Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series
Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series
Established in 1974, the annual Distinguished Faculty Lecture is dedicated to acknowledging the work of our most esteemed and accomplished faculty members. The lecture series not only honors individual faculty members and their achievements, but also celebrates the values of academic excellence that we share as a community. Each honoree is presented with the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest recognition bestowed upon faculty by the campus.
Current Lectures 2021
Romantic Apartheid? Online Dating as an Agent for Social Change
October 19, 2021
How do racial attitudes shape our most intimate interactions and decisions? Professor Lundquist shows how the conflux of individualization, consumerism, and fast-moving technologies gives rise to a unique form of digital sexual racism—one that disguises enduring racial discrimination in intimate life as merely random individual preference. She argues that such preferences are not individual at all; in fact, they are patterned and predictable, a reflection of the nation’s long history of anti-miscegenation law.
Dating platforms are one of the only contexts left in modern U.S. society where it remains acceptable to check off racial preferences and exclusions. Along with the hidden role of matching algorithms, we see a systematic segregation of what could otherwise have been a much more racially integrated cyberspace. In this lecture, based on her recent book coauthored with two UMass graduates, Lundquist reveals the dynamics at play in digital dating spaces—and suggest pathways forward for change.
Professor, College of Information and Computer Sciences
Face Recognition Today: We Can Minimize its Risks
November 15, 2021
In just a few years, face recognition technology has gone from a curiosity to widely used applications. However, with this deployment has come a host of problems—from insulting classifications to false arrests and violations of privacy. Some argue that it is too late to solve these problems. Others want to ban all face recognition software.
Professor Learned-Miller sees a path to minimizing the societal risks of face recognition technology. A longtime leader in computational face recognition research, he also works in the forefront of efforts to deploy it reasonably and safely in the world. In this lecture, he will propose establishing a federal regulatory agency, much like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that must approve the use of any face recognition application. He will look at the FDA’s successful management of both pharmaceuticals and medical devices and argue that this is the logical solution for face recognition technologies.
Kristen M. DeAngelis
Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology
Healthy Soils: Our Hope for a Warming World
December 8, 2021
Climate change is the most important problem facing people today, and an important solution lies hidden in plain sight: soil. Soils are microbial super-organisms, and in this lecture, Dr. DeAngelis will give listeners a greater depth of appreciation for soil, as well as the means to foster its stewardship through composting, planting, and support for sustainable agriculture.
Dr. DeAngelis leads a team of researchers who integrate microbial, biochemical, and bioinformatics tools to understand how soils form and degrade due to climate change. Her lab research began with a long-term field manipulation experiment, in which a forest field site has been exposed to warming for 30 years, allowing a peek into a future of climate change. Her current work employs model soils, a culture collection of thousands of strains, and a suite of computational tools to clarify the role of microbial diversity and bacterial activity in soil health and carbon storage.
Nicholas G. Reich
Professor of Biostatistics
How to Forecast a Pandemic: Lessons from COVID-19
October 5, 2021
Nicholas Reich leads a team of researchers whose ensemble-model infectious disease forecasts have been among the nation’s most reliable at predicting COVID-19 deaths. His expertise has placed him in high demand among federal agencies, data science researchers, and national media.
In this lecture, Professor Reich will provide an overview of infectious disease forecasting, detailing how for the last decade public health officials in the U.S. have worked with academic partners to improve our understanding about how outbreaks can be forecasted. He will describe his research group's close collaboration with the CDC and over 100 research groups from around the world to create operational forecasting systems for COVID-19. Finally, he will explain insights that we have gleaned from these projects about the predictability of epidemics and some of the key challenges facing this still-emerging field of inquiry. These are matters of global importance where Reich is at the forefront of research and debate.
Professor Felipe Salles
The New Immigrant Experience: The Creation of a Multi-Media Jazz Work
April 28, 2021
Social justice themes have always been part of the creative process for jazz musicians. Following in the tradition of Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige, John Coltrane’s “Alabama,” and Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, The New Immigrant Experience highlights the plight of undocumented immigrants protected by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), also known as the Dreamers. This immersive, concert-length multimedia work interweaves pre-recorded video interview excerpts into a large jazz ensemble live performance.
This lecture will focus on the creative process behind The New Immigrant Experience, from conducting the video interviews, identifying and creating the musical themes, and transcribing the speech patterns of the Dreamers, to designing the overall concepts for the video and live music aspects of the piece. Musical examples and their connection with the video excerpts will be analyzed and discussed during this talk.
Distinguished Faculty Lectures 2020
Professor Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson
Why the Menstrual Cycle Matters
October 7, 2020
Though nearly half of the world’s population menstruates, very little is known about how the menstrual cycle is associated with other aspects of health. However, exciting new evidence suggests that the timing of someone’s final menstrual period and whether they experience premenstrual symptoms in their 20s, 30s and 40s may predict their health after menopause. In this talk, Professor Elizabeth Bertone-Johnson will discuss how these aspects of the menstrual cycle may predict long-term risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. If it can be determined whether these menstrual-related factors may be early sentinels of future disease, this knowledge can be used to identify young women to target for early intervention. Bertone-Johnson will present results from her research investigating how modifiable factors such as diet, smoking, weight gain, and behavioral health play important roles in these relations, and discuss how improving health behaviors in adolescence and young adulthood may have lasting positive impacts on women’s health.
Professor Panos Kevrekidis
Nonlinear Waves and their Applications: From Oceans to Planets, From Lasers to Quantum Fluids, From Origami to Pandemics
November 10, 2020
In this talk, Professor Panos Kevrekidis will explore a number of ideas about nonlinear waves and their implications to a diverse array of fields: from mathematics to physics, engineering, computing, biology, and even (a little) art. He will begin with some history from 18th and 19th century fluid waves in channels and oceans, associated engineering observations, and artistic renderings. Next, he will share an intriguing story of (non) equity and inclusion around the first computer in post-atomic-bomb Los Alamos National Lab. The presentation will then pass through some Nobel Prize winning physical ideas related to the laser, quantum fluids, and some of their recent variations pursued experimentally including here in Amherst. Finally, the audience will learn how in the past few years such wave phenomena have emerged in exotic materials, such as lattices made of origami elements, and how in the last few months they are being considered toward studying the spread of pandemic infections. Time permitting, Kevrekidis will also touch upon the intriguing work of the UMass Amherst chancellor in the field of nonlinear waves!
Professor Daniela Calzetti
Stars are not “Spherical Cows”
December 1, 2020
Stars are the sources of all the light we see in the universe. Whether investigating our own celestial neighborhood or the most distant corners of the universe, we use stars as our beacons. The universe is mostly made of dark energy, and galaxies and clusters mostly of dark matter. But it is stars like our sun that trace them all. Stars are not eternal balls of gas churning out energy from their nuclear furnaces. They are born, they live, and they die. The birth of stars is particularly important as it can be traced back to the birth and evolution of galaxies across cosmic times. Professor Daniela Calzetti will review progress over the past decade in understanding how stars form out of the gas clouds that pervade galaxies, and how this has helped with furthering our understanding of the universe. Space missions, as well as advanced ground-based telescopes, have played key roles in advancing our knowledge. With many challenges still ahead of us, the way forward will require innovative thinking for the future missions and facilities that will enable humanity one day to say, “We know where we came from.”
Distinguished Faculty Lectures 2019
Professor Carol E. Heim
Who Pays, Who Benefits, Who Decides? Property Developers and the Political Economy of Urban Growth
March 27, 2019
Property developers reap a return sometimes called "development gain," which is over and above the ordinary rate of profit. They often use legal and political means to increase their share of economic value created through urban development. Their interests are sometimes, but not always, in alignment with the public good. Historical research on the boom cities of Chicago and Phoenix, particularly concerning infrastructure finance, illustrates their goals and activities. Examination of current policy issues in cities such as Houston and Miami, which are facing severe impacts of natural disasters and climate change, also provides opportunities to explore the role of developers in U.S. cities and suburbs.
AI Will Change Everything, But Not So Fast
April 18, 2019
The field of artificial intelligence (AI) is experiencing a golden age. Scientific breakthroughs and game-changing technologies are rapidly altering the way we live, work, communicate, and entertain. Investment in AI is booming. Meanwhile, success stories and inevitable failures fuel speculations about the aggregate impact of AI on society. In this talk, I give a historical perspective on the development of AI, including the pattern of research leaps followed by exaggerated expectations. With today’s best AI methods, it is easy to create a grandmaster chess player, but replicating the common sense of a three-year-old child remains elusive. I will examine these challenges using insights from my research on automated reasoning, autonomous driving, and human-in-the-loop AI. The ability to sustain progress and responsibly deploy AI technology depends on a far better understanding of how humans use common sense to handle ordinary situations that they encounter every day.
Distinguished Faculty Lectures 2018
Professor Samuel Black
Approaching the End Game: Seeking Sustainable Control of Animal African Trypanosomiasis
February 5, 2018
For more than a century, scientists have attempted to sustainably control animal African trypanosomiasis—protozoan parasites that can be fatal to people and domestic livestock. The development of effective vaccines has been blocked by the parasites’ ability to vary the surface structures with which the immune system reacts and to mask the conserved surface components the parasites need to acquire nutrients. At UMass Amherst and elsewhere, research is unlocking the mechanisms of innate immune control and trypanosomiasis pathology, giving new hope of developing trypanosomiasis-resistant cattle through selective breeding and genetic engineering.
Professor Maria Santore
From the Surfaces of Cells to Materials Innovation: Synthetic Systems that Mimic the Behaviors of Biological Cells
March 6, 2018
When cells contact other cells or foreign objects, their responses can determine an organism’s survival. For example, reactions triggered at the surfaces of white blood cells amplify to produce organism scale behaviors, such as fighting infection or developing immunity.
Synthetic systems from the Santore lab recreate biological mechanisms that start at the surface and become large scale—examples will include materials that selectively scavenge, capture, kill, or release targets in response to chemical and mechanical cues; control particle movement on surfaces; and assemble into molecularly thin force-responsive reconfigurable circuitry. These systems may ultimately facilitate biomedical devices, sensors, and protective gear or materials for energy harvesting.
Professor Léonce Ndikumana
Capital Flight From Africa: Is the World Genuinely Ready for Action?
April 9, 2018
Domestic and global structural factors have caused a sustained outflow of capital from Africa, a continent that faces deep development financing constraints. This lecture will explain how capital flight is part of a pattern of integration of Africa into the global economy that has entrenched the continent’s exploitation and marginalization. It will also show how structural flaws in the global economic system and its governance make it difficult to combat capital flight and illicit financial flows from Africa and propose new ways to address these problems.
Distinguished Faculty Lectures 2017
Professor Donald Fisher
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.
Professor Duncan Irschick
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.
Professor Christian Appy
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.
Professor David Reckhow
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.
Professor Nilanjana Dasgupta
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.”