Frontiers in Science: Lecture Series Set to Explore Memories, Maps, Multicellularity


Jess Hunt-Ralston
Director of Communications
College of Sciences
Georgia Institute of Technology

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Frontiers kicks off with latest information in disinformation; talks on false memories, gerrymandering, origin of life to follow

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  • 2020 Frontiers in Science Series 2020 Frontiers in Science Series
  • 2020 Frontiers in Science Series: Full Schedule 2020 Frontiers in Science Series: Full Schedule
  • College of Sciences faculty welcome Joshua Plotkin (third from left) to Georgia Tech College of Sciences faculty welcome Joshua Plotkin (third from left) to Georgia Tech

The 2020 Frontiers Lecture with Moon Duchin, originally scheduled for March 26, 2020, has been postponed. Please visit for further updates.

The Science of Social Media Persuasion
The first stop in the College of Sciences' 2020 Frontiers in Science lecture series tackled two topics in the spotlight this election year: disinformation and social media. “Information Gerrymandering and Undemocratic Decisions” featured Joshua Plotkin, Annenberg Professor of Natural Sciences and co-director of the Penn Center for Mathematical Biology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Plotkin told the audience that social media has indeed been a game-changer when it comes to the rapid spread of information. Yet it can also lead to what he calls “information gerrymandering,” where biases and opinion bubbles can make people more prone to making misinformed choices during collective decisions like voting. Plotkin also highlighted the importance of governmental regulation and corporate accountability for social media companies. Read a recap of the lecture, co-sponsored by the School of Biological Sciences, in Georgia Tech's student newspaper, the Technique.

Next Up: Manufacturing Memories
The issue of information and disinformation is also part of the second lecture in the Frontiers in Science spring series, slated for the evening of Thursday, February 27: “The Fiction of Memory” featuring Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a Fellow of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Learn more about her research through her 2013 TED Talk on the science and ethics of false memories, and find the complete spring slate of Frontiers in Science lectures below.

Frontiers in Science Lectures are intended to inform, engage, and inspire students, faculty, staff, and the public on developments, breakthroughs, and topics of general interest in the sciences and mathematics in an inspiring and accessible way. All lectures are free to attend, and everyone is welcome to come out and connect around the talks, which are held each spring and fall. Directly after each one-hour lecture, enjoy a free reception with the evening's speaker.

Spring Slate: 2020 Frontiers in Science

February 6: “Information Gerrymandering and Undemocratic Decisions”

Joshua Plotkin, Annenberg Professor of Natural Sciences and co-director of the Penn Center for Mathematical Biology at the University of Pennsylvania

Held on February 6, 2020, this lecture was co-sponsored by the School of Biological Sciences. Many Americans receive their news and form political opinions through social media. But social media platforms are not shaping up to be the utopian spaces for human connection their founders once hoped. Instead, the Internet has introduced phenomena that can influence national elections and even threaten democracy. This talk will describe recent findings on "information gerrymandering” — how the structure of a social network can profoundly bias collective decisions. Evidence of these effects is found in large-scale human experiments, real-world social-media networks, and networks of legislative actions in the US Congress. These results motivate questions about policy.


February 27: "The Fiction of Memory" 

Elizabeth Loftus, Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a Fellow of the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

For several decades, Elizabeth Loftus has been manufacturing memories in unsuspecting minds. Sometimes these techniques change details of events that someone actually experienced. Other times, the techniques create entire memories of events that never happened: they create “rich false memories.” Collectively, this work shows people can be led to believe they did things that would have been rather implausible. They can be led to falsely believe they had experiences that would have been emotional or traumatic had they actually happened.

False memories, like true ones, also have consequences for people—affecting their later thoughts, intentions, and behaviors. Can we tell true memories from false ones? In several studies, Loftus created false memories in the minds of people, compared them to true memories, and discovered that once planted, those false memories look very much like true memories: they have similar behavioral characteristics, emotionality, and neural signatures.

Considered as a whole, these findings raise important questions: If false memories can be so readily planted in the mind, do we need to think about “regulating” this mind technology? And what do these pseudomemories say about the nature of memory itself? This lecture is co-sponsored by the School of Psychology.

Thursday, February 27
6:00pm to 7:00pm
Marcus Nanotechnology Building (Rooms 1116-1118)
Learn more and attend

The 2020 Frontiers Lecture with Moon Duchin, originally scheduled for March 26, 2020, has been postponed. Please visit for further updates.

March 26: "Graphs, Geometry, and Gerrymandering"

Moon Duchin, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Senior Fellow in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University

The theory of random walks has found a fruitful application in electoral redistricting, by allowing us to sample from the partitions of a state into districts.  By comparing a plan to neutral alternatives, we can measure the extent of gerrymandering—when one party takes advantage of the authority to draw the lines. At this Frontiers in Science Lecture and 2020 Karlovitz Lecture, Moon Duchin will discuss some surprisingly simple questions about graphs and geometry that can help us make advances in policy and civil rights. This lecture is co-sponsored by the School of Mathematics.

Thursday, March 26
6:30pm to 7:30pm
Kendeda Building (Auditorium)
Learn more and attend


April 20: "Exploring The Origin of Multicellular Life by Evolving it, From Scratch, in a Test Tube"

William Croft Ratcliff, Associate Professor, School of Biological Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology

The evolution of multicellularity is one of the most significant innovations in the history of life, but it happened so long ago that early steps in this process remain poorly understood. We've taken an unorthodox approach to this problem: rather than study ancient multicellular life, we are evolving it from scratch, leveraging the combined strengths of synthetic biology and directed evolution. In this talk, I will describe our work examining how single cells evolve into simple clumps of cells, and how, over thousands of generations, these early multicellular organisms solve fundamental physical and developmental challenges in surprising and ingenious ways. Our work has helped change the way our field views evolutionary constraints on major transitions like multicellularity, lending direct experimental support to the Jurassic Park school of thought: "Life, uh, finds a way".

Monday, April 20
6:30pm to 7:30pm
Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons (Room 152)
Learn more and attend


Rescheduled for Fall 2020 Frontiers: "Time, Einstein, and the Coolest Stuff in the Universe"

The College of Sciences regrets to announce that William Daniel Phillips is unable to present this Frontiers in Science lecture originally scheduled for March 10. We look forward to welcoming Phillips to Georgia Tech for a rescheduled lecture this fall!

William Daniels Phillips, National Institute of Standards and Technology and a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics

At the beginning of the 20th century, Einstein changed how we think about time. Now, early in the 21st century, the measurement of time is being revolutionized by the ability to cool a gas of atoms to temperatures millions of times lower than any naturally occurring temperature in the universe.   

Atomic clocks, the best timekeepers ever made, are one of the scientific and technological wonders of modern life.  Such super-accurate clocks are essential to industry, commerce, and science; they are the heart of the global positioning system (GPS), which guides cars, airplanes, and hikers to their destinations. 

Today, the best primary atomic clocks use ultracold atoms, achieve accuracies of about one second in 300 million years, and are getting better all the time. At the same time, a new generation of atomic clocks is leading us to re-define what we mean by time.  

Super-cold atoms, with temperatures that can be below a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, use and allow tests of some of Einstein's strangest predictions. 

This public lecture will be a lively, multimedia presentation, including exciting experimental demonstrations and down-to-earth explanations about some of today's hottest (and coolest) science. This lecture is co-sponsored by the School of Physics.

Additional Information


College of Sciences, EAS, School of Biological Sciences, School of Mathematics, School of Physics, School of Psychology, Southeast Center for Mathematics and Biology (SCMB)

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Frontiers in Science Lecture, frontiers in science, Joshua Plotkin, Elizabeth Loftus, William Daniel Phillips, Moon Duchin, _for_math_site_
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