The Big Bang and Beyond: A Beginner’s Guide to the Universe (December 8, 2011)

Thursday, December 8, 2011 – 7:00pm
Eugene – Cozmic Pizza

What does the Universe look like and what is our place in it? How is it evolving and what did it look like in the distant past? What will it be like in the future? Join Willamette University physics chair and cosmologist Dr. Rick Watkins in an exploration of the Universe and its evolution

Seeing Things in a New Light: Infrared Imaging (November 10, 2011)

Thursday, November 10, 2011 – 7:00pm
Eugene – Cozmic Pizza

Join us to see the world in a “new light.” John Lester Miller (a.k.a. Dr. Strangephoton) will give an energetic presentation on the history, phenomenology, and applications of infrared imaging. The evening starts with Hershel’s discovery of infrared light in 1800 and traces the fascinating story to modern day astronomy, military, law enforcement, and commercial applications. The talk will be augmented with numerous infrared video clips, images, and a live infrared camera.

John Lester Miller has 30 years of experience in the design and development of infrared systems for astronomy, commercial applications, military, and intelligence. He has worked at Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories, Rockwell, NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility (on Mauna Kea), Martin Marietta, and the Research Triangle Institute and has been with FLIR Systems (headquartered in Wilsonville) for over 14 years. He has written more than 60 papers and four books on electro-optical technology. John sits on SPIE’s Infrared Technology and the Military Sensor Symposium’s National Sensor program committees and chairs several sessions each year. He is the chief technical officer for FLIR Systems’ Government Division overseeing several imaging development initiatives.

Bees on the Brink (October 13, 2011)

Thursday, October 13, 2011 – 7:00pm
Eugene – Cozmic Pizza

Honey bee pollination is estimated to be worth more than $20 billion in the United States. However, in the last 60 years, the number of U.S. honey bee colonies has declined by over half, from nearly 5 million to 2.4 million. Further compounding these losses, U.S. beekeepers have reported annual declines of about 30-35% over the last five years. These losses are unsustainable. At the same time, the demand for pollination of fiber, fruit, vegetable, and nut crops has increased. At this Science Pub, find out about what’s happening to the bees to cause this precipitous decrease in numbers, and what is being done to help them stage a comeback.

Ramesh Sagili, PhD, assistant professor in the Oregon State University Extension Service and Department of Horticulture, will discuss the current status of honey bee health and numerous challenges facing honey bees and the beekeeping industry. He will describe current research efforts at OSU and at other bee research laboratories across the nation, and he will offer simple suggestions to home gardeners who want to foster honey bees.

Tatooine-like planet discovered

This artist's concept illustrates Kepler-16b, the first planet known to definitively orbit two stars — called a circumbinary planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists uncover a planet that orbits around two stars.

By Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, D.C. — Published: September 15, 2011

A planet with two suns may be a familiar sight to fans of the Star Wars film series, but not, until now, to scientists. A team of researchers, including Carnegie’s Alan Boss, has discovered a planet that orbits around a pair of stars.

This is the first instance of astronomers finding direct evidence of a so-called circumbinary planet. A few other planets have been suspected of orbiting around both members of a dual-star system, but the transits of the circumbinary planet have never been detected previously.

The team, led by Laurance Doyle from the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, used photometric data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope, which monitors the brightness of 155,000 stars.

They found the binary star system by detecting a system where the stars eclipsed each other from the perspective of the Kepler spacecraft. These stars have two eclipses: a primary eclipse when the larger star is partially blocked by the smaller star, and a secondary eclipse where the smaller star is fully blocked by the larger star.

But the researchers also noticed other times when the brightness of the two stars dropped, even when they were not in an eclipse position. This pattern suggested that there was likely a third object involved. The fact that these so-called tertiary and quaternary eclipses recurred after varying intervals of time, and of different depths, indicated that the stars were in different positions in their orbit at each instance. This result showed that the tertiary and quaternary eclipses were being caused by something circling both stars, and not an object circling one or the other star.

Measurements of the variations in the timing of all four types of eclipses, resulting from the mutual gravitational interactions of the two stars and the third body, demonstrated that the third object was, indeed, a planet. The astronomers’ work indicates that the planet is less massive than Jupiter, possibly comparable in mass to Saturn, and that the larger of the two binary stars is smaller than our Sun.

“This discovery is stunning,” Boss said. “Once again, what used to be science fiction has turned into reality.”

Amber trapped dinosaur feathers at different stages in their evolution

We now have enough fossils of feathered dinosaurs to fill entire museums. These specimens have beautifully recorded the history of feather evolution but Ryan McKellar from the University of Alberta has found another narrator for that tale: amber.

Amber is actually fossilised tree resin, and some of it contains feathers dropped by dinosaurs. McKellar, working with Phillip Currie, studied beautiful cache of 11 such pieces that had been recovered from Grassy Lake, Canada many years earlier. “These were chance finds when we were preparing the amber to look for insects,” says Currie. “About half a dozen specimens were in my “research to do” specimen cabinet when Ryan ran across some more in his work.”

These 70-million-year old specimens hail from the late Cretaceous period and they are far more diverse than other amber-trapped feathers from the same period. It’s impossible to say who the feathers came from but given that some of them are far simpler than anything seen in known birds, McKellar suspects that they came from other types of dinosaur instead. After all, such species are far more common in Alberta’s fossil beds than true birds are.

Together, the amber feathers encompass the entire evolutionary history of feathers in four different stages, from simple filaments to flight-capable plumes. “It fleshes out a framework that was already evident from the feathered dinosaurs, although the preservation is far more spectacular in terms of detailed preservation and even colours,” says Currie. The slideshow below shows the various types.

Reference: McKellar, Chattertton, Wolfe & Currie. 2011. A Diverse Assemblage of Late Cretaceous Dinosaur and Bird Feathers from Canadian Amber.

Young Naturalist Awards – Deadline March 9, 2012

The Young Naturalist Awards is a research-based science competition for students in grades 7-12 to promote participation and communication in science.

Winners receive:

For more information see the following website:

Science Open House @ U of O! (21 Sept 2011)

You’re invited to an evening of excitement, creativity, and (EXPLOSIVE) science! Featuring demonstrations from the ladies of SPICE! (Science Program to Inspire Creativity and Excellence) as well as Dr. Stan & The Science Circus. Get up close and personal with the substances that defy physics when you enter the Non-Newtonian Zone and learn to dance on liquid in the Oobleck Pit.

Willamette Hall – U of O Campus
6:30 – 8:30 Outreach Booths, Laser Maze, Oobleck Pit, Flubber Factory
7:00 – 8:00 Science Triathalon – Test Your Science Skills (Reguires reservation*)
8:15 – 8:30 Closing Ceremonies

* RSVP to or call (541) 346-4313


Sequencing the Neanderthal Genome (9.19.2011)

The Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing presents…

Richard “Ed” Green, UC-Santa Cruz is the director of the Neanderthal Genome Project and will give a lecture designed for the public on “Recent Human Evolution as Revealed by Ancient Hominim Genomes”

…on Monday, September 19th at 3:30 pm at the CH2MHill Alumni Center on campus at OSU.