Are We Alone?

Life in the Universe
Are We Alone?
That question has perplexed humanity for centuries. Perhaps scientists are getting closer to the answer; come find out during four evenings of discussion as biologists, astronomers, chemists and anthropologists talk and share their insights with you as they explain some of their latest research about life on other planets, as well as on our own.

Moderated by MIT Museum Director, John Durant, and Museum Education Coordinator Erika Reinfeld, this special evening series will give audiences both a historical overview and insight into current research about the search for life.

"Is it really the case that we are the only place where there is life?" asks John Durant. "The debate has taken place for centuries, and it's intriguing that we don't know the answer." Join Harvard and MIT Professors for 4 evenings beginning at 6:00 p.m. for this series about the origins of life; meet top scientists in their fields, and leave with a deeper understanding about what it means to be human. All discussions take place at the MIT Museum, 265 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02139.

Tuesday. 10/25
6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Part 1 of 4: Life in the Universe
The Cambridge Science Festival's Big Ideas for Busy People speaker, MIT physicist, Sara Seager, follows up on her popular talk about exoplanets with an in-depth exploration of what she and her colleagues are learning by studying planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy. She is joined by Dimitar Sasselov, director of Harvard's Origins of Life Initiative, whose research in the field of astrobiology and how planets are discovered are crucial to the conversation about where life might exist. Together, Professors Seager and Sasselov provide a compelling explanation of how many places there might be that are actually capable of supporting some type of life.
Photos of Exoplanets
NASA's Astrobiology Program

Wednesday 11/9
6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Life in the Universe

Part 2 of 4: In the Beginning
Nobel Laureate, Jack Szostak, explores the origins of life on the cellular level, giving him the insight for just what it takes to have life, as we know it, exist in outer space. As a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and an investigator at both the Massachusetts General Hospital and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, his research spans many bases in the world of science. Roger Summons, Professor of Geobiology at MIT, studies how simple and complex organisms evolve with their surrounding environment, pioneering new techniques for detecting signs of life on other planets. Fortunately for us, they have found time to talk and share in this second part of Life in the Universe, their own understanding of what it takes for life to appear, and how life as we know it has developed over time.
Breathing New life into the Earth, from the Summons Lab/MIT News office
Lunch with a Laureate (Jack Szostak) during the 2010 Cambridge Science Festival

Tuesday 11/15
6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

Life in the Universe
Part 3 of 4: Why Mars Matters
What are we really searching for on Mars, and what might we conceivably find? Klaus Biemann, Professor Emeritus in MIT's Department of Chemistry and Samuel Kounaves, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Tufts University, are joined by postdoctoral associate Zara Mirmalek from MIT's Program in Science, Technology, and Society. They'll discuss what has been so intriguing about Mars over the years, and how it has proved fertile ground for scientific study.
Explore the legacy of the Viking landers or take a look at NASA images from the Mars Exploration Rovers to whet your appetite!

Tuesday 11/29
6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.
Life in the Universe

Part 4 of 4: Finding Intelligence
The search for intelligence in the universe is among the most controversial endeavors in astrobiology. Do we even know what we are looking for? To better understand what "they" might be like, we need to know what is meant by 'intelligence.' Richard Wrangham, Harvard Professor of Biological Anthropology and author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, is renowned for his lucid explanations of the evolutionary origin of humanity, so he will help us explore what it means for animals to evolve intelligence, and how common this event is in the universe. Paul Horowitz, Harvard Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering, is the Principal Investigator in Harvard's SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program and an expert in custom instrumentation (such as a 3-beam, 250- million-channel radiofrequency Fourier spectrum analyzer performing an all-sky transit survey at the university's 84-foot radio telescope (!)). Professor Horowitz joins the final session of the series to talk about what it takes to search for intelligent civilizations in outer space, looking for, or at, human life on planet Earth.

The SETI Institute


The MIT Museum is open 7 days a week from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm. Admission - Adults: $8.50; Under 18, Students, Seniors: $4.00; MIT ID and children 5 and under: Free. The Museum also offers free admission on Sundays between 10:00 am - noon and on the second Friday of each month from 5:00 8:00 p.m.

The MIT Museum's mission is to engage the wider community with MIT's science, technology and other areas of scholarship in ways that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.

Museum Contacts:
Josie Patterson

Regina Norfolk
RNCommunications, LLC



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