Science Speaker Series

Dr. Rodolfo Montez Jr.

The Death of Stars Viewed by Satellite Observatories: A Glimpse at the Future of our Sun?

Today three of NASA’s four Great Observatories continue to record the universe from above the Earth’s atmosphere. These three satellites cover a broad flavor of light emitted by celestial objects. The most famous observatory of the three, the Hubble Space Telescope, is primarily an optical observatory, while the Chandra X-ray Observatory captures highly-energetic X-ray photons and the Spitzer Space Telescope collects cool infrared photons. The synergy offered by these three telescopes becomes apparent when studying celestial objects that represent the late stages of a star’s life. Towards the end of the life of a sun-like star copious amounts of enriched material is liberated into the universe. The material rushes away from the star while undergoing dynamic changes that give rise to optical, infrared, and X-ray emission. The high-resolution imaging offered by these space-based observatories provides breath-taking views and insight into the end state of sun-like stars. However, these observations can challenge our long-held views on the fate of sun-like stars leaving us to wonder what will be the fate of our Sun?

June 13th
7PM-8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Dr. Philip S. Muirhead

Small Stars with Small Planets and Big Consequences

M dwarf stars dominate stellar populations, and recent results from NASA’s Kepler Mission suggest rocky planets are abundant around M dwarf stars. With so many planets orbiting M dwarfs, exoplanet scientists can now turn to questions about their history, evolution and potential habitability. Unfortunately, measuring fundamental properties of M dwarfs is challenging for a variety of reasons. I will discuss the importance of near-infrared spectroscopy in this effort, presenting recent results from our programs at Keck Observatory, Palomar Observatory and the Discovery Channel Telescope. With near-infrared, high-resolution spectroscopy covering Y to K band, we can measure detailed fundamental properties of low-mass stars and their orbiting exoplanets. M dwarf characterization will be especially important in the coming years, when the TESS spacecraft is expected to discover five times as many planets orbiting low-mass stars as Kepler.

June 20th
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

David Baron

Maria Mitchell’s 200th Birthday Speaker Series

David Baron is the author of American Eclipse in which Maria Mitchell was one of the featured astronomers. Baron is a journalist, author, and broadcaster who has spent his thirty-year career largely in public radio. He has worked as an environmental correspondent for NPR, a science reporter for Boston’s WBUR, and health and science editor for PRI’s The World. He currently serves as scholar in residence at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism.

June 27th
7PM - 8PM
The Nantucket Atheneum

Free for all!

Dr. Suvi Gezari

Hungry Black Holes

We are entering an era of increasingly powerful wide-field optical imaging surveys that are transforming the study of the variable night sky. The talk will highlight the capability of time domain observations to probe supermassive black holes (SMBHs) lurking in the centers of galaxies by catching them light up in the act of
feeding on stars and gas. Watching how these “hungry” black holes digest their meals can reveal their mass, spin, and binarity; the fundamental parameters of an astrophysical black hole. Dr. Gezari will present results from the systematic studies of nuclear transients with the Pan-STARRS1, iPTF, and ZTF surveys, and conclude with a discussion of the exciting potential of the LSST to map the demographics of SMBHs over cosmic time.

July 10th
7PM - 8PM
2 Vestal Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Henry Lappen

The Incredible Complexity of Trees

Did you know that trees have hormones? How do trees pump sap up so high? Have you ever tried local nuts (the food that is)? Come hear Henry Lappen share some of the fascinating things he has learned about the inner workings of trees in his program, “The Incredible Complexity of Trees.” Henry is an environmental educator and the chair of the Amherst, MA, Public Shade Tree Committee which promotes and plants street trees in the town of Amherst.

July 11th
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Darby Dyar

Venus: Our Misunderstood Sister

Venus is the “exoplanet next door,” a key to understanding whether “Earth-sized” means “Earth-like” elsewhere in the Universe. Recent evidence of possibly current volcanism, and the suggestion of nascent plate tectonics on its surface, have raised questions about the geological evolution of its surface that wait to be answered by future missions. The runaway greenhouse effect in the Venus atmosphere provides insights into the process of global warming on Earth. This talk presents Venus as a cornerstone of comparative planetology, key to understanding geological processes.

July 18th
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Dava Sobel Register Here

Maria Mitchell’s 200th Birthday Speaker Series

Dava Sobel, a former New York Times science reporter, is the author of Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, The Planets, and A More Perfect Heaven. She has also co-authored six books, including Is Anyone Out There? with astronomer Frank Drake. A long-time science contributor to Harvard Magazine, Audubon, Discover, Life, Omni, and The New Yorker, she continues to write for several on-line and print publications. Her current book is The Glass Universe, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2017 published in December 2016.

July 25th
7PM - 9PM
Nantucket Whaling Museum


Admission for all: $25

Sarah McGrath

Importance of the Microbiome: Lessons from the World of Amphibians

National Geographic Young Explorer and former Maria Mitchell Science Museum Intern, Sarah McGrath, will be here to tell us about her research looking at the amphibian microbiome. The microbiome, or community of microbes that live in and on our bodies, has been shown to influence everything from our immune system to our diet and even our behavior. But where do our microbes come from and how come some stick around while others simply pass through? Is it how we’re born or where we live that makes the most impact on our microbiome and subsequently our health? An unlikely organism could hold the key, a frog.

August 1st
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

REU Student Presentations

For more than fifty years, the Maria Mitchell Observatory (MMO) has offered summer research opportunities in
astronomy and astrophysics for students on Nantucket. Six students will present their individual research projects developed under the guidance of experienced astronomers. Students will later present their research at the American Astronomical Society. The REU Program is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

August 8th
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Dr. Martha Hanner

The Stardust Mission: Snatching a Sample of a Comet

Dr. Martha Hanner is a retired Senior Research Scientist from the Earth and Space Sciences Division at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She is a graduate of the Wellesley College and obtained her Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1969. Hanner was a co-investigator on the Stardust Mission which launched in 1999 and collected cometary dust samples. Stardust’s primary mission goal was accomplished during a flyby of Earth during January of 2006, when samples were returned to Earth via atmospheric reentry inside the probe’s Sample Return Capsule. Although the Stardust mission ended in 2011, Dr. Hanner’s talk will lend insight into the value and legacy of this exciting mission.

August 9th
7PM - 8PM
2 Vestal Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Christy Hudak

Tracking the Annual Return of the North Atlantic Right Whale to Massachusetts Waters

Christy Hudak has been a Research Assistant in the Right Whale Ecology Progarm at the Center for Coastal Studies for over six years. After obtaining her M.S. in marine biology from Nova Southeastern University in Florida, Christy worked at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, heading the Manatee Program at the Tequesta Field Station. From the sunny shores of Florida, Christy brought her experience in marine mammal necropsies, rescues, tracking, aerial surveys, and photo identification to the cool shores of Cape Cod and currently focuses on the food resource of the North Atlantic right whales.

August 15th
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

J. Drew Lanham

Maria Mitchell’s 200th Birthday Speaker Series

J. Drew Lanham is a professor of wildlife at Clemson University, where he holds an endowed chair as an Alumni Distinguished Professor and was named an Alumni Master Teacher in 2012. His research focuses on songbird ecology, as well as the African-American role in natural-resources conservation. Lanham is also an author and award-nominated poet; his first solo work, The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature, was published in 2016. Drew received his B.A. and M.S. in Zoology, and his Ph.D. in Forest Resources, from Clemson. He is also a board member of the National Audubon Society.

August 22nd
7PM - 8PM
The Nantucket Atheneum

Free to all!

Dr. Duygu Ozpolat

A Worm Fondness for Regeneration: A Story in Several Segments

Segmented worms (or Annelids) have amazing abilities to regrow their lost body parts; a phenomenon called regeneration. When cut into small pieces, many worms can regrow new heads (including a new brain!) and new tails from the small pieces, eventually each piece becoming a new individual. As humans, we have much to learn about regeneration from these organisms. What kind of cells, genes, and processes are involved?
How can we visualize regeneration as it is happening? Dr. Özpolat will provide an overview of the wondrous things these creepy crawlies can do, and discuss how her lab is studying them to understand the mechanisms of regeneration.

August 29th
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Dr. Timothy Lepore

Review of Common and Not So Common Tick-Borne Diseases on Nantucket

Dr. Timothy Lepore is a resident doctor and surgeon at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital who has spent the past 35 years treating and caring for the Nantucket community. His years of service have been featured in Pam Belluck’s Island Practice. Inside and outside of his medical practice Dr. Lepore is also a fierce advocate for the awareness of tick-borne diseases on Nantucket. Most people know of Lyme’s disease, but there are actually many other tick-borne disease that can be avoided with preventative measures. This talk will discuss the symptoms, treatments, and ways to avoid many common and less common tick-borne diseases.

September 5th
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative

Learn about the work, mission, and research of the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative on Nantucket, Tuckernuck, and Muskeget. The NBI is a collaborative group composed of staff from many island non-profits, the Town, and other environmental organizations. Together, NBI works to promote increased knowledge of Nantucket’s biodiversity and communication of that knowledge to the interested public. Learn about NBI’s small grants program, research outputs, and public events during this presentation.

September 12th
7PM - 8PM
33 Washington Street

Members: Free
Non-members: $10

Become a Maria Mitchell Volunteer!