What we can learn from nature’s deadliest creatures, biodiversity in the rainforest, and the power of mathematical thinking are the topics for the fall 2017 J. James Woods Lectures in the Sciences and Mathematics at Butler University.

Science writer Christie Wilcox will open the series on Tuesday, October 3, in the Schrott Center for the Arts with “Nature’s Deadliest Biochemists: A Love Story.” She will be followed by arbornaut Margaret D. Lowman (“Life in the Treetops: Exploration of the Tropical Rain Forest Canopies”) on Thursday, November 9, in the Atherton Union Reilly Room, and Math Professor Jordan Ellenberg (“How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking”) on Tuesday, December 5, in the Schrott Center.

All talks are free and open to the public without tickets. For more information, call 317-940-6866.

The Woods Lecture Series was established by a generous gift from the estate of J. James Woods. The goal of the Woods bequest is to bring prominent mathematicians and scientists to Butler University to speak on theories at the frontier of their disciplines, as well as on related technologies and other issues of public concern.

More about each speaker and his/her talk follows:

Christie Wilcox
Nature’s Deadliest Biochemists: A Love Story
Tuesday, October 3, 7:30 PM
Schrott Center for the Arts

Venomous animals and the potent chemical cocktails they wield have fascinated our species since the dawn of human history, and perhaps even longer. They are nature’s most feared creatures, and yet, these notorious animals hold the keys to a deeper understanding of evolution, physiology, and medicine.

In this lecture, Christie Wilcox—author of Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry—will show how the animals we love to loathe have actually helped us all along. From teaching us how our bodies work at the molecular level to providing targeted therapeutics for our most devastating diseases, and perhaps even driving the evolution of our big brains, venomous animals have been our species’ allies, not enemies. And with modern technology finally able to decipher the biochemical knowledge contained in their genomes, venomous creatures will only continue to help humanity tackle our biggest challenges over the coming centuries.

Wilcox is an award-winning science writer based in the Seattle area. She pens the Science Sushi blog for Discover Magazine, and her bylines include The Washington Post, Popular Science, and Quanta. Her debut book, Venomous, explores the fascinating science behind the deadliest chemical cocktails on the planet made by some of the world’s most notorious species.

Margaret D. Lowman
Life in the Treetops — Exploration of Tropical Rain Forest Canopies
Thursday, November 9, 7:30 PM
Atherton Union, Reilly Room

“CanopyMeg” will speak about her discoveries of biodiversity in forest canopies, sharing her first climb in Australian rain forests in 1979 with a home-made slingshot and harness that provides a beginning for her subsequent chronology of canopy discoveries using different tools. She will take the audience on a global tour to some of the forest canopy hotspots where she conducts long-term research and education programs.

Her most recent efforts, to conserve the last 5 percent of forests in northern Ethiopia, illustrate the essential services that trees provide for human health.  She will also provide an update on the state of global forests, and share some exciting solutions to global forest management.

Over the past three decades, Lowman has earned an international reputation as one of the world’s first arbornauts, pioneering the field of forest canopy science. National Geographic dubbed her “the Real Life Lorax” and the Wall Street Journal labeled her as “the Einstein of the treetops.” She has devised innovative methods—including walkways, construction cranes and hot air balloons—to explore this “eighth continent,” home to about half of life on earth.

Equipped with degrees in biology, ecology, executive management, and a doctorate in botany, Lowman transformed her childhood passion of trees and building tree forts into mapping canopy biodiversity worldwide and spearheading the construction of North America’s first canopy walkway. She has authored over 125 scientific publications and 7 books, of which Life in the Treetops earned a cover review by the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Jordan Ellenberg
How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking
Tuesday, December 5, 7:30 PM
Schrott Center for the Arts

The math we learn in school can seem like a dull set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In this talk, Jordan Ellenberg shows us how wrong this view is: Math touches everything we do, allowing us to see the hidden structures beneath the messy and chaotic surface of our daily lives. It’s a science of not being wrong, worked out through centuries of hard work and argument.

Drawing from history as well as the latest theoretical developments, Ellenberg demonstrates that profound mathematical ideas are present whenever we reason, from the commonplace to the cosmic. And, he shows how to use this knowledge in our lives, whether you’re a business looking to discover the power of big data, a corporate audience out to improve logic and understanding within your organization, or a college crowd with an appetite for the latest research by one of America’s rising scholarly stars.

The Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Ellenberg is the author of two books: How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, and The Grasshopper King, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. Recently, he served as a consultant (and actor, briefly!) for the film Gifted. Ellenberg has held an NSF-CAREER grant and an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, and in 2013 he was named one of the inaugural class of Fellows of the American Mathematical Society.


Media contact:
Marc Allan