URI Honors Colloquium to tackle origins of the universe, life on earth and potential for life on other worlds

10-lecture series, ‘Origins: Life, the Universe and Everything’ starts Sept. 12

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Hakeem Oluseyi

KINGSTON, R.I. — August 24, 2017 — Hakeem Oluseyi has gone through his own amazing evolution, from a gun-carrying teen to an astrophysicist at NASA who co-hosts two TV shows and who appears regularly on CNN, NBC, MSNBC and Fox News.

When he visits the University of Rhode Island Tuesday, Sept. 12, at 7 p.m., he’ll talk about the even more astonishing and mysterious evolution of the universe in his lecture,  “The Birth of Being: From the Big Bang to Babies.”

Oluseyi will lead off the University’s Honors Colloquium, its premier free, public lecture series, “Origins: Life, the Universe and Everything.” All 10 lectures start at 7 p.m. and all but one will be held in Edwards Hall, 64 Upper College Road.  Tickets are no longer available for the second lecture on Sept. 19 with Jane Goodall at the Ryan Center.

Space sciences education manager for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Oluseyi earned his master’s degree and doctorate in physics at Stanford University, and worked at a Silicon Valley company where he conducted research on computer chips, which earned him eight U.S. patents and four European Union patents. His inventions can be found in computer chips used every day. In addition to his position at NASA, Oluseyi is a distinguished research professor in the Department of Physics & Space Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology.

Heather Berlin

Talking about the scientific process and the results of modern science with students and the public around the world is of utmost importance to Oluseyi. He co-hosts Outrageous Acts of Science and How the Universe Works on Discovery Science Channel.

Now in its 54th year, this year’s edition of the colloquium will address such questions as “Where did we come from? How did the universe begin? How did intelligent, rational beings arise? And from such humble beginnings, how did we develop a mind that can ask these big questions?

“Since everything begins with the origin of the universe, it makes sense to start the colloquium with a scientist who can tell a dramatic story, not only about his own beginnings, but about the very beginning of everything,” said Joel Chandlee, one of the colloquium coordinators and professor of cell and molecular biology.

While there will be plenty of talk about the cosmos, the lecture series will also offer speakers who will discuss the origin of life, the evolution of humans and the nature of our unique conscious and unconscious mind.

On Sept. 26, Meave Leakey, a paleoanthropologist, National Geographic Hubbard Medal recipient, director of the Turkana Basin Institute, and research professor at Stony Brook University, will present the Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Women’s Studies Lecture at the colloquium.

“Meave Leakey will bring her unique perspective on fossils that provide evidence of human evolution,” said colloquium coordinator Holly Dunsworth, associate professor of anthropology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

In an attempt to find evidence of the earliest human ancestors, Leakey and her team have concentrated their studies on sites in Kenya that are between 8 and 3 million years old. They discovered a new species and evidence of bipedality (using two feet for locomotion) from 4.2 million years ago.

“Dr. Leakey will talk about how she found these fossils and then once she did, how she determined what they say about evolution,” Dunsworth said.

Alycia Mosley Austin, colloquium coordinator, assistant dean for graduate recruitment and diversity initiatives and associate director for the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program, is especially looking forward to two lectures: Heather Berlin’s talk, “The Dynamic Unconscious Mind,” on Nov. 14 and Anil Seth’s Dec. 5 lecture, “The Nature of Human Consciousness.”

An assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, Berlin conducts research on the neural basis of impulsivity, compulsivity, and emotion with the goal of more targeted treatment. She is also interested in the neural basis of consciousness and dynamic unconscious processes.

Seth, who will discuss human consciousness, is a professor of cognitive and computational neuroscience at the University of Sussex where he is co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.

“Professor Seth combines philosophy and science to examine consciousness, and uses mathematical models,” said Mosley Austin. “He asks, why are we conscious and how can we measure it?

“These lectures will focus on basic science research on the brain,” said Mosley Austin, who wanted to be a neuroscientist since she was 15. “Neuroscience is not just about disease and health; it’s about who we are as humans.”

The other colloquium coordinators joining Chandlee, Dunsworth and Mosley Austin are: Dawn Cardace, associate professor of geosciences, and Albert Kausch, professor of cell and molecular biology and director of the Plant Biotechnology Laboratory.

Sponsors: Honors Program • URI Office of the President  • URI Office of the Provost  • 125th Anniversary Steering Committee • URI Foundation • The Mark and Donna Ross Honors Colloquium Humanities Endowment  • The Thomas Silvia and Shannon Chandley Honors Colloquium Endowment  • URI College of Arts & Sciences  • URI College of Pharmacy  • URI John Hazen White Sr. Center for Ethics and Public Service  • URI Gender and Women’s Studies Program  • URI Office of Community, Equity and Diversity  • URI College of Engineering  •  URI College of the Environment and  Life Sciences  •  URI College of Health Sciences  •  URI College of Business Administration  •  URI College of Nursing  •  URI Division of Student Affairs  •  URI Department of Communications and Marketing  •  URI Department of Publications and Creative Services  •  URI ITS Instructional Technology and Media Services  •  URI Feinstein College of Education and Professional Studies • George and Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience.