RNA Club (4N-20 AA) and Gamow lectures, from Physics, to Geo-Chemisty and Biology-25 nobeL

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the RNA Club create ideas, between meetings the members mailed letters and preprints of articles suggesting new concepts and ideas  See [2], James Watson Genes, Girls, and Gamow …postulated that a nucleotide code consisting of three letters would be enough to define all 20 amino acids (concept of «codons«,   RNA_Tie_Club. Table of GenCod (4x4x):

PHE Phys.Chemist Gunther Stent (28.3.24–7.08[1]) SER Biologist Harold Gordon TYR Bio-Pessimist Francis Crick CYS Biochemist Archivist MartynYcas Theoretic.PhMax Delbrück TRY
LEU Physicist Edward Teller PRO BiOptimist James Watson HIS  Chemist Melvin Calvin (11-97)  GLN  Biochemist Alex Dounce ARG Biochemist Alexander Rich
ISO Biochemist Norman Simons Phys-Math  NicholasMetropolis MET THR Theoretical Chemist Leslie Orgel ASN Math.Biophysicist Robert Ledley Biochemist Erwin Chargaff LYS Bi (SER— Gordon ARGA.Rich )*
VAL Biologist Sydney Brenner* ALA Synthesizer George Gamow ASP Phys. Chemist Paul Doty    Robley Williams e-Microscopist GLU GLY Physicist Richard Feynman

James Watson Genes, Girls, and Gamow …2002 …is the marvelous chronicle of those pursuits. Watson effortlessly glides between his heartbreaking and sometimes hilarious debacles in the field of love and his heady inquiries in the field of science. He also reflects with touching candor on some of science’s other titans, from fellow Nobelists Linus Pauling and the incorrigible Richard Feynman to Russian physicist George Gamow, who loved whiskey, limericks, and card tricks as much as he did molecules and genes. What emerges is a refreshingly human portrait of a group of geniuses and a candid, often surprising account of how science is done. Last:  Role of oxidants in disease[In 2014 Watson published a paper in The Lancet suggesting that biological oxidants may have a different role than is thought in diseases including diabetes, dementia, heart disease and cancer. Watson thinks the root of that inflammation, as type 2 diabetes is usually thought to be caused by oxidation in the body that causes inflammation and kills off pancreatic cells, is different: «a lack of biological oxidants, not an excess». See critics[68] and that it can also be expanded to why a lack of oxidants can result in cancer and its progression.[69] Watson’s former doctoral students subsequently became notable in their own right including, Mario Capecchi,[2] Bob Horvitz,[3] Charles Kurland,[3] Peter D. Moore[3] and Joan Steitz.[4]  postdoctoral students and other interns including Ewan Birney,[5] Ronald W. Davis,[3] postdoc  [7][8] John Tooze,  Phillip Allen Sharp [3] and Richard J. Roberts (postdoc).[6]

  1. Watson, JD. Type 2 diabetes as a redox disease. Lancet. 2014; 383: 841–843
  2. Watson J. Oxidants, antioxidants and the current incurability of metastatic cancers. Open Biol. 2013, 3 (1), 120144.

Now we propose to make a «third Cambridge» and write a letter to the son of Gamow and Watson (I  am the author of http://e-cambridge.info, I would like to organize discussion of ideas and publications of Gamov’s works, Gamow’s center in the post-Soviet space, and learn from you: …

*Sydney Brenner [6] …authored a regular column («Loose Ends») in the journal Current Biology.[30][31]-.[32] and is now[when?] a collectors’ item. Brenner wrote «A Life In Science»[33]  BioMed Central.  great number of students and colleagues his ideas have stimulated.[34][35][36][37]
prove  all overlapping genetic coding sequences impossible. This insight separated the coding function from structural constraints as proposed in a clever code by George Gamow. This led Francis Crick to propose the concept of the adaptor or as it is now known «transfer RNA (tRNA)». The physical separation between the anticodonand the amino acid on a tRNA is the basis for the unidirectional flow of information in coded biological systems. This is commonly known as the central dogma of molecular biology i.e. that information flows from nucleic acid to protein and never from protein to nucleic acid. Following this adaptor insight, Brenner proposed the concept of a messenger RNA[26] … triplet nature of the code of protein translation through the Crick, Brenner, Barnett, Watts-Tobin et al. experiment of 1961,[27] which discovered frameshift mutations … elucidation of the nature of the genetic code. L. Singapore, first computer matrix analysis of nucleic acids using TRAC. Crick, Brenner, Klug and Pieczenik returned to their early work on deciphering the genetic code with a pioneering paper on the origin of protein synthesis, where constraints on mRNA and tRNA co-evolved allowing for a five-base interaction with a flip of the anticodon loop, and thereby creating a triplet code translating system without requiring a ribosome…partially overlapping code. This is the only published paper in scientific history with three independent Nobel laureates collaborating as authors [4]. Caenorhabditis elegans

Member Training RNA Tie Club Designation Officer designation
George Gamow 04-68 Physicist ALA Synthesizer
Alexander Rich Biochemist ARG Lord Privy Seal of the British Cabinet
Paul Doty Physical Chemist ASP
Robert Ledley Mathematical Biophysicist ASN
Martynas Ycas Biochemist CYS Archivist
Robley Williams Electron Microscopist GLU
Alexander Dounce Biochemist GLN
Richard Feynman Theoretical Physicist GLY  
Melvin Calvin Chemist HIS
Norman Simons Biochemist ISO
Edward Teller Physicist LEU
Erwin Chargaff Biochemist LYS
Nicholas Metropolis Physicist, Mathematic MET
Gunther Stent Physical Chemist PHE
James Watson Biologist PRO Optimist
Harold Gordon Biologist SER
Leslie Orgel Theoretical Chemist THR
Max Delbrück Theoretical Physicist TRY  
Francis Crick Biologist TYR Pessimist
Sydney Brenner* Biologist VAL
  1. *«Genomes Tell Us About the Past: Sydney Brenner». Ibiology.org «The Sydney Brenner papers» «2002 Nobel Prize»«Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience». University of the WitwatersrandJump up^ ‘My Life in Science’, with Lewis Wolpert, BioMed Central, 2001;   István Hargittai; Magdolna Hargittai (2006-10-23). Candid Science VI: More Conversations with Famous Scientists. Books.google.com. p. 32. Retrieved 2016-12-01.

Rich was the founder of Alkermes (director 1987- Repligen Corporation, a biopharm, Profectus BioSciencesGenomics.In 1963, Rich discovered polysomes: clusters of ribosomes which read one strand of mRNA simultaneously.[5] In 1979, Rich and co-workers at MIT grew a crystal of Z-DNA.[6] the first crystal structure of any form of DNA. the junction box of B- and Z-DNA (10/2005 Nature[7]) that allow the flip back to the canonical B-form of DNA.

Gamow lectures covered a wide range of topics, from Physics, to Geosciences, to Chemisty and Biology, and much more. *Denotes Nobel Prize Winners.

•  2015 Jane Goodall — video available online
•  2014 David Wineland* — video available online
•  2013 Brian Greene
•  2012 Adam Riess* — video available online
  2011 Frank Wilczek* — video available online
  2010 Richard Alley
  2009 Joy Hirsch
  2008 Kerry Emanuel
  2007 Lisa Randall
  2006 Geoffrey W. Marcy
  2004 Paul C. Sereno
  2004 Robert P.Kirshner
  2003 Thomas Cech*
  2002 Richard N. Zare
  2001 Eric R. Kandel*
  2000 Sir Martin Rees
• 1999 Robert D. Ballard
  1998 Stanley B. Prusiner*
• 1997 Edward C. Stone
• 1996 John R. Horner
• 1995 Eric Cornell* and Carl Wieman*
 1995 Sylvia A. Earle
• 1994 Susan Solomon
• 1993 Norman F. Ramsey*
 1992 Norman Myers
• 1991 Freeman J. Dyson
• 1991 Fang Li-Zhi
• 1990 Leon M. Lederman*
• 1990 J. William Schopf
• 1989 Stephen H. Schneider
1987 Rosalyn S. Yalow*
1987 Abdus Salam*
1986 William A. Fowler*
1985 Luis & Walter Alvarez*
1984 Paul Berg*
• 1983 Paul B. MacCready
• 1982 Stanislaw M. Ulam
1981 Linus Pauling*
1980 Paul A. M. Dirac*
1980 Arno A. Penzias*
1979 Melvin Calvin*
• 1978 Lyman Spitzer Jr.
1978 James D. Watson*
1976 T.D. Lee*
1975 Hans Bethe*
1975 Ivar Giaever*
1974 Marshall W. Nirenberg*
• 1973 Geoffrey Burbidge
1972 Eugene P. Wigner*
• 1971 Victor F. Weisskopf

Fiftieth George Gamow Memorial Lecture Dr. Jane Goodall «Sowing the Seeds of Hope» October 1, 2015 Watch the Lecture- the world of the Gombe chimpanzees and her latest publication, “Seeds of Hope”, dives into the world of plants, exploring interesting anomalies about the natural world and how we can protect the place we call home.

Forty-Ninth George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Dr. David Wineland  2012 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Fellow, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, Colorado
Professor Adjoint, Department of Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder

«Quantum Computers and Schrödinger’s Cat»

April 1, 2014 a

Abstract: As the size of computer logic gates and memory elements approaches the atomic scale, we are forced to deal with the constraints imposed by the laws of quantum mechanics. However, we now also know that a computer based on quantum mechanics could solve certain problems that are intractable on conventional computers. Interestingly, if this device could be made on a large scale it would have the same characteristics as Erwin Schrödinger’s famous 1935 hypothetical cat that could be both dead and alive at the same time. In part, I will discuss how a quantum computer might be realized with a collection of atomic ions.

A video recording of the lecture Forty-Ninth Gamow Memorial Lecture, «Quantum Computers and Schrödinger’s Cat» presented by Dr. David Wineland from Colorado Physics on Vimeo.


Forty-Eighth George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Dr. Brian Greene Professor of Physics and Mathematics Columbia University  

«The Hidden Reality: From Unification to the Multiverse» 2013 a

Abstract: Ever since Einstein, physicists have been seeking a unified description of nature’s forces. In this talk, which presumes no background in physics, we will follow the trail toward’s nature’s deepest laws and examine some of the potential—albeit hypothetical—consequences, including the strange possibility that our universe may not be the only universe.


Dr. Brian Greene is professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University and co-founder and director of the Institute for Strings, Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

He is widely recognized for his groundbreaking discoveries in the field of superstring theory, including the co-discovery of mirror symmetry, which launched a vibrant field of research in physics, and mathematics. He is credited with the discovery of topology change, which showed that unlike Einstein’s General Relativity, in string theory the fabric of space can tear apart.

He is well known for his lucid and entertaining lectures and writing for general audiences, including The Elegant Universe, a Pulitzer Prize finalist that has sold more than one million copies. His latest book, The Hidden Reality, an exploration of the science of parallel universes, debuted at number 4 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Professor Greene has had many media appearances, from Charlie Rose to David Letterman, and this three-part NOVA special based on The Elegant Universe won an Emmy Award and a Peabody Award, and the four-part NOVA special based on The Fabric of the Cosmos was nominated for a 2012 Emmy Award.

For more information on Dr. Greene and his work, please visit his Web site.


Adam Riess PortraitForty-Seventh George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Dr. Adam Riess Professor of Astronomy and Physics, Johns Hopkins University
Space Telescope Science Institute  
«Supernovae and the Discovery of the Accelerating Universe» 2012

47th George Gamow Memorial Lecture, «Supernovae and the Discovery of the Accelerating Universe» By Professor Adam Riess from Colorado Physics on Vimeo.


Abstract: In 1929 Edwin Hubble discovered that our Universe is expanding. Eighty years later, the Space Telescope which bears his name is being used to study an even more surprising phenomenon, that the expansion is speeding up. The origin of this effect is not known, but is broadly attributed to a type of «dark energy» first posited to exist by Albert Einstein and now dominating the mass-energy budget of the Universe. I will describe how our team discovered the acceleration of the Universe and why understanding the nature of dark energy presents one of the greatest remaining challenges in astrophysics and cosmology.


Dr. Adam Riess was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, «for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the Universe through observations of distant supernovae». His research involves measurements of the cosmological framework with supernovae (exploding stars) and Cepheids (pulsating stars). His work has been identified by NASA as the #1 Achievement of the Hubble Space Telescope to date.

An alumnus of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Riess is a Gilman Scholar, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a MacArthur Fellow, and a recipient of the 2011 Einstein Medal.

For more information on Dr. Riess and his work, please visit his Web site.

Frank Wilczek Portrait

Forty-Sixth George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Dr. Frank Wilczek

Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2004 Nobel Laureate in Physics

«Anticipating a New Golden Age: A Vision and Its Fiery Trial at the Large Hadron Collider«, 2011 

Professor Frank Wilczek is considered one of the worlds’ most eminent theoretical physicists. He is known, among other things for the discovery of asymptotic freedom, the development of quantum chromodynamics, the invention of axions and the discovery and exploitation of new forms of quantum statistics (anyons). When only 21 years old and a graduate student at Princeton University, in work with David Gross he defined the properties of color gluons, which hold nuclei together. Professor Wilczek received his B.S. degree from the University of Chicago and his Ph.D from Princeton University. He taught at Princeton from 1974-1981. During the period 1981-88, he was the Chancellor Robert Huttenback Professor of Physics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the first permanent member of the National Science Foundation’s Institute for Theoretical Physics. In the fall of 2000, he moved from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, where he was the J.R. Oppenheimer Professor, to the MIT Department of Physics, where he is the Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics. Since 2002, he has also been an Adjunct Professor in the Centro de Estudios Cientificos of Valdivia Chile.

For more information on Dr. Wilczek and his work, please visit this Web site.

Frank Wilczek — 46th Annual Gamow Lecture from Colorado Physics on Vimeo.

Richard Alley Portrait

Forty-Fifth George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Dr. Richard Alley

Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences and Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute Pennsylvania State University

«Learning While Burning: Peak (whale) Oil, Changing Climate and Our Future» 2010

Dr. Richard Alley is Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences and Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, where he has worked since 1988. He was graduated with the Ph.D. in 1987 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and with M.Sc. (1983) and B.Sc. (1980) degrees from Ohio State University-Columbus, all in Geology. Dr. Alley teaches, and conducts research on the climatic records, flow behavior, and sedimentary deposits of large ice sheets, to aid in prediction of future changes in climate and sea level. His experience includes three field seasons in Antarctica, eight in Greenland, and three in Alaska. His awards include election to the US National Academy of Sciences, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, the Revelle Medal of the American Geophysical Union and the Horton Award of their Hydrology Section and Fellowship in the Union, the Seligman Crystal of the International Glaciological Society, the first Agassiz Medal of the European Geosciences Union Cryospheric Section, Fellowship in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the US Presidential Young Investigator Award, the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America, the Easterbrook Award of their Quaternary Geology and Geomorphology Division and Fellow in the Society, the American Geological Institute Award for Outstanding Contribution to Public Understanding of the Geosciences, and at Penn State, the Eisenhower Teaching Award, the Evan Pugh Professorship, the Faculty Scholar Medal in Science, and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Wilson Teaching Award, Mitchell Innovative Teaching Award and Faculty Mentoring Award.

Dr. Alley has served on a variety of advisory panels and steering committees, including chairing the National Research Council’s Panel on Abrupt Climate Change and participating in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which was co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize), and has provided requested advice to numerous government officials in multiple administrations including a US Vice President, the President’s Science Advisor, and committees and individual members of the US Senate and the House of Representatives. He has published over 190 refereed papers, and is a ‘highly cited’ scientist as indexed by the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI). His popular account of climate change and ice cores, The Two-Mile Time Machine, was chosen science book of the year by Phi Beta Kappa in 2001. Dr. Alley is happily married with two daughters in college, two cats still at home, two bicycles, and a pair of soccer cleats.

Abstract about the Lecture:

You, and Einstein, and Lincoln, each use or used about as much energy inside as a 100-watt light bulb, but your share of total energy use in the US is about 100 times that much, with almost all of that «outside» energy from fossil fuels that will run out. We have high scientific confidence that learning to use alternatives while burning will make life easier for our grandchildren, but that burning before learning will make their lives harder. Testing this science against the history of Earth’s climate motivates faster learning. Fortunately, we are surrounded by more options than we’ll ever need, and we already have our learner’s permit.

Joy Hirsch PortraitForty-Forth George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Dr. Joy Hirsch

Director of the fMRI Research Center at Columbia University

«Dialogues Within the Specialized Brain»  2009

Joy Hirsch is a professor of Functional Neuroradiology, Neuroscience, and Psychology at Columbia University in New York City. She is also the Director of the Program for Imaging & Cognitive Sciences, PICS, a university-wide core imaging facility to study brain and mind. Her Imaging Center aims to apply advanced and developing imaging technologies including functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, to observe both the structures of the brain and their internal connections as well as to investigate fundamental processes that underlie brain-driven functions.

Hirsch’s research focuses on the investigation of the brain circuitry that underlies cognition, perception, and action. She studies conscious and subconscious neural processes that mediate emotion and cognition in healthy individuals and in patients with psychiatric, neurological, and developmental disorders.

Her research on language was the first to show that the mechanisms involved in acquiring a second language occur in a part of the brain separate from parts used in learning a primary language. She and her group have also pioneered studies of obesity and eating disorders, autism, vision, and inter-brain communications.

“Functional imaging is really a bridge between the brain and the mind that neuroscientists have dreamed of,” says Hirsch. “It has revolutionized and revitalized neuroscience.”

Hirsch received her Doctorate in Psychology from Columbia University. Prior to joining the Columbia faculty, she was a professor at Yale University School of Medicine in the Neuroscience program and the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and then founded the first fMRI laboratory at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City prior to being recruited to Columbia University as Director of the mind and brain imaging program.


Forty-Third George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Dr. Kerry Emanuel

Professor of Atmospheric Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

«Is Global Warming Affecting Hurricanes?» 2008 

Dr. Kerry Emanuel is a professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he has been on the faculty since 1981, after spending three years as a faculty member at UCLA. Professor Emanuel’s research interests focus on tropical meteorology and climate, with a specialty in hurricane physics. His interests also include cumulus convection, and advanced methods of sampling the atmosphere in aid of numerical weather prediction. He is the author or co-author of over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and two books, including Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes, recently released by Oxford University Press and aimed at a general audience, and What We Know about Climate Change, published by the MIT Press.

Dr. Emanuel earned his S.B. in Earth and Planetary Sciences from MIT in 1976 and his Ph.D. in Meteorology from MIT in 1978. At present, his MIT appointments are professor in the Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate, and professor and director of the Center for Meteorology and Physical Oceanography. Among his awards are the 2007 David B. Stone Medal from New England Aquarium, as well as numerous honors from the American Meteorological Society including 2007 Bernhard Haurwitz Memorial Lecturer, 2007 Louis J. Barttan Author’s Award, 2007 Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, 1995 Fellow, 1992 Banner I. Miller Award (with Richard Rotunno) and 1986 Meisinger Award.

From 1989-1992 Dr. Emanuel served on the board of the Boulder-based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. From 1999-2002 he was a member of the Council of the American Meteorological Society and since 2003 he has served on the Board of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the National Academy. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2007.

An up-to-date publication list can be found on his Web site.


Lisa Randall Portrait

Forty-Second George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Lisa Randall

Professor of Physics, Harvard University

«Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions» 2007 

Do we inhabit a three-dimensional universe floating in a four dimensional space? What if the extra dimensions required by string theory were not curled up and unobservably small, but unfurled and vast, extending forever? Could an invisible universe only a tiny fraction of an inch apart in another dimension explain phenomena that we see today in our world?

These are among the questions that we will consider in this lecture about extra dimensions of space.

Lisa Randall studies particle physics and cosmology at Harvard University , where she is professor of theoretical physics. Her research concerns elementary particles and fundamental forces, and has involved the study a wide variety of models, the most recent involving extra dimensions of space. She is currently working out the implications of extra-dimensional models for experiments, particularly those that will take place at the L arge H adron C ollider ( LHC ). She has also worked on supersymmetry, Standard Model observables, cosmological inflation, baryogenesis, grand unified theories, general relativity, and string theory. Professor Randall recently completed a book entitled Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions , which was included in the New York Times’ of 100 notable books of 2005.

Professor Randall earned a BA in 1983, and obtained her Ph.D. in particle physics in 1987 from Harvard University . She held professorships at MIT and Princeton University before returning to Harvard in 2001. Professor Randall is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a fellow of the American Physical Society, and is a past winner of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Young Investigator Award, a DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator Award, and the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. In 2003, she received the Premio Caterina Tomassoni e Felice Pietro Chisesi Award, from the University of Rome , La Sapienza. In autumn, 2004, she was the most cited theoretical physicist of the previous five years. In 2006, she received the Klopsted Award from the American Society of Physics Teachers (AAPT). Prof Randall was featured in Seed Magazine’s “2005 Year in Science Icons” and in Newsweek’s Who’s Next in 2006 as «one of the most promising theoretical physicists of her generation.» She has helped organize numerous conferences and has been on the editorial board of several major theoretical physics journals. her Web site.


Geoff Marcy Portrait

Forty-First George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Geoffrey W. Marcy

Professor of Astronomy, University of California, Berkeley
Adjunct Professor of Physics & Astronomy, San Francisco State University

«New Worlds, Yellowstone, and Life in the Universe» 2006 

Over 175 planets have been discovered orbiting other stars. Some planets are scorching hot while others travel in strange, elongated orbits. A multitude of planets around some stars engage in harmonic resonances, with planets flinging themselves back and forth in rhythmic oscillations. All of these new planetary systems shine a spotlight back on our Solar System in comparison. Is our home planetary system a common or rare type? Are habitable worlds, such as the Earth, a rarity in the cosmos? Astronomers are just on the threshold of finding other rocky planets, and habitable worlds are rising up over the discovery horizon. Already, we can predict the diversity of environments on other worlds, and some may be very different from the conditions on Earth. Nonetheless, life may thrive despite harsh and bizarre conditions. But the search for intelligent life has come up empty, and possible reasons are emerging.

Dr. Marcy’s research has focused on the detection of extrasolar planets and brown dwarfs. His team has discovered 110 extrasolar planets (as of Jan 2006), allowing study of their masses and orbits. Among the planets discovered are the first multiple-planet system, the first Saturn-mass planet, the first Neptune-mass planet, and the first transiting planet. Ongoing work is designed to study the mass distribution of planets and the eccentrcity of their orbits. The 5-year goal is to find Jupiter analogs at 5 AU. Dr. Marcy is participating in the Berkeley’s new «Center for Integrative Planetary Science», designed to study the formation, geophysics, chemistry and evolution of planets.


Thirty-Ninth George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Robert P. Kirshner

Clowes Professor of Science Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

«A Blunder Undone: The Accelerating Universe»

March 30, 2004

Exploding stars halfway across the observable universe reveal a surprising fact. Judging the distances to distant supernovae from their apparent brightness, the rate of cosmic expansion has been speeding up in the last 5 billion years. While gravitation acts to slow cosmic expansion, these observations require something else to make the universe accelerate. We call this the “dark energy”, though, in truth, we do not know what it is. Perhaps it is the modern version of Einstein’s notorious cosmological constant, famously described by George Gamow as Einstein’s “greatest blunder.”

This result was a big surprise to people working on the problem. Early in 1998, I wrote an e-mail to the members of our “High-Z Supernova Team” saying, “In your heart you know this is wrong, though your head tells you [that] you don’t care and you’re just reporting the observations.”

One reason to be wary was Einstein’s bad experience with this idea, invented to make a static universe. Did we think we were smarter than Einstein? Einstein never liked the cosmological constant, as he wrote, “I am unable to believe that such an ugly thing should be realized in nature.” It became a kind of theoretical poison ivy—touched only by the unwary for about 65 years. But the data were leading us to reconsider. As Adam Riess wrote to the rest of the team, “Approach these results not with your heart or your head, but with your eyes. We are observers, after all!”

Technology is a lot better now: we use fast computers to scan digital images of the sky and pick out the objects that change. We’ve developed a pipeline system that pops out the supernova candidates about an hour after we take the images. This is important because supernovae are like fish—after about 3 days, they begin to lose their freshness. If you want to see the peak of the light curve prompt action is essential.

In 1998, we saw the signature of cosmic acceleration in supernovae at redshift 0.5: light that had been en route for about 5 billion years. Now we’re using the Hubble Space Telescope to search for even fainter and more distant supernovae at redshift 1.5, roughly 9 billion light years away when we expect deceleration from dense dark matter.

We would like to understand better the nature of the dark energy. Is it really Einstein’s cosmological constant, retrieved from the dumpster of history, smoothed out and made new again? Or is it some more general “quintessence” whose energy density changes over time. Better measurements will show whether the dark energy comes from a source that is constant, or one that changes subtly as the universe expands. Either way will be very interesting.

Faint light from distant stellar catastrophes traces the history of cosmic expansion. It is not what we expected to see. The universe contains more parts than the simplest universe we could imagine: atoms that glow, atoms that don’t, neutrinos with mass, and another dark matter particle with more mass, something that made the universe expand exponentially in the era of inflation and something more that is making the universe accelerate now. Perhaps some day in the future all of this will seem essential, but at the moment, it seems we live in a recklessly extravagant universe, with extra parts whose function we do not yet fathom.

Robert P. Kirshner is Clowes Professor of Science at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Born in Sudbury, MA in 1949, he obtained his A.B. from Harvard College in 1970 and his Ph.D from the California Institute of Technology in 1975. Kirshner was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1998 and elected President of the American Astronomical Society in 2003. At Harvard, he teaches a large course for students who are not science concentrators, “Matter in the Universe.” He is also Master of Quincy House, one of Harvard’s undergraduate residences. In 2003, Princeton University Press published Kirshner’s popular-level book, “The Extravagant Universe: exploding stars, dark energy, and the accelerating cosmos.”


Thirty-Eighth George Gamow Memorial Lecture

Thomas Cech

Nobel Laureate, President, Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Distinguished Professor, University of Colorado

«From Catalytic RNA to Howard Hughes»

Delivered in 2003

In 1978 I arrived in Boulder to take up my first faculty position, in the Department of Chemistry at CU. The main attractants were a smart, friendly group of colleagues who were intent on propelling the department into national prominence, and the breathtaking mountain environment. I began to teach undergraduates, both in the classroom and in my laboratory, obtained federal funding for my research, and began to explore the expression of an abundant set of genes in a simple pond organism, Tetrahymena.

I chose to launch a research project distinct from my postdoctoral work in Cambridge, Massachusetts, because I thought this unlikely creature might provide special insights on molecular biology: the way that genetic information is copied from DNA into RNA. I was not disappointed. My group of students and I watched the RNA being synthesized in the test tube, and also spliced — an intervening sequencer or «intron» removed and the flanking RNA sequenced ligated together. The mechanism of the RNA splicing was intriguing, the protein enzyme that catalyzed the process being exceptionally elusive. Eventually, we showed that there was no protein enzyme. The RNA spliced itself, providing the first example of a biochemical reaction catalyzed by RNA.

Unknown to me, the scientific world had been waiting for this discovery. If RNA could provide both heritable «information» and catalytic function, then one could envision a vastly simplified scenario for the origins of life based on RNA, replicating itself. Furthermore, perhaps the roles of RNA in contemporary biology had been underestimated? And indeed, research groups around the world reported first a few other examples of catalytic RNA, then dozens, and then many hundreds.

An opportunity to make an impact at a national and international level came with the offer to head the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1999. The Institute, founded by the aviator-industrialist Howard Hughes in 1953, became the recipient of much of the Hughes fortune. Well before my time, the Institute had earned the reputation for supporting the highest quality biomedical research and innovative science education. I now work at HHMI headquarters in the Washington D.C. area and commute to Boulder to oversee my research group. While this may seem like an enormous change, I’ve been able to continue two of the same activities I began in 1978 — working to improve undergraduate education and carrying out RNA research.

Feynman (/ˈfnmən/; May 11, 1918 – February 15, 1988) theoretical physicist  of quantum electrodynamics, in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, in particle he proposed the parton model, jointly with Julian Schwinger and Shin’ichirō Tomonaga, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. at the CalTech.

Feynman developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the behavior of subatomic particles, known as Feynman diagrams. In a 1999 poll of 130 leading physicists worldwide by the British journal Physics World he was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time.[1]

He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and  the Rogers Commission,  the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing and introducing the concept of nanotechnology, including a 1959 talk called There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom, The Feynman Lectures on Physics. his semi-autobiographical books Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! and What Do You Care What Other People Think? and books written about him, such as Tuva or Bust! and Genius: by James Gleick.

References:  Jump up:a b c The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA.  Watson, J. D. (2002). Genes, Girls, and Gamow: After the Double Helix. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-41283-2. OCLC 47716375.  Avoid boring people: lessons from a life in science, pg 112

  1. ^ J:a b c Kay L. (2000.) Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code, Stanford ..^
  2. J^ Brenner, Sydney: On the Impossibility of All Overlapping Triplet Codes, 1956,
    in PNAS USA. 1957 August 15; 43(8): 687–694.
  3. J^ Crick, Francis, and Brenner, Sydney: Some Footnotes on Protein Synthesis: A Note for the RNA Tie Club. December 1959. Crick, Francis: What Mad Pursuit 1988, pg 95-96.
  4. Haslinger, Kiryn. Max Delbruck 100. HT Winter 2007.
  5. Jump up^ Horowitz NH. «Review of Kay, The Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology«. Biophys J. 1994 Mar;66(3 Pt 1):929–30.
Max  Delbrück, ForMemRS[3] (September 4, 1906 – March 9, 1981), a German–American biophysicist, after physics predict  Delbrück scattering[6][7][8], helped launch the molecular biology research program in the late 1930s. He stimulated physical scientists‘ interest into biology, especially as to basic research to physically explain genes, mysterious at the time. Formed in 1945 and led by Delbrück along with Salvador Luria and Alfred Hershey, the Phage Group  shared the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine «for their discoveries concerning the replication mechanism and the genetic structure of viruses».[5] Max Delbrück at Encyclopædia Britannica , Nobel prize webpage    Delbrück page at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory website. Letter from Jim Watson – Delbrück was instrumental in getting fellowship support for Watson so that he could stay in Cambridge, play tennis, and discover the rules of nucleotide base pairing in DNA. This is a letter from Watson to Delbrück that describes the discovery. Key Participants: Max DelbrückLinus Pauling and the Race for DNA: A Documentary History