2010 Events

Toby Smith

The Current Climate for Science and Technology Policy

Tuesday April 27th, FOSEP Seminar, 10 am Health Science Building HSB K-wing, room K-069.

This seminar is sponsored in part by The Cell and Molecular Biology Training Grant.

As Vice President for Policy at the AAU, an organization of 62 leading research universities, Tobin (Toby) Smith has developed and coordinated legislative and executive branch strategies across a wide range of science policy issues. Toby currently oversees and coordinates AAU’s policy activities. He also is responsible for issues relating to innovation, competitiveness and energy and shares responsibility for matters of openness and security, technology commercialization and research costs. Toby has written and spoken widely on science policy issues and is the co-author of a book on national science policy published by the University of Michigan Press titled  Beyond Sputnik – U.S. Science Policy in the 21st Century. Toby is the perfect person to hear about what’s going on in D.C. recently, including how things have changed with the current congress and presidential administration, the outlook on science funding, and how scientists and universities can play a role in science policy, including the best ways to communicate with policy makers.


Michael Webber

U.S. Energy Policy and Other Funny Stories

Monday, April 26th, FOSEP Seminar, 10:30am, Savery Hall, Room 264, followed by a discussion at 11:30am.

Michael Webber is the Associate Director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy in the Jackson School of Geosciences, Co-Director of the Clean Energy Incubator at the Austin Technology Incubator, Fellow of the Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.  Through his outreach and teaching endeavors, Webber’s research group (Webber Energy Group ) focuses on energy policy in a variety of facets including: alternative and sustainable energy sources, biofuels, transportation, and water policy.  His expertise has been sought globally.  In fact, Webber has given testimony for a hearing of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, a lecture at the United Nations, and briefings for chief executives at some of the nation’s leading companies.

Michael is one of the originators of the Pecan Street Project (http://pecanstreetproject.org/) which is a citywide, multi-institutional effort in Austin to create the electricity and water utilities of the future by the innovation and implementation of smart grids, smart meters, and smart appliances.  He has also served as a board member for the Hope Street Group (http://www.hopestreetgroup.org) which is a non-profit bi-partisan national organization for young professionals interested in promoting policies that expand opportunity and economic growth.  Webber’s expertise, opinions and research have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, NPR, PBS, The Daily Telegraph, BBC, ABC, CBS, Discovery, Scientific American, Popular Mechanics, MSNBC, Nature Geoscience, and Earth Magazine.

Just a few days after Earth Day, this seminar offered a breath of fresh air and insightful ideas relating to U.S. energy policy and the future of energy sustainability in the 21st century.


Rori Rohlfs

Genetics and Forensics

Monday, April 12th, FOSEP Discussion

FOSEP discussion: Genetics & Forensics Speaker Rori Rohlfs Graduate student, Department of Genome Sciences DNA evidence is playing an ever-increasing role in forensics. But DNA matching isn’t perfect. For example, in familial matching, false assumptions about race greatly increase the rate of a false positive match to 40%, compared to the assumed rate of 5%. How do the limitations of genetic evidence affect the justice system? What are the privacy concerns surrounding forensic DNA databases? How does the so-called “CSI effect” change jurors view of evidence?

Dr. Tom Ackerman

Geogengineering–A Solution to Climate Change?

March, 4th, 2010, FOSEP Discussion

As Elaine wrote in her blog post of the discussion: Can the equivalent of a man-made volcanic eruption every 2-3 years save us from the negative impacts of climate change?  Geoengineering solutions such as this were the topic of our recent FOSEP discussion with Dr. Tom Ackerman from UW’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences.  Injecting 8 megatons on sulfur into the stratosphere every 2-3 years would increase the reflectivity of the atmosphere, potentially slowing the warming of the earth.  We could also make an impact on global warming by increasing the reflectivity of the clouds by 30% or launching sunshades into space to cover a total area of 1700 x 1700 km.

But even if the technology exists to move forward with these ideas, should we?  Climate change is a complex international issue that will produce winners and losers.  Who will make decisions about the course of action?

One final note:  these proposed geoengineering solutions would not reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.  They could only potentially control the temperature.  Increasing CO2 levels have major potential consequences for ocean acidification.  And if we ever stopped the geoengineering solution, the temperature would likely quickly rebound to where it had been if we had done nothing.


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