Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series

All lectures begin at 4 p.m. in the Bernie Dallas Room, Goodell Building. The lectures are free and open to the public. A reception follows each lecture.

Professor Donald FisherProfessor Donald Fisher

Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Eyes Have It: A Window into the Mind
A common thread links long-standing questions in cognitive science, gerontology, transportation, and health care. Cognitive scientists want to know whether we really need to put aside our cell phones while driving. Gerontologists want to know whether some of our cognitive processes can be spared as we age. Transportation specialists want to know why younger and older drivers crash so often. Health care officials want to know why some 100,000 deaths each year are attributed to medical errors. In seeking answers to these and other questions, we need to understand how to use information that arrives at the eyes in order to shed light on the latent cognitive processes that govern performance. This lecture will show how such an understanding can help answer these questions and why such an understanding is essential in a time when machines (e.g., autonomous vehicles) are seemingly making such understanding ever less necessary.


Professor Duncan IrschickProfessor Duncan Irschick

Department of Biology
Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Animal Attraction: Bioinspiration and Life in 3-D
Nature-inspired solutions are being discovered for some of the most intransigent problems that society faces, such as potential cures for cancer from animal and plants, novel antibiotics, and gecko-inspired adhesives. This “bioinspired” approach applies integrative methods from anatomy, animal function, evolution, and biomechanics to understand how animals evolve novel biomaterials and functions, and how these properties can inspire novel synthetic materials. This lecture will discuss how studies of the form and function of geckos has contributed to a broader understanding of bioinspiration. The lecture will further focus on recent research using 3-D imaging techniques to digitally reconstruct living animals, ranging from lizards to sharks in full 3-D color and in high resolution. This new method of “Digital Life” provides the opportunity to understand biological diversity in a way never before possible.


David ReckhowProfessor David Reckhow

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Monday, February 8, 2017

Drinking Water in Crisis: Lead, Lignin, and Legionella
As events continue to unfold in Flint, Michigan, the nation is more than ever focused on the quality of its drinking water. Environmental engineers have long recognized lead exposure as a significant public health crisis; now there may be strong enough public support to do something about it. However, lead is not the only challenge to public health that the U.S. drinking water sector faces. This lecture will review the current state of knowledge on lead in drinking water and on another critical issue, the presence of carcinogenic disinfection by-products. It will include aspects of engineering, chemistry, public health, social justice, and public policy; prominently feature work being done in the UMass Amherst environmental engineering research labs; and suggest how we might solve pressing water issues and how water will need to be managed in the world’s growing megacities.


Professor Nilanjana DasguptaProfessor Nilanjana Dasgupta

Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences
Monday, March 6, 2017

STEMing the Tide: How Female Professors and Peers Can Encourage Young Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
The choice to pursue a given professional path may feel free but is often constrained by subtle social cues about who does and doesn’t “belong there.” This lecture will show how such constraints can be lifted to allow students real freedom to pursue any academic and professional path, especially ones where their group is underrepresented. It will review highlights from a decade of research identifying people and environments in high-achieving academic settings that act as “social vaccines” to inoculate young women’s self-confidence, motivation, and persistence, protecting them against negative stereotypes. The presentation will conclude by showcasing evidence-based remedies that may be leveraged to recruit and retain more women in STEM courses, majors, and careers, thereby increasing and diversifying the STEM workforce for the 21st century.


Christian AppyProfessor Christian Appy

Department of History
Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Atomic Origins of America’s National Security State: How Nuclear Weapons Produced an Imperial Presidency and Degraded Democracy
From the Manhattan Project to the Global War on Terror, nuclear weapons have had a pernicious impact on American political culture. The secrecy and concentrated power under which the first atomic weapons were created provided a model for the post–World War II permanent national security state, presided over by presidents invested with unprecedented power. Their exclusive authority to produce and use atomic weapons—codified by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946—led to further expansions of presidential powers not conferred by the constitution. The authority to launch globe-threatening weapons has led to a wide range of additional assertions of power unaccountable to the public or its elected representatives, including covert overthrows of foreign governments, secret bombings of foreign nations, unilateral abdication of treaties, warrantless surveillance of American citizens, and routine circumvention of Congress’s constitutional power to declare war. This lecture will argue that nuclear weapons are inherently undemocratic and must be abolished before we can begin dismantling the national security state and restoring genuinely representative government.