Science Speaker Series

Thank you for your support of our 2020 Science Speaker Series! Please find links to the recordings of our presentations below.

Learn about our 2020 speakers below

Science Speaker Series

The 2020 Science Speaker Series will be held online. Each Wednesday at 7:00 pm, the MMA will host a science lecture via Zoom. The topics will vary across the sciences. Please keep checking back for updates in the schedule and for Zoom registration links.


Jack Dubinsky Register

Lovely Oceans: A discussion of the fascinating reproductive biology and contemporary issues affecting procreation in marine organisms

Join Jack for a fascinating discussion about reproductive behaviors in the ocean. First, he will discuss the basics about reproduction in the ocean. Then he will look at the most romantic, dramatic, and bizarre case studies of reproductive strategies. Finally, he will discuss how human activity is affecting the success of procreation in important marine species.

A recording of Jack’s presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.


June 3


Why We’re Shutting Down STEM: A Movement to Fight Racism in Academia Register

We are pausing our Science Speaker Lecture Series for a week.

On Wednesday, June 10th, the global STEM community is ceasing all research activities for the day to work to educate ourselves on eliminating anti-Black racism and organizing towards real systemic change. Join staff of the Maria Mitchell Association for a presentation on the importance of #ShutDownSTEM and #Strike4BlackLives and a discussion on how each of us can commit to action. We suggest participants read the website prior to the event at:

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.


June 10
7PM - 8PM


Meredith MacGregor Register

How to Form a Habitable Planet

Most young stars are surrounded by ‘circumstellar’ disks of gas and dust, the initial material for the formation of planets.  She will discuss how planetary systems form from these disks and evolve over millions to billions of years, with a focus on what conditions might create a ‘habitable’ planet.  The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) located in Chile has revolutionized our ability to study planet formation.  For the first time, we can see baby planets forming in circumstellar disks, and watch as they sculpt their surroundings through gravitational interactions.  She will also discuss what other factors impact the habitability of planets, including the effect of space weather produced by the host star.  In the future, the development of new telescopes presents an exciting path towards understanding our Solar System, its formation and evolution, and its place in the universe of exoplanet systems.

Biography: Meredith MacGregor is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences. She also serves as the Co-Chair of the NASA Infrared Science Interest Group. Previously, she was a NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at the Carnegie Institution for Science after finishing her PhD at Harvard University. Back in 2009, Dr. MacGregor was an intern as part of the Maria Mitchell Astronomy REU program! Dr. MacGregor’s research program leverages multi-wavelength observations to explore the formation and potential habitability of planetary systems.

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

June 17, 2020
7PM - 8PM


Jay Chittidi Register

Strange Signals and a Cosmic Conundrum: Using Fast Radio Bursts to Uncover the Universe’s Hidden Matter

Nearly every ten seconds, an explosion occurs somewhere in our Universe lasting only a millisecond but with more energy than our Sun puts out in a day. In this talk, Jay will explain how astronomers are using these mysterious explosions, known as fast radio bursts, to solve a separate enigma – where is the missing matter in our Universe?

Jay Chittidi is the Nantucket Maria Mitchell’s Association’s first Research Fellow and has worked on island with Dr. Regina Jorgenson as part of a new, post-baccalaureate program. Jay graduated from Vassar College in 2019 with a degree in astronomy and was an MMA REU intern in the summer of 2018. In the Fall, Jay will be pursuing a PhD at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Jay recently led the MMA in publishing a paper of the ground-breaking results of his work with Dr. Jorgenson in collaboration with researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and many others around the world. This research is supported by a National Science Foundation grant.

A recording of Jay’s presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

June 24
7PM - 8PM


JJ Hermes Register

When the Referee Lets You Name Your Stars

Digital surveys have mapped the positions of most stars in our night sky down to a limit roughly 100 million times fainter than can be seen by the unaided eye. It is therefore rare for astronomers to “discover” new stars. However, unraveling new classes of stars by grouping similar types of objects connected by a physical phenomenon happens often at the cutting edge of astronomy. I will discuss the joys (and pitfalls) of naming new classes of stars by focusing on a recent discovery: stellar remnants that were once in a close pair of binary system but have recently been slung-shot out of the Galaxy after a disruptive supernova explosion.

Dr. Hermes is an assistant professor in the Department of Astronomy at Boston University, focused on high-precision observations of the endpoints of stars, planets, and binary systems. Before moving to Boston in 2019, he was a Hubble Fellow at UNC Chapel Hill, an ERC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Warwick in central England, and he completed a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at Austin. He has also worked as a journalist, served as editor-in-chief of The Daily Texan in 2007, and worked as a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington, D.C.

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

July 1
7PM - 8PM


Dr. Jennifer Karberg Register

Nantucket Coastal Resilience: Importance and Function of Natural Buffers

On July 8, 2020 at 7:00 pm, Dr. Jennifer Karberg of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation will give a virtual lecture entitled, “Nantucket Coastal Resilience: Importance and Function of Natural Buffers.” The talk will be held via Zoom.

The island of Nantucket is at the forefront of climate change and sea level rise impacts anticipated in the next few decades. But the island is also benefiting from local research and innovation on ways to adapt to these impacts. The natural beauty and resources of the island are one of the unique aspects that draws people to Nantucket and they are also one of the resources that will help buffer and protect the island from climate change impacts. This talk will explore the ecological function and benefits of Nantucket’s natural coastal buffers, particularly salt marshes and coastal dunes, as well as opportunities for innovating and enhancing these buffers to protect key low lying coastal areas. Learn about local research and restoration aimed at improving salt marsh function, exploring living shorelines and the potential for blue carbon to mitigate climate change.

Dr. Jen Karberg is the Research Program Supervisor for the Nantucket Conservation Foundation and oversees the multi-faceted research program of the Foundation. Jen’s personal research interests include fresh and salt water wetland ecology and restoration, climate change and coastal resiliency, rare plant ecology and disturbance ecology. Initially from the mid-west, Jen studied first plant ecology at the University of Michigan for undergrad and then obtained advanced degrees from Michigan Technological University in wetland ecology and rare species conservation genetics. In her 12 years on island, Jen has been the co-chair of the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative Research Conference, served on the Nantucket Conservation Commission, and various boards of the Society of Wetland Scientists. Jen is currently representing NCF on the Nantucket Coastal Resilience Advisory Committee and is Chair of the Women in Wetland’s section of the Society of Wetland Scientists.

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

July 8
7 PM - 8PM


Dr. Melania Nynka Register

Satellites and Science: Building, Launching, and Using the NuSTAR X-ray Observatory

Do you know what it takes to build a space-based telescope?  Dr. Nynka will share her behind-the-scenes experience as part of a team that helped construct the high-energy NuSTAR telescope and its exciting launch into orbit.  She will describe the unique capabilities of X-ray telescopes, their challenges, and the fascinating details NuSTAR is able to reveal of the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.

Dr. Nynka is a Research Scientist at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. She completed her Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York in 2012 and was a Trottier Postdoctoral Researcher at the McGill Space Institute in Montreal before moving to the Boston area in 2018.  As a grad student she helped build and launch the NuSTAR telescope.  Since then, she has been using various X-ray satellites to observe compact objects, supernova remnants, and the Galactic Center.

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

7PM- 8PM


Dr. Andrea Dutton Register

Reimagining Coastal Landscapes in an Era of Sea-Level Rise

While many people have personal connections to the coast, even those who don’t will be impacted by disruption to transportation systems and housing markets as sea level rises. Ongoing sea-level rise is contributing to more frequent extreme coastal flooding events, causing shifts in housing markets and investments, and presenting new challenges for public health. Though different communities are experimenting with a range of solutions, ranging from sea walls or natural barriers to buy-out programs promoting coastal retreat, communities with the least resources are being hit the hardest. I will summarize how knowledge of past and present sea-level rise informs our knowledge of the future, and how this in turn can empower us to take action.

Andrea Dutton is a world-renowned expert on past climate and sea-level change. Her main research focus is to establish the behavior of sea level and polar ice sheets during past warm periods to better inform us about future sea-level rise.

She is very active in communicating her research to the public and has been extensively quoted and featured in popular media. Andrea’s combined impact within academia and in the sphere of public outreach has earned her numerous accolades, including being named as a fellow of the Geologic Society of America, as one of Rolling Stones’ “25 People Shaping the Future”, and most recently, as a MacArthur Fellow.

Andrea completed a B.A. at Amherst College, and after teaching K-12 for two years, returned to academia to complete M.S. and PhD degrees in Geology at the University of Michigan. She is currently a professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

7PM - 8PM


John Regan Register

You’re Only As Strong As Your Weakest Link: Addressing Coastal Resiliency in St. Augustine, FL

John P. Regan, P.E. is the City of St Augustine City Manager.  He is a University of Florida graduate in Environmental Engineering with a minor in Environmental Sciences.  John has been with the City of St. Augustine since 1998, serving as the Utilities Director and Chief Operations Officer until his promotion to City Manager in 2010.  Prior to the City of St. Augustine, John served in progressively responsible engineering roles at Gainesville Regional Utilities over a ten-year period.  He is published in technical engineering topics and is a frequent speaker in the fields of historic preservation, engineering and city management.

In 2016 John was bestowed the medal of Isabel la Catolica by King Felipe VI, Spain in recognition of exceptional services to promote the cultural relationship between St. Augustine and Spain.  Membership in the Order of Isabel la Catolica is one of the most important recognitions that a non-Spaniard can receive from the King of Spain.

In 2017 John was recognized by the University of Florida College of Design, Construction and Planning 2017 Beinecke-Reeves Distinguished Achievement Award in Historic Preservation.  This is the highest statewide award given by UF in Historic Preservation work.

John was recognized with a Home Rule Hero Award by the Florida League of Cities as one of 89 recipients recognized for their tireless work in the 2018 legislative session.

He currently serves on the Board of Advocates for the University of Florida Historic Preservation Department and the Board of Directors for the United Way of St. Johns County and is a long-standing member of Rotary International both in Gainesville and St Augustine.

7PM - 8PM


REU Student Astronomy Research Register

Astronomy Research Presentation 

On August 5 at 7pm the summer 2020 National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduate (NSF-REU) interns will present their summer research projects in astrophysics virtually on Zoom as part of the Maria Mitchell Summer Science Speaker Series.

While the interns were not able to travel to Nantucket due to the COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions, they were able to participate in the research component of the program virtually, via Zoom and email.  This summer’s research projects covered a wide range of topics from searching for planets around white dwarf stars and determining the potential habitability of exoplanets, to studying black holes and the cosmic web.

The summer 2020 Maria Mitchell Observatory (MMO) NSF-REU intern class consists of: Devon Barros, Bridgewater State University; Kiana Burton, Temple University; Sarah Graber, Columbia University; A. Granados, Wellesley College; Andrea Mejia, Hunter College CUNY; and Natalia Villanueva, Harvard University.

The research projects that the interns will be discussing are:  “Searching for Planetary Remnants Around Bright White Dwarfs with NASA’s TESS Mission”  &  “Using Millimeter Wavelength Observations to Determine the Potential Habitability of Exoplanets”  & “Peering into the Lighthouse: X-ray Emission from RV Tau Variable Stars and Their Companions” & “Detailed Analysis of Tidal Disruption Event Light Curves: The Search for Clues for What is Powering Their Optical Emission”  & “Dissecting Pulsar Wind Nebulae with the Chandra and NuSTAR X-ray Observatories” &  “Using Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) to Untangle the Cosmic Web: IFU Studies of FRB Host Galaxies.”

The research interns have been advised by Dr. Jorgenson and Jay Chittidi of the MMA, as well as several affiliated astronomers from a range of institutes including the Chandra X-Ray Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, Boston University, and M.I.T in Boston, the University of Maryland, and the University of Colorado, Boulder.  This summer two of the affiliated astronomers are former MMA REU interns themselves (Dr. Suvi Gezari, University of Maryland, and Dr. Meredith MacGregor, University of Colorado, Boulder).

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

August 5
7PM - 8:30PM


Jimmy Elliot Register

Life History and Population Dynamics of Green Crabs (Carcinus maenas)

Carcinus maenas (the “shore crab” or “European green crab”) is a very proficient invader (considered to be one of the world’s 100 worst invaders by the IUCN) due to its phenotypic plasticity, wide temperature and salinity tolerance, and an extensive omnivorous diet. Native to Atlantic Europe, it has established two well-studied nonindigenous populations in the northwestern Atlantic and northeastern Pacific and less-studied populations in Australia, Argentina and South Africa. Carcinus maenas has been the subject of numerous papers, with over 1000 published in the past decade. Along with a summary of the results from a 3-year long trapping study in Salem Sound, this talk will broadly review current published information on the life history and population dynamics of this very important species, including genetic differentiation, habitat preferences, sizes of crabs, sex ratios, ecosystem dynamics and ecological impacts in the various established global populations of green crabs.

James Elliott serves as’s Science Communications Advisor, supporting scientific decision making and creating educational content for the group. Full time, James works at New England Biolabs as a Scientist studying novel methods for enzyme development in the biotechnology industry. James holds a Biology degree from Salem State University (SSU) and MS degree from University of Maine. An active member of the New England Estuarine Research Society and the Crustacean Society, James has previously worked closely with the Division of Marine Fisheries studying population dynamics and molt endocrinology of crustaceans during his time at the Cat Cove Marine Laboratory (Salem, MA) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, MA).

Most recently, James worked with Dr. Alan Young to publish an up-to-date account of the current information on the life history and population dynamics of the European Green Crab. While no longer affiliated with academia, he continues to engage in citizen science wherever possible.

Associated Reading:
Young, A. M., & Elliott, J. A. (2020). Life History and Population Dynamics of Green Crabs (Carcinus maenas). Fishes5(1), 4.

Young, A. M., Elliott, J. A., Incatasciato, J. M., & Taylor, M. L. (2017). Seasonal catch, size, color, and assessment of trapping variables for the European green crab (Carcinus maenas) (Brachyura: Portunoidea: Carcinidae), a nonindigenous species in Massachusetts, USA. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 37(5), 556-570.

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

7PM - 8PM


Alexandra Vecchio and Danielle Perry Register

Nature’s Value In Solving Our Climate Crisis

As a leading conservation organization in New England, Mass Audubon is committed to taking bold action to combat the climate crisis. From the advancement of climate policy at the local and state level to the ecological restoration and management of its 38,000 acres of protected land, the organization recognizes the need for urgency to protect people and wildlife alike. Join Mass Audubon’s Climate Change Program Director, Alexandra Vecchio, and Climate Change Adaptation Ecologist, Dr. Danielle Perry, on August 13th at 7 pm for an overview of how climate advocacy and nature-based solutions can safeguard the future of our world from climate change. In this presentation, Alexandra and Dr. Perry will discuss the Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) Program, share examples of nature-based climate solutions, and discuss habitat management initiatives that enhance the resilience of different coastal ecosystems.

Alexandra Vecchio is the Climate Change Program Director at Mass Audubon where she is responsible for implementing the organization’s statewide Climate Action Plan. In particular, she oversees Mass Audubon’s climate change education programs, public outreach and community engagement, local climate advocacy efforts, internal and external climate communications, and offers scientific and policy consultation to external partners. In addition, Alexandra is a certified Provider for the Commonwealth’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness Program and works to help communities identify actions to reduce climate vulnerabilities and strengthen their community assets.

She has a Masters of Environmental Management from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies where she specialized in the intersection of climate change adaptation, land use planning, and water resource management. Prior to beginning her graduate program at Yale, Alexandra worked in Washington D.C. as a Legislative Assistant for Congressman Mike Quigley handling a variety of federal policy issues including energy, environment, and climate change. In her free time, Alexandra loves to play with her dog Lucy, travel the world, and spend time in the water either swimming, water skiing, or scuba diving.

Danielle Perry is the Statewide Climate Change Adaptation Ecologist at Mass Audubon where she is working to improve the resiliency of Mass Audubon sanctuaries to climate change impacts. In this position, she is evaluating the vulnerability of Mass Audubon’s sanctuaries to climate change effects and implementing climate change adaptation projects to improve resiliency of these environments. She is responsible for developing external partnerships with towns, non-profits, and other environmental agencies to enhance resiliency of Massachusetts lands and resources to prepare for climate change impacts.

Danielle Perry received her PhD in Biological and Environmental Sciences from the University of Rhode Island. Her dissertation research focused on improving the resiliency of wetlands to climate change effects. Throughout her graduate work, she collaborated with Rhode Island coastal managers within the Environmental Protection Agency, Save the Bay, and Coastal Resources Management Council. Through these partnerships, Danielle gained invaluable experience in planning, implementing, and monitoring wetland climate change adaptation projects across the state. In her free time, Danielle loves to hike, travel, and spend time by the water.

A recording of this presentation can be found on our YouTube channel.

7PM -8PM


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