From Mars To Molecules  At The Springfield Museums: Quirky Scientists Are The Focus Of This Lecture Series

From Mars to Molecules at the Springfield Museums: Quirky Scientists Are the Focus of This Lecture Series

The Springfield Museums is pleased to announce a series of science-themed lectures for 2018: From Mars to Molecules: Quirky Scientists Who Put the Valley on the Map. The Pioneer Valley has long been home to remarkable scientists. This winter and spring we will highlight several who were also unusual characters. The series is integrated into our weekly Museums á la Carte, Thursdays 12:15-1:15 pm, Davis Auditorium, D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts.

The Springfield Museums’ monthly lecture schedule continues with the popular Museums à la Carte lectures, which take place Thursdays at 12:15 p.m. in the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. Admission is $4 ($2 for members of the Springfield Museums); visitors are invited to bring a bag lunch (cookies and coffee are provided). For more information about our lecture series, please call 413-263-6800, ext. 488:

Thursday 1/18/18 12:15-1:15 pm
Martians and a Hole in the Sky: Amherst Astronomer David Todd
George Greenstein, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy, Amherst College

David Todd taught in the Valley in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The telescope that he built at Amherst College in 1905 was one of the finest in the nation, and still stands today. Todd, a master inventor who once worked with Thomas Edison, was a leader in studies of the sun’s atmosphere and the planet Mars.

The sun’s atmosphere, known as its corona, can only be seen during a solar eclipse—and these eclipses are few and far between. Accordingly, in 1896 Todd undertook a four-month voyage to observe an eclipse in Japan . . . where he met with tragic failure as, at the last minute, clouds moved in to obscure the view. On another more successful occasion, he observed an eclipse from an airplane over Russia.

Todd was also a pioneer in studies of the planet Mars. At one point he crated up his new—and very large—telescope and shipped it to the Andes in order to study the planet’s mysterious “canals” (which turned out to be entirely fictitious). On another occasion he tried to organize a nation-wide radio blackout as he ascended in a balloon to listen for transmissions from the planet’s inhabitants.

Thursday 2/15/18 12:15-1:15 pm
Why Die For Beauty? Dorothy Wrinch’s Saga through Science
Marjorie Senechal, Louise Wolff Kahn Professor Emerita, Smith College

A fresh egg in boiling water quickly becomes hardboiled, yet a hardboiled egg in ice water never reverts. Why not? This question drove the “protein war” of the mid-1930s. Not a war over food resources, but a war of ideas that pitted an impressive roster of Nobel prize winners against each other, roiling the pages of the journal Science, researchers on both sides of the Atlantic ocean, and on both sides of the Connecticut River.

Dorothy Wrinch, born in England in 1894, educated at Cambridge, studied logic with Bertrand Russell and then taught mathematics at Oxford before turning to biology, a field then judged ripe for overhaul. The elegant model she proposed for protein molecules in the mid-1930s sparked the aforementioned war. Turf battles, sexism, and personalities were part of the mix, and Wrinch, sharp of eye, mind, and tongue, was often her own worst enemy. Her model lost out in the end, but she never admitted defeat.

Invited by a supporter at Amherst College to teach molecular biology for a year at Smith, Amherst, and Mt. Holyoke, Wrinch married him and moved to the Valley in 1941. Hers was the first course on the new subject to be taught anywhere, and the first joint appointment in Valley history. World War II precluded joint reappointment, but she taught at Smith for the next 35 years. On her death in 1976, she left her voluminous papers—including candid letters, notes, and jottings—to the archives, a case study in the anatomy of scientific controversy. In this talk Senechal will focus on a puzzle that perplexed Wrinch’s contemporaries: Why did she cling to her model?

Thursday 3/15/18 12:15-1:15 pm
The Bran-Bread Philosopher: Sylvester Graham and the Science of Human Life
Christopher Clark, Professor of History, University of Connecticut

Sylvester Graham arrived in Northampton in the late 1830s, a well-known lecturer and writer on diet, health, and hygiene. An early advocate of vegetarianism, he would be best remembered for crackers and bread made of unbolted flour, commercialization of which at the end of the century would secure him lasting name-recognition. Yet Graham’s dietary prescriptions formed only part of a regimen, which he modestly called “the science of human life,” that meant avoiding anything that might cause bodily excitement.

Rivals and medical societies ridiculed Graham as a quack, but his claims to a scientific basis for his views on diet and behavior obtained him a large public following. Though his death in 1851 at only 57 marred his authority as a guide to longevity, Graham had helped launch a popular science movement that would flourish even as professional science and medicine grew. His association with wholegrain crackers was strong enough that a half-century later his name was being used to sell factory-baked products that—had he lived to see them—he would have roundly condemned.