Science to be featured at Chicago Humanities Festival

By Eleanor TaylorNovember 7, 2011

At humanities festivals, physics and chemistry typically get left off the menu in favor of poetry and philosophy, but not at this year's Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF).

"Many people are often unaware of the links between the sciences and humanities," said Matti Bunzl, artistic director for the CHF. "Science and engineering enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the arts and humanities, and we are thrilled to have so many Argonne researchers involved in this year's event."

The Chicago Humanities Festival, which began in 1989, creates opportunities for people of all ages to support, enjoy and explore the humanities. This year, Argonne will be participating in the following programs:

The Future of Transportation—November 9

To kick things off on Wednesday, November 9, Argonne's Steve Ciatti, a mechanical engineer who specializes in advanced engine and vehicle technologies research and development, will lead an interactive presentation on the future of transportation with students in grades 4-12 at Chicago's Francis Parker School. Ciatti will work to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers while discussing the new transportation technologies on the horizon that will improve the way we live and contribute to a better and cleaner future.

The Matter of Origins—November 10-13 at 7:30 p.m.

Part performance, part conversation and part floor show, The Matter of Origins probes the physics of beginnings and the poetry of the mind. Act One takes place on stage and travels from Marie Curie's lab to Los Alamos to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and from the Hubble Space Telescope to the reaches of our accelerating universe. In Act Two, the company engages the audience in a thought-provoking dialogue, with physicists and provocateurs at the ready. It's a program perfectly suited to the CHF's inquisitive audience—a performance with conversation built-in. Eric Landahl, a researcher at Argonne's Advanced Photon Source and Assistant Professor of Physics at DePaul University, plays the role of nuclear pioneer J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Nuclear Trees: Cleaning up Radioactive Waste—November 13 at 10:00 a.m.

Nuclear energy is a double-edged sword of technological progress, both powerful and perilous. Twenty-five years ago, the explosion of Chernobyl's fourth reactor rendered large swaths of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine uninhabitable. To this day, cleanup and maintenance go on, while Japan has experienced similar hardship in the wake of the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi. Argonne scientist Cristina Negri, who helped remove radiation from Chernobyl, reports on her effort to develop trees that fight pollution. She will be interviewed by Gabriel Spitzer, who covers science, health and the environment for Chicago public radio station WBEZ.

The Electric Car and Beyond—November 13 at noon

For the past century, America's history has been interwoven with that of the automobile. From the assembly line to the country's network of highways, the car has defined transportation in the United States since the days of Henry Ford. But as gasoline becomes less available and more expensive, and related habits and needs change, a big 21st-century question asserts itself: What is the future of transportation in America? In this program, Jeff Chamberlain, leader of Argonne National Laboratory's Energy Storage Initiative, and Don Hillebrand, director of Argonne's Center for Transportation Research, discuss developing technologies that could define the future of personal transportation: green diesel technology, omnivorous engines and the cost-effective, long-lasting batteries needed to make the electric car a reality.

The Chicago Humanities Festival is devoted to making the humanities a vital and vibrant ingredient of daily life and provides access to cultural, artistic and educational opportunities. Tickets for most fall Festival programs are $5 in advance, $10 at the door and many programs are free of charge to students and teachers (with ID). For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit: http://www.chicagohumanities.org/