Get smart fast at Penn lecture series

Penn Science Cafe/60-Second Lecture Bottom: Campbell Grey, an assistant professor of classical studies, discusses "Is America Rome? Why Do You Ask?" for the 60-Second Lecture series.

If the popularity of the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” or the number of television programs produced in the “Star Trek” franchise (six!) tells us anything, it is that popular culture and science don’t have to be enemies. Science and research need not be dry, humorless affairs; they can be dramatic, inspiring and, even on rare instances, funny.

Penn offers two programs that give the public a chance to hear world-renowned experts explain, with elegance, grace and wit, cutting-edge research.

The Penn Science Café, a monthly lecture series that beams science out of the lab and into one of University City’s premier event spaces, begins on Wednesday, Sept. 22. Free and open to the public, the series allows audience members to pitch questions to Penn’s leading scientific experts.

The lectures, which begin at 7 p.m., are held at the MarBar, 40th and Walnut streets, on the second floor above Marathon Grill. Speakers will try their best to keep the scientific jargon to a minimum and present confounding topics in an easy-to-understand manner.

For the first of the nine scheduled talks, Junhyong Kim, co-director of the Penn Genomes Frontier Institute, will discuss “Do Genomes Compute?”

Subsequent presentations will focus on “Nature’s Nanotechnology,” “Einstein Rings and Dark Matter,” “The World Water Crisis,” “The Obvious, the Occult, and the Counterintuitive World of Animal Sheltering” and “Decision Making and the Brain.”

For a complete list, visit

For those with only a minute (or so) to spare, Penn’s 60-Second Lecture series features talks from some of the School of Arts and Sciences' most distinguished professors.

Each talk, held at Stiteler Plaza, 37th St. and Locust Walk, during warm weather months, starts promptly at 11:55 a.m. Topics are informative and fun, and as diverse as the research and course offerings in SAS.

“Faculty who take it on view it as an interesting challenge,” says Loraine Terrell, SAS external affairs public relations director and organizer of the lecture series. “Some try to interpret big ideas like human history, but most don’t try to be that ambitious.”

On Constitution Day, Friday, Sept. 17, Sarah Barringer Gordon, the Arlin M. Adams Professor of Law at Penn Law School and a professor of history, discusses, “A Constitutional Moment: Freedom of Religion in One Minute.”

Campbell Grey, an assistant professor of classical studies who kicked off the proceedings on Sept. 8 with a talk discussing, “Is America Rome? Why Do You Ask?” says he thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In an email to Terrell, he wrote: “The panic-induced adrenalin rush at the 50-second mark stayed with me for the rest of the day.”

For a complete list of speakers, visit

View past 60-Second Lectures at


Originally published on September 16, 2010