Director's Note

Nobel Conference 50

How do you celebrate 50 years of bringing the best science and the highest-caliber speakers to thousands of students and lifelong learners? By bringing back some of the best scientists and speakers to talk about the future of science. “Where Does Science Go from Here?,” the 50th Nobel Conference at Gustavus Adolphus College, will feature 11 speakers from previous conferences discussing the challenges facing each of their disciplines.

Planning for this conference began over two years ago with a survey of Conference attendees asking whom they would like to see return. As you can imagine, there were a lot of names on the list. With a list of speakers, the next challenge was finding an organizational structure for the conference. The planning committee discussed several different formats, though none seemed to capture what we felt was the purpose for the event. After a while, it became clear that we weren’t working with a typical science-themed conference—we were planning a celebration of science and asking previous speakers to help us celebrate 50 years of high-caliber science at Gustavus Adolphus College.

To help refine the planning, I asked Tim Robinson, who was director of the Nobel Conference from 2000 to 2009, to chair the planning committee. Drawing on his years of experience, we organized the speakers into four themes: Science and Society, Evolution and Ecology, Physical Sciences, and Neuroscience and Medicine. For the first session, Science and Society, we’ve asked Nobel laureates Steven Chu and Sir Harry Kroto to talk about how science informs public policy and how science is taught in our schools. Sean B. Carroll will discuss the science of evolution, Svante Pääbo will put a more human spin on the topic, and Gary Ernst will cover the ecological impact of human resource consumption in the session on Evolution and Ecology. For the session on Physical Sciences, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg will join us remotely to discuss the state of particle physics and what theory tells us we should see, while Harry Gray will talk about harnessing sunlight to drive chemical reactions. Jennifer L. West will lead off the session on Neuroscience and Medicine with a discussion of bioengineering and the medical use of nanotechnology. Antonio Damasio will talk about our understanding of consciousness based upon recent developments in neurophysiology, and Patricia Churchland will explore the ethical issues that neuroscience presents. Finally, after the conference banquet, Freeman Dyson will reflect on living through four scientific revolutions.

As always, the celebration will include music and art. We have a special performance by the Gustavus Symphony Orchestra, featuring Antonín Dvořák’s Festival March, Felix Mendelssohn’s Overture from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto #2. The Hillstrom Museum of Art is hosting Pull Left—Not Always Right: Emerging Contemporary Artists in China, highlighting fifteen young Chinese artists, working in a variety of media and styles, who have become global art makers and who reflect on everyday life in their art.

As you can see, there's something for everyone in this conference. We hope you enjoy the celebration as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together.

Scott Bur
Director of the Nobel Conference
Associate Professor of Chemistry, Gustavus Adolphus College