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RMSC 2020 Science on the Edge lecture series continues Thursday, Oct. 24

    Series topics include de-extinction, black holes, alien worlds, and artificial intelligence

    ROCHESTER, NY—Attendees at the Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) Richard C. Shultz Science on the Edge lecture series experience science of all kinds. Science on the Edge lectures have provided insight and understanding about current research in a broad array of topics for a general audience for more than 30 years. Tickets to the lecture series include admission to the Science Museum, where lifelong learners can enjoy a unique, after-hours opportunity to explore the Museum’s three floors filled with more than 200 hands-on exhibits. The remainder of the 2020 lecture series includes:

    Ben Novak, Lead Scientist, Revive & Restore
    Pigeon Park: Is De-extinction Possible?
    Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019; 7:30-9pm

    Ever since the movie Jurassic Park premiered, the public has wondered if it will ever be possible to bring back extinct species, and—perhaps more-so—should we? With each new discovery of ancient DNA from Neanderthals, woolly mammoths, the dodo bird, and other extinct species over the past two decades the possibility seemed to inch closer, and now with the advent of gene editing technologies, what was once only science fiction is turning into real science. But it’s not starting with T-rex, it’s starting with a much more humble, but far more powerful, little dinosaur—the passenger pigeon. How will scientists revive the passenger pigeon? How will they put it back into the wild? Why do it at all? The answers all start with the secrets locked inside the DNA of old passenger pigeon bones and specimens, and the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s collections have played a big part in that foundational science. 

    Ben J. Novak is a young scientist pioneering the emerging field of “de-extinction.” The science of studying extinct species and applying their ecology and genomics to building future ecosystems is widely interdisciplinary, and demands a broad knowledge base. Ben studied ecology and evolution at Montana State University, specializing in paleontology, ecology, and genetics. He trained in Ancient DNA lab techniques under Dr. Hendrik Poinar at the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre. His personal study of the history of the passenger pigeon and pigeon biology brings the spectrum together to work with and coordinate multiple teams to bring the passenger pigeon back to life in a project now named “The Great Comeback,” a Revive & Restore initiative under the Long Now Foundation.

    Karl Gebhardt, Herman and Joan Suit Professor of Astrophysics, Astronomy Department, University of Texas
    Searching for Dark Energy, Naked Black Holes, and other Discoveries Worthy of Science Fiction
    Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019; 7:30-9pm

    Black holes and dark energy are two of most enigmatic concepts in science today. As we make significant observational progress in both of these areas, we are still left without a fundamental theory for their existence. This lecture will review the current suite of observations that target these mysteries, with a focus on a large ground-based experiment called the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment. As science generally goes, as we begin to peel off the layers surrounding either of these objects, we tend to find exciting and significant features. This epoch of discovery continues to be the most exciting time in terms of understanding the universe.

    Professor Karl Gebhardt grew up in Rochester. His career has taken him through Michigan State University, Rutgers University, University of Michigan, University of California at Santa Cruz, and eventually to University of Texas in 2000, where he is now the Herman and Joan Suit Professor of Astrophysics in the Department of Astronomy. He works on a variety of galaxy studies, ranging from black holes to dark matter to dark energy. He has won numerous awards, including Northeaster Graduate Schools Dissertation Award (1995), a Hubble Fellowship from NASA (1997), Teaching Excellence Awards from the University of Texas (2003) and McDonald Observatory Board of Visitors (2004), and a National Science Foundation Career Award. In 2012, he received the Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Science from the Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas. He works with numerous undergraduate and graduate students, and involves them in all levels of his research. Most of his career has focused on understanding the role that black holes play in the formation of a galaxy. He has measured more black hole masses than anyone in the world. His current work is focused on understanding dark energy with the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment. This unique approach to studying dark energy is designed to measure any evolution of the expansion of the universe, and to illuminate one of the greatest scientific mysteries of our time.

    Adam Frank, Professor of Astrophysics, University of Rochester
    Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth
    Wednesday, April 1, 2020; 7:30-9pm

    We humans, with our “project of civilization,” are a kind of cosmic teenager. We have power over ourselves, and the planet, but no model to follow. In this talk Professor Frank shows how our fate can best be understood in light of the stars. Thanks to the revolutionary field of astrobiology, we have discovered that we are just one of 10 billion trillion habitable planets in the universe. Unless the laws of the universe are deeply biased against life and intelligence, it’s highly improbable that we are the first project of civilization in cosmic history. So, what then, can we learn from the others that have almost certainly existed? Unpacking the exploration of our solar system and beyond, Professor Frank shows how we have already learned universal “laws of planets.” With this new view, we can tell how life (including the intelligent kind) and its host worlds can evolve together. From microbes generating Earth’s oxygen-rich atmosphere to the discovery of Venus’ runaway greenhouse effect, we can now lay out the contours of what happened here and what may happen elsewhere. With this “10,000 light-year” view we gain a new story of our future on a changing Earth. It’s a narrative rich with both hope and caution.

    Astrophysicist Adam Frank is a leading expert on the final stages of evolution for stars like the sun. His computational research group at the University of Rochester has developed advanced supercomputer tools for studying how stars form and how planets evolve. His current work also focuses on life in the Universe, the search for “technosignatures” of other exo-civilizations along with climate change and the “Astrobiology of the Anthropocene.” A self-described “evangelist of science,” he is committed to showing others the beauty and power of science, and exploring the proper context of science in culture. Frank’s last book, Light of the Stars: Alien Worlds and the Fate of the Earth received praise from The New York Times, NPR and Scientific American. He has written two other books, The Constant Fire: Beyond the Religion and Science Debate and About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang. Frank is a regular on-air commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered. He was co-founder of National Public Radio 13.7: Cosmos and Culture blog that ran for seven years and garnered tens of millions of distinct views. He also is a contributor to the The NewYork Times, The Atlantic, and other media outlets. Frank was the science consultant for Marvel’s Dr. Strange and has appeared on many popular media outlets such as the“>Joe Rogan Show (two million views), Coast to Coast Radio, and others. He has appeared on a variety of national and international science documentaries such as Mars (Season 2) from National Geographic and The Universe on the History Channel.

    Raymond Ptucha, Associate Professor, Director, Machine Intelligence Lab, Computer Engineering Dept, RIT
    How AI (Artificial Intelligence) is Affecting Us
    Thursday, April 23, 2020; 7:30-9pm

    Recent discoveries in deep learning have revolutionized the AI community, creating crucial breakthroughs in pattern recognition and automated systems. Success in this space spans many domains including object detection, classification, speech recognition, natural language processing, action recognition, and scene understanding. In targeted scenarios, results often surpass the abilities of humans. This talk will take a peek under the hood at how these methods work, and discover how they are changing the landscape of our lives and setting the stage for a huge leap in quality of life.

    Raymond Ptucha is an Associate Professor in Computer Engineering and Director of the Machine Intelligence Laboratory at Rochester Institute of Technology. His research includes machine learning, computer vision, and robotics, with a specialization in deep learning. Ptucha was a research scientist with Eastman Kodak Company where he worked on computational imaging algorithms and was awarded 32 U.S. patents. He graduated from SUNY/Buffalo with a B.S. in Computer Science and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering. He earned a M.S. in Image Science from RIT and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from RIT in 2013. Ptucha was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2010 and his Ph.D. research earned the 2014 Best RIT Doctoral Dissertation Award. Ptucha is a passionate supporter of STEM education, is an NVIDIA certified Deep Learning Institute instructor, Chair of the Rochester area IEEE Signal Processing Society, and an active member of his local IEEE chapter and FIRST robotics organizations.

    Tickets to the Richard C. Shultz Science on the Edge lecture series include admission to the Science Museum and are: $15 for adults; $13 for RMSC Member adults; $11 for students through grade 12 and college students with valid college ID; and $3 for RMSC employees, docents, volunteers, and members of the Rochester Engineering Society. The Science Museum opens at 5:30 p.m., allowing attendees to enjoy Museum exploration, a lecture, and meeting with the speaker(s) in a unique after-hours experience. Seating is limited; pre-registration is encouraged at or by calling 585.697.1942.

    For high-resolution images and additional information, contact Mare Millow, Marketing Communications Manager, RMSC, 585.697.1944,, or visit

    Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) includes the Science Museum, Strasenburgh Planetarium and Cumming Nature Center. Offering experiences at the Museum with more than 200 interactive exhibits, Planetarium with a 65-foot dome and Nature Center on 900 acres, the RMSC stimulates community interest in exploration. In addition, the more than 1.2 million RMSC collection items tell the story of Rochester’s past and present, including its rich history of innovation and invention. RMSC receives major funding from Monroe County, where it is one of the top three most visited attractions serving children and families. For more information about RMSC, visit Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

    Photos left to right: Gebhardt, Novak