Penn Science and Lightbulb Café lecture series—spring 2019

The free public lectures, held at the Wilma Theater and the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday evenings, and are followed by an audience Q&A session.

The Penn Science Cafe and Lightbulb Café have highlighted the University’s accomplishments and research since 2005 and 2011, respectively. The free public lectures, held at the Wilma Theater and the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, take place at 6 p.m. on Tuesday evenings, and are followed by an audience Q&A session. RSVP, though not required, is recommended due to limited seating. The series of lectures are presented by the School of Arts and Sciences in partnership with the Office of University Communications.

You can find the 2018 lineup here.


TUESDAY, JANUARY 22–LIGHTBULB CAFÉ (Suzanne Roberts Theatre)

Ian Lustick, professor of political science and Bess W. Heyman Chair, School of Arts and Sciences
“Why the U.S. President Doesn't Matter for the Middle East Peace Process”
The Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” focused on the future of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has continued for almost three decades. But it is more of a carousel, lots of movement but no direction, than a process of moving the state of affairs in a particular direction. In his talk, Ian Lustick will explain why the carousel continues when no one involved really believes a negotiated two-state solution is possible. In this view, whether the White House is occupied by a President named Bush, Clinton, Obama, or Trump makes no substantial difference for Israeli-Palestinian peace. He will also explain what to look for to know that real change is happening. Lustick is a world-renown expert on Middle Eastern politics. His present research focuses on the demise of states and the implications of the disappearance of the option of a negotiated “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

(Wilma Theater)

Nicholas Betley, assistant professor of biology, School of Arts and Sciences
“Food on the Brain: How Hunger and Eating Change Brain Activity”
Neuroscientist J. Nicholas Betley has studied how forces key to survival—like the drive to eat and drink—affect neurons in the brain. In this talk, Betley will share what his research tells us about how hunger, food, and even certain drugs can change the activity of brain neurons known to influence feeding, and how that knowledge may be exploited to address obesity, eating disorders, and encourage healthy eating.


Meta Mazaj, senior lecturer in cinema and media studies, School of Arts and Sciences
“The Academy Awards and World Cinema”
What can we expect at this year’s Academy Awards? Meta Mazaj will discuss this year’s Oscar nominated films, the science behind Oscar picks, and the relationship between Hollywood and world cinema, the subject of her new co-authored book, with Shekhar Deshpande, World Cinema: A Critical Introduction. Mazaj’s teaching and research interests include film theory and history, film and nationalism, as well as world cinema.

(Suzanne Roberts Theatre)

Coren Apicella, assistant professor of psychology, School of Arts and Sciences
“The Evolution of Cooperation”
Why do humans cooperate? In the realm of evolutionary biology and survival of the fittest, it’s a risky business, yet humans do it on a scope and scale unmatched by any group in the animal world. For more than a decade, Coren Apicella has been studying this trait in the Hadza of Tanzania, one of the last remaining nomadic hunter-gatherer populations in the world. She’ll discuss what she’s so far learned from working with the Hadza, including recent findings that revealed that cooperation isn’t necessarily innate.

(Suzanne Roberts Theatre)

Emily Wilson, professor of classical studies, School of Arts and Sciences
“Translating the Odyssey: Why and How"
Emily Wilson’s research interests include tragedy, epic, gender, genre, philosophy, as well as the reception of classical literature. She has published verse translations of Seneca, Euripides, and most recently the “Odyssey.” In this talk, she will talk about her goals in re-translating this much-translated poem, including her approach to verse form, style, pace, repetition and characterization. She will discuss the ways she aimed to be responsible to the literary, psychological and ethical complexity of the original poem, bringing out its diverse, contradictory voices and points of view; she will consider what it means to say that translations are always interpretations. She will also talk about the media reception of her translation, analyzing the benefits and costs of coverage that seemed, for a while, to focus exclusively on the author’s gender. 

(Wilma Theater)

Phil Nelson, professor, Department of Physics & Astronomy, School of Arts and Sciences
“Human and Superhuman Color Vision” 
Scientists often seem to be asking obscure theoretical questions. But sometimes, asking such questions and doggedly following the answers leads to unexpected practical payoffs, as well as deep insights into how the world works. Philip Nelson, a physicist in the department of Physics & Astronomy, will explore how the question “What is light?” leads us to an understanding of how we see, and to some powerful new ways to do so.

(Suzanne Roberts Theatre)

Beth Wenger, Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of History and History Department Chair, School of Arts and Sciences 
“American Jewish Men and the Anxieties of Breadwinning, 1850-1940”
Beth Wenger’s teaching interests vary widely from broad surveys of modern European and American Jewish history, to courses on Holocaust memory, contemporary Jewish culture, American religious history, gender, and Jewish history, as well as many others. A specialist in American Jewish history, Wenger's interests also include European Jewish culture, American religion and ethnicity, and cultural, social and gender history.

(Suzanne Roberts Theatre)

Kathryn Schuler, Assistant Professor, Department of Linguistics, School of Arts and Sciences 
“How Children Learn Language—And Why They’re Better at It Than Adults
It’s no secret that children excel at learning languages. Every typically developing child acquires language with little special effort or adult help. Why are they so good at this? It is something about how they learn or how their brain is organized? And how do they navigate the complex world of grammar and syntax? In the Child Language Lab at Penn, Kathryn Schuler has been grappling with such questions, and she’ll discuss what she’s learned so far.