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Past Programs

Here are the programs of our first four years:


Jan. 6: the minimalist theme of “Thermodynamics and the Purpose of Life”, with Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan, and David Rothenberg. Roald Hoffmann, who last appeared at the Cornelia Street Café in May in the company of Oliver Sacks and K.C. Cole, starts a brand new monthly Science at the Cornelia St. Cafe series on Sunday January 6, 2002 at 6pm. Featured in the inaugural event will be biologist Lynn Margulis, her son and writer extraordinaire, Dorion Sagan, and musician, writer and philosopher David Rothenberg. Their subject is… “Thermodynamics and the Purpose of Life.” Have you ever wondered why we are here? Expect the poetic, the unexpected and, last but not least, a new scientific reason for the purpose of life. With music. Just as the difference between high and low pressure masses explains why a tornado swirls into existence, so the difference between hot sun and cold Earth may explain why life behaves as it does. What on earth these people can do to address this tantalizing subject, remains a mystery. But, we anticipate on January 6th all will be revealed.

Feb. 3: “What’s So Funny About Science”, with Marc Abrahams, Steve Mirsky, Lynda Williams, and Jim Lyttle. When one considers that human beings still regularly slam their thumbs with hammers, it should come as no surprise that our attempts to unravel nature's profoundest truths might include comedy. In fact, some science and more than a few scientists are funny. Or at least do funny things. As part of the “Entertaining Science” series, Feb. 3, at 6 PM, at the Cornelia Street Café, Roald Hoffmann hosts four takes on humor in science, featuring Marc Abrahams, editor of the science humor journal Annals of Improbable Research and Impresario of the Ig Nobel prizes; Jim Lyttle, a management professor at Long Island University, who studies the science of humor itself, including the brain's processing of funny stuff, Lynda Williams, the Physics Chanteuse, and Steve Mirsky, Scientific American magazine's humor columnist (which he likens to making the best sloppy joes at the culinary institute) The evening will be funny. Seriously.

March 3: “The Will to Live and Selfish DNA”, a conversation with tumor biologist and author, Georg Klein, as well as music by Lukas Ligeti. What do Schopenhauer, DNA and electronic drum music have in common? Come and find out in the March 3 ”Entertaining Science” program curated by Roald Hoffmann at the Cornelia Street Café. Schopenhauer’s striking thesis that the world is driven by a “blind will” is related to the drive of “selfish genes” to propagate themselves in a remarkable, poetic exposition by Swedish-Hungarian writer and tumor biologist George Klein. Lukas Ligeti, a talented young Austrian composer and musician (with Hungarian roots, recently moved to New York) will play some apposite electronic music of his own (joined by a friend in part), influenced by African musical traditions. And the participants will then enter with Roald Hoffmann in a discussion, with some Hungarian and American poetry read. It may even be that Edgar Allen Poe will put in an appearance.

April 7: “Art and the Brain, Art on the Brain”, with Diane Ackerman, actor and writer Jack Klaff and neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux. Strewing the world with all the wonders of its creation, the human brain remains the most splendid mystery. Come on April 7 to the Cornelia Street Café, where Roald Hoffmann will host three perspectives on the brain’s richesse in the “Entertaining Science” series. Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux will talk about his work and ideas on the Synaptic Self. British theatre artist Jack Klaff will interweave reflections on improvisational comedy and screen acting with insights from his other profession: science communicator. Central to the evening will be writer extraordinaire Diane Ackerman’s poetic fantasias on what's so magical about what the brain does, and why/how Shakespeare's brain was different.

June 2: “The Two-Fisted Singing Universe.” Cosmologist Joel Primack, writer and singer Nancy Abrams, and physicist and tae kwon do champ Richard Brandt. Can the Big Bang tell us about life? Come Sunday, June 2, to the Cornelia Street Café and find out. Roald Hoffmann's "Entertaining Science" series will a host a triple response: Leading cosmologist, Joel R. Primack (University of California, Santa Cruz), will talk about "Gravity, the Ultimate Capitalist Principle." Nancy Abrams, Cosmic Troubadour, will perform several songs from her new CD, "Alien Wisdom." And NYU physicist, Richard Brandt, 3-time international Tae Kwon Do champion, ten times on the David Letterman show, will show us the tie between the physics of sports and the universe.

July 7: “Metamorphoses II” on transformation in insects, music and chemistry, with Jerry Meinwald, Charlotte Greenspan, and Joseph Arron. Not only on Broadway, and not only by Ovid -- musical and molecular metamorphoses are the themes of Roald Hoffmann’s July 7 “Entertaining Science” show at the Cornelia Street Café. Insects are the best chemists…. but have you ever wondered how they transform plant poisons into pheromones? How metamorphoses can be blocked to guarantee perpetual youth (well, actually perpetual immaturity)? In another realm, how did J.S. Bach’s alchemy transmute elementary themes into musical masterpieces? Chemist Jerrold Meinwald, musicologist Charlotte Greenspan, and molecular biologist Joseph Arron team up to illuminate these and other metamorphic mysteries with a unique combination of words and live musical performance.

Aug. 4: Story-telling was the theme, with chemist and film star Mark Green, singer and songwriter Eve Moon, and writer/performer Sharon Glassman. Roald put in a word. Telling stories is quintessentially human, a deep source of satisfaction in science as well as in music and life. As Roald Hoffmann's Aug. 4 "Entertaining Science" program at the Cornelia Street Cafe will show. The evening will begin with chemist Mark Green telling us what George Washington, Adolph Hitler and an Egyptian pharaoh have to do with how helices tell left from right. Singer, songwriter, and musician Eve Moon will entertain us with some story-telling songs. And writer/performer Sharon Glassman, who creates sparkling, witty, and sad monologues from almost-true stories, will explore the science of love from Cupid's point of view. And Roald Hoffmann will reflect, briefly, on why stories are important to scientists, even as they don’t fess up to telling them.

Sept. 1: Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, poet and philosopher Emily Grosholz and composer and experimental musician Elliott Sharp. The theme is this smooth and wildly rough world. Human beings struggle to understand and represent the world's deep structure through mathematics, science, art, music and poetry. On Sept. 1, yes, the evening before Labor Day, mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, largely responsible for fractal geometry, will show and discuss a few of his mathematical pictures. Some mimic mountains or clouds, while others are very complex and first shock but soon look oddly familiar, especially to the artist. He will wonder why, and ponder the everlasting struggle in our minds between the word and the picture. He will tell old and new stories of: iconoclasts and other humans, stories of reason and unreason, bold hope or despair, in the search for smoothness in a world that is in every way wildly rough. Emily Grosholz, a poet and philosopher, will read some of her poems on mathematical themes. And Elliott Sharp, a composer and experimental musician inspired by fractals and mathematics, will show us what an electric guitar can do in an autoreferential mode. Join us for an exciting evening in Roald Hoffmann's "Entertaining Science" series!

Oct. 6: “Get lost in translation”, featuring Dava Sobel, K.C. Cole, and Roald Hoffmann talking about all the ways of taking one thing into another. So much more than changing “me” into “moi” or H2O into water, the act of translation is central to both art and science, and especially the busy borderlands between the two—a lively chit chat in which metaphor, emotion, number, image, argument are all part of the equation, all have something to add to the conversation. Come and hear masterly translators Dava Sobel (“Longitude,” “Galileo’s Daughter”), K.C. Cole (“The Hole in the Universe,” “The Universe and the Teacup,”), cosmologist Marcelo Gleiser (“The Prophet and the Astronomer,” “The Dancing Universe,”) and chemist, poet and playwright Roald Hoffmann talk about the tricky (and treasonous?) art of transference through which thoughts turn into words, observations into theories—sometimes, even water into vin.

Nov. 3: “Living Space” :Diann Sichel choreographs a piece for dancers Melanie Velo-Simpson and Josiah Pearsall, accompanied by singers Wendy Baker and Erik Kroncke. Music by percussionist Chacho Ramirez and flutist and composer Carolyn Steinberg. And Roald on constrained motion in proteins. Science will never seem more magical than on this evening. Koji Nakanishi and Ged Parkin are Columbia University chemists who will let the audience into at least two of their lives. While Nakanishi studies the intimate details of the chemistry of vision, Parkin figures out how inorganic catalysts do their wonders. And they are magicians. They’ll show a far from gullible audience how we see, or maybe don’t see, what is plainly in sight. And, extending the theme of mastery of mystery to sound, the one and only Pamelia Kurstin will play the Theremin.

Dec. 1: Koji Nakanishi, Ged Parkin, chemists and magicians. The theme is “now you see it, now you don’t”. And the mastery of mystery continues with Pamelia Kurstin playing the Theremin. Science will never seem more magical than on this evening. Koji Nakanishi and Ged Parkin are Columbia University chemists who will let the audience into at least two of their lives. While Nakanishi studies the intimate details of the chemistry of vision, Parkin figures out how inorganic catalysts do their wonders. And they are magicians. They’ll show a far from gullible audience how we see, or maybe don’t see, what is plainly in sight. And, extending the theme of mastery of mystery to sound, the one and only Pamelia Kurstin will play the Theremin.


Jan. 5: "Good Vibrations". A curative evening of jazz and physics, with Ken Jolls, Linsy Farris and friends. Rapport, linkage, consonance -- that's exactly what musician/engineering professor Ken Jolls will bring to the Cornelia Street Cafe on January 5. With musicians-turned-health-care-professionals Linsy Farris, Hal Winfield, and David Levine on bass, guitar, and drums, Ken will demonstrate just how "good vibe-rations" can be. A long-time devotee of the instrument made popular by Lionel Hampton, Ken and his healthy quartet will play tunes from the great years of jazz. But what would an engineer be without a little science? Don't be surprised if you hear something also about vibrating bars and sine waves and organ pipes and dampers and fistfulls of mallets (with even a little body english thrown in to make it all work). Leave your worries at home -- there'll surely be a doctor in the house!

Feb. 2: Daniel Conrad, Helen Davies, and friends. The theme is “Dancing Hypercycles, Songs of (gasp!) Leprosy.” This evening of biological song and dance features a mother and son act -- microbiologist Helen Davies, an award-winning professor at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and her son, Vancouver filmmaker Daniel Conrad. Conrad left a career in molecular immunology to make experimental dance films (full of biological metaphor) for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and documentaries on connections between art and science for PBS and Bravo. He will show two short dance films and explain how films are structured like organisms (an idea first proposed by Sergei Eisenstein). Davies will talk and sing (gasp!) about leprosy, gonorrhea, herpes, dengue fever, and other infectious diseases. Song sheets (properly autoclaved) will be handed out, so the audience can sing with her.

Mar. 2: “Heavy Metal”, with Oliver Sacks, Daniel Brush, Elliott Sharp and Roald Hoffmann. Malleable, reflective, conducting, magnetic or not – metals have fascinated humanity. And led to music and art, in several ways. On this metallic evening, see sculptor Daniel Brush’s images of his gold and steel works, and listen to Oliver Sacks, whose recent book is “Uncle Tungsten”, as he speaks of and demonstrates some real heavy metals. Composer and musician Elliott Sharp will play some apposite music on a steel guitar, and Roald Hoffmann may broach the gamma brass problem.

April 6: “Music on the brain”, with pianist and neurobiologist Fredrik Ullén and psychologist Carol Krumhansl. By what seeming magic is music invented and played? How, exactly (or not), is it perceived and experienced? Swedish neurophysiologist and concert pianist Fredrik Ullén will play, and discuss his studies of how the brain controls music performance. In this evening of action and reflection on music, he will be joined by Carol Krumhansl, a cognitive scientist from Cornell, who will tell us of her fascinating work on tension and emotion in music, testing the psychological reality of proposals from music theory. They will ask (but not answer) the question of why music plays such an important role in the human experience.

May 4: “Why Not?” Crossing boundaries with chemist and DNA artist Ned Seeman, and choreographer/performance artist Rachel Cohen. The Shavian serpent's "You see things and you say 'Why?'", but I dream things that never were and say, 'Why Not,"" might just be a reflection on the difference between science and engineering. Or an argument for transgressing, in the service of creation, the natural/unnatural boundary. Nadrian Seeman of NYU, who builds nanoscopic stick figures, devices and patterned arrays out of DNA, and choreographer Rachel Cohen and artist Agata Oleksiak, who play with potential and actuality of the human body through movement, clown and mask, costume, and film, explore this theme in Roald Hoffmann's May 4 Entertaining Science at the Cornelia Street Café.

June 1: Nancy Manter’s “Connect the Dots” program will feature glass artist Jill Reynolds, violinist Jonathan Levy, mathematics teacher and artist Robert Berkman, and computer sculptor Greg Lock. What do a glass bubble, a math problem, Global Positioning Systems, and a novel made into song have in common? Taking off from the Surrealist “Exquisite Corpse” drawing game, the participants -- Jill Reynolds, a glass artist and sculptor who references science, Robert Berkman, mathematician and teacher, Jonathan Levi, writer and musician, and Greg Lock, a sculptor who uses GPS data to invent virtual objects, will make the connections. Nancy Manter, daughter of an artist and medical scientist, will begin the evening by sharing her own set of dots, while introducing the individual presentations.

Aug. 3: Choreographer Christopher Caines in a performance piece on the Internet is teamed with robotics expert Hod Lipson on “Artificial Life”. The Internet and the ubiquity of personal computers have changed the way human beings relate, and changed the way we think about machines. Choreographer/singer Christopher Caines will perform dream.screen, a solo work in progress for voice, electronics, and percussion that examines the effects of Web-mediated communication on language and emotion. And Hod Lipson, a computer scientist and engineer at Cornell will talk (and show some video clips) on his new work on evolutionary robotics.

Sept. 7: “Open Heart” with writer Jay Neugeboren and his doctors, a father-son literary-musical exploration of the heart and allied precious organs. . Wild music by the “Organ Donors.” Award winning novelist and medical writer Jay Neugeboren, talks about the before, during, and after of his emergency quintuple bypass heart surgery, of how, after two doctors missed the diagnosis, his life was saved by several doctor friends, one of whom, from 3000 miles away, got the diagnosis right, and of what Jay learned about the nature of disease and diagnosis, the state of contemporary health care, and the doctor-patient relationship. Appearing with Jay will be at least one of these friends--Gerald Friedland, Director of AIDS programs, clinical and research, at Yale-New Haven Hospital and Medical School. Moving north and south, from the heart to other vital organs, Jay's son Eli will appear as lead singer for The Organ Donors, a rock group that features several sexy nurses (The Percadettes), funky beats, psychedelic guitar riffs, singalong choruses, litanies of symptoms, and slapstick, porno science rap.

Oct. 12: “Forever Amber” with insect paleontologist David Grimaldi and chemist Alexander Shedrinski. And a reading of two classic texts, one high, one low. Several years ago David Grimaldi of the American Museum of Natural History, curated a wonderful exhibition on this unique organic material that survives millennia. And gives us a clear window on the invertebrate past. He will show spectacular images of insects in amber, in conversation with Alex Shedrinsky, a New York chemical detective, who will reveal amber forgeries (don't bring in your necklaces, please, unless you are strong). Alex will also show some of the first pictures of the restored Amber Room of Catherine’s Palace near St. Petersburg. An insect, trapped -- a two word description of a 20th century literary masterpiece. Can you guess what it is? We'll hear a piece of it. Unless we are diverted on the low road to another kind of masterpiece...

Nov. 2: “Hidden water” with Israeli irrigation expert, Uri Shani, David Wolfe, Cornell ecologist and author of "Tales From the Underground: A Natural History of Subterranean Life," photographer Alexis Wolfe, and singer Judy Joice, accompanied by Murray Weinstock on piano. Without it there would be no life, no rainbows, no blue planet. After our first nine months in water heaven, we emerge to find this resource in jeopardy. David Wolfe, Cornell professor of ecology and author of "Tales From the Underground: A Natural History of Subterranean Life," begins our story with a poetic twist, including a remarkable contribution from James Joyce. Seattle-based photographer Alexis Wolfe continues with a visual perspective. Then Uri Shani from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem tells of the "miracle" of water flowing upward from roots to leaves in tall trees, no pump in sight. And wonders why nature requires such a huge expenditure of precious water by the plant kingdom. Judy Joice and Murray Weinstock, who perform regularly at the Café with Stu Woods on bass, will bring us songs of the gentleness of water rolling in and tickling your toes, of the neglect and abuse of water as well as its healing powers, through Blues, Gospel and Jazz compositions.

Nov. 30: Cosmologist and sax player Stephon Alexander and brothers on Coltrane and cosmology.And storyteller Sharon Glassman on Einstein. In an interview near the end of his life Trane was asked to identify the person he respected most. He replied "Albert Einstein". Coltrane's spiritual quest through music balanced improvisational allusions to Eastern and African symbolic forms with the theory of general relativity and cosmology. Stephon Alexander, a cosmologist and musician at Stanford, will talk of the relationship between Coltrane’s approach to jazz improvisation and the theory of general relativity and quantum gravity. And he will play a few pieces on sax, some of Trane, as well as Stephon’s own compositions, which explore this connection. He’ll be accompanied by Papa Smurf, a freestyle rapper, and a percussionist. Storyteller Sharon Glassman was recently asked to investigate the current culture of Einstein in Princeton for Seed Magazine. She'll debut her upcoming essay -- including questions about Einstein's second violin, extremist fans, and a long-debated Einstein statue-in-progress to be erected in 2005 on E=MC Square.


Feb. 1: “Transformations,” in music and chemistry, with musicians Shoko Nagai and Satoshi Takeishi, and Roald Hoffmann. What choice but to create, to take one thing into another? By way of example, Shoko Nagai (piano) and Satoshi Takeishi (audio processing, percussion) make haunting, compelling music out of essential transformations. And Roald Hoffmann shows how there is no better emblem for true change than chemical reaction.

March 7: “A Planet in our Hands” – Shall we respond, or try to engineer – a dialogue between environmental engineer Rob Socolow and writer Evan Eisenberg, with Earth Jazz by Todd Capp and Daniel Carter. So we’ve perturbed the great cycles of our world (Rob Socolow from Princeton, one of the participants, thinks about that). Soon, we will begin to believe that we can control them. Shall we, can we manage this blue planet in a rational and ethical way? The issues, just a bit controversial, will be brought out by Socolow and writer Evan Eisenberg (author of the evocative “The Ecology of Eden”). In exploring the fault lines between wildness and control, they'll be joined by the inventive duo of percussionist Todd Capp and wind player Daniel Carter.

April 4: “Seeing, Believing” New British art/science films brought over by Rosie Pedlow, along with thoughts on visualization in science by chemist Wilma Olsen. The image, still or moving, remains the most direct way for the real to enter our consciousness -- to inform, misguide, entertain. Rosie Pedlow, a young UK filmmaker, has brought over from London a fresh, eclectic mix of original short art/science films. And Rutgers chemist and biophysicist Wilma Olson will show us how computer-generated imagery helps us understand the fine workings of DNA.

May 2: “The Engineer and the Artist” The coach of the World Cup champion robotic soccer team, Raffaello D’Andrea, and Canadian artist Max Dean. Raffaello D'Andrea holds the distinction of being the only engineer to have a work of art in the National Gallery of Canada. The piece, known simply as 'The Table,' is a collaboration of D'Andrea, a control systems engineer at Cornell, with Canadian artist Max Dean. Their artwork responds to the presence of the viewer by trying to establish a relationship with the human observer. D'Andrea and Dean will discuss this work and their collaborative process -- the meeting of art and technology, their differences in approach and the striking similarities in their working methods, goals and motivations. They will also describe past independent work -- D'Andrea is the coach/trainer of the champion (Cornell of course!) World Cup Robotic Soccer team -- and offer a glimpse into future possibilities.

June 6: “Vox Humana” with mezzosoprano Stephanie McGuire and expert on the human voice’s acoustics, Johan Sundberg. Nothing touches us more directly, is more full of wonders and expressive power than the human voice. Nor more mysterious. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie McGuire will show us the magic, with arias from Bach oratorios through the operatic repertoire. And Johan Sundberg (from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm), a world expert on the acoustics of the human voice, will take us through the way the voice works, demonstrating along the way the tools that can take apart and reconstruct the art of a man or woman singing.

Aug. 1: “Boundaries”, with molecular biophysicist Michael Klein and musicians Shoko Nagai and Satoshi Takeishi. They are there, naturally -- in every living cell. Upscale, we build them (as did God in Genesis). To transgress them, of course, to transport things cross them. Michael Klein, a molecular biophysicist with an artist's sensibility, will show us some of his wonderful modeling of the structures of the cell, and how they self-assemble. And Shoko Nagai (piano) and Satoshi Takeishi (audio processing, percussion) will assemble music(s) that cross borders.

Sept. 5: “winged Oysters, Winged Psalteries” Ilya Temkin on the evolution of pearl oysters and baltic psalteries. What could they have in common? Yes, mollusks please our eye with their luster of pearls and the perfection of their shell form, while music moves our hearts. But it is not just aesthetics that unites musical instruments and seashells. Both man-made artifacts and living creatures change as time goes by. Musician and biologist Ilya Tëmkin will explore a biological metaphor in his work on the evolution of winged oysters and the reconstruction of the past of the Baltic psaltery, an ancient musical instrument of north-eastern Europe. He'll also play the psaltery and for the musical part will be joined by Michael Andrec, a bandura player, composer, and computational biologist.

Oct. 3: “How Vulgar Can We Get?”, with science writer extraordinaire KC Cole, Roald Hoffmann and musician Shawn Hansen. In French, “vulgarisation” means popularization, as of science. In English, the lovely populist sense of the word got buried in the shade of an elitist construction of 'vulgar' ("what we surely ain't..."). One of the great writers of science, K.C. Cole, will introduce us to the special landscape between vulgar and popular. Roald Hoffmann will show slides of a remarkable (some said weird) interaction of science and popular culture at the 2004 Carnaval of carnivals, in Rio. And Shawn Hansen and his band "The Brothers Zoto," including an FM radio transmitter and an imaginary banjo player, will expand that landscape further.

Nov. 7: “How Many People, Past and Future?” Population biologist, pianist, and storyteller Joel Cohen. On the day of the New York City Marathon, population biologist and applied mathematician, storyteller and musician Joel Cohen will remind us that there are more people in New York City today than there were in the entire world when agriculture was being invented at the end of the last ice age. Manhattan was then covered by thousands of feet of ice. The connection between warmer climate and more people is not accidental, and causation goes in both directions. What will the next 50 years bring for the human population? Tune in! For comic relief, Cohen will premiere some satirical songs and read from his book of scientific and mathematical jokes. He may even play a serious piano piece or two.

Dec. 5: Neurobiologist Paul Greengard and sculptor Ursula Von Rydingsvard. Ursula von Rydingsvard, a wonderful sculptor of mystery and memory in wood, will show images of her work. And Paul Greengard, a Nobel laureate neurobiologist from Rockfeller University will tell us of his studies of the mechanism of action of neurotransmitters, of therapeutic agents and drug abuse. They just happen to be a couple. And they do art and science, building structures large and small, their work calmly and intensely speaking to others, always trying to understand. Do art and science, have anything in common? What goes on in our mind when we discover and create? Avis Berman, a writer and art historian, will comment.


Feb. 6: “Eco-Opera-Evo” Photographer and explorer, Mark Moffett, composer, musician and multimedia artist, Phoebe Legere. Does anyone need convincing that life is an opera? We mean real life, not yours. Phoebe Legere ("...a name to conjure with ... She is an American original, she's fun, she's funny, she's smart. She's a beauty, almost like a Carole Lombard. But the main thing about her is SHE'S GOOD"-Studs Terkel, NPR) will use her latest invention, the Sneakers of Samothrace, to perform excerpts of her opera on the evolution of life, The Common Root of All Organisms. She is paired with Mark Moffett, an ecologist trained under E. O. Wilson. Mark, as close to Indiana Jones as they come, is one of the great nature photographers of our time. He will use his colorful images to discuss the common structural features of ecosystems.

March 6: ““Shuffle off this Mortal Coil” with writer and performance artist Claudia Stevens, and biologist Shai Shaham. Indeed, we must, in time. And there's something to learn about life through death. In "Dreadful Sorry, Guys," performance artist Claudia Stevens's eerie vocalizations, interlocking monologues and fierce piano playing combine in a haunting, bittersweet and sardonic one-act inspired by the murder of a childhood friend by hate criminals. And the audience gets to sing and recite as well! Shai Shaham is a brilliant young biologist at Rockefeller University, who will tell us of his work on programmed cell death, apoptosis. From undead cells in the nervous system of an unusual research organism, the worm C. elegans (another coil), we learn how apoptosis might be controlled.

April 3: “Einstein Alive” with Steve Mirsky, Sharon Glassman, Fred Jerome. So, 100 years ago, Albert E. published some papers that shook the world of physics. It’s the time and space to celebrate four dimensions of the man. In our own way: Humorist Steve Mirsky reports a deep conversation with Einstein’s parrot; writer and journalist Fred Jerome will read some excerpts form his book “The Einstein File,” detailing J. Edgar’s Hoover’s obsession with showing that Einstein was a dangerous subversive, storyteller Sharon Glassman updates Princeton’s waltz toward an Einstein memorial. And the photoelectric, nonrelativistic Deni Bonet plays for Albert, on her blue electric violin.

May 1: “Why Do Birds Sing?” with David Rothenberg, Partha Mitra, Rabindranath Tagore, and Leon Gruenbaum.Musician, writer, and philosopher David Rothenberg hosts an evening devoted to the topic of his new book with the title of this program (Basic Books, 2005) which shows how we need science, music, and poetry to make the most human sense out of what birds are up to. He's joined by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory neuroscientist Partha Mitra, who has worked on zebra finch brains and cell phone communications, and is now trying to tackle the underlying structure of mockingbird songs. He will also sing some songs of the eminent Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore! Both are joined by Leon Gruenbaum on an instrument of his own invention, the Samchillian TipTipTipCheeepeeeee.

June 5: “Science and the Moral Life – a Mismatch?” – a new play by Vince LiCata, K.C. Cole on Frank Oppenheimer, and Richard Milner singing Darwin songs. Science, done by human beings, has ethical and moral dimensions. A play by Vince LiCata, a biologist at Louisiana State University, explores this, with some dance and a little gun-play. The staged reading of "Mexican Hat Dance" will be directed by Barbara Bosch, with actors from the Hunter College Department of Theater. K.C. Cole, one of the founders of our program, and a great writer, will talk about the uneasy dance of science and government — past, present (and future?). And anthropologist and singer-songwriter Richard Milner will perform songs about Darwinian morality, angst, and politics from his acclaimed musical about the great evolutionist.

Aug. 7: “From Samarkand to Cordoba”, with Dave Soldier and “The Spinozas” Andalusian rock, Elaheh Kheirandish on Islamic science, and Carol Bier on symmetry and Turkish carpets. There was a time when science, music, and art in Islamic lands represented high culture to Europe. These cultural strands continue to influence the world today. Elaheh Kheirandish of Harvard University will tell us about mathematics and science in the medieval Islamic world. Dave Soldier, a leading improvisational musician and composer on the New York scene, will play with his new group, The Spinozas (including Na'Ti Lachmy, Richard Khuzami, and Nelida Tirado), who mix contemporary gypsy/flamenco style with Middle Eastern traditions and the lyrics of Al Andalus. Islamic art historian Carol Bier will bring two contemporary carpets from Turkey, woven using traditional methods with natural dyes. Comparing patterns and the uses of color, she will explore symmetry and symmetry-breaking in what we call Oriental carpets.

Sept. 4: “Ferns”, with Robbin Moran from the New York Botanical Garden, Oliver Sacks, and poetry by Elizabeth Socolow. Companions to dinosaurs and Victorians, edible and poisonous, resurrecting, close to the earth and arboreal, unfurling, sexy, and mysterious --- ferns are very special, very ancient plants. Robbin Moran of the New York Botanical Garden, a world expert and author of "The Natural History of Ferns" will tell us of these plants. Oliver Sacks will read from his "Oaxaca Journal" about a recent fern society expedition; poet Liz Socolow will read some poems about ferns. And Reuben Radding on contrabass and Karen Waltuch on viola will play! It may be that the plants themselves will make a rare cafe appearance.

Oct. 2: ”GM Foods, Monsters or Miracles?” with biologist Nina Fedoroff, and tango teacher Murat Erdemsel. Europeans march in opposition. Africans leaders refuse American genetically modified corn while their people starve. And yet today our processed food almost all contains FDA-approved GM ingredients. Small-scale farmers in China and India are adopting GM crops as eagerly as large-scale American farmers. Who's right? Why the controversy? Nina Fedoroff, a leading biologist, author of "Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods," answers these questions.....and any others you wish to ask. She is then joined by the exciting Murat Erdemsel talking about and performing Argentine tango.

Nov. 13: “Improvising on Chaos” with mathematician and poet Phil Holmes, poet Susan Case, and the Ben Holmes quartet. Our lives, careers, failures, loves and successes are as much directed by chance meetings as by our internal compasses. But surely science can make reliable predictions? Not so fast! Outcomes can still appear random, even if all the rules are known. Mathematician and poet Phil Holmes will expand on chaos theory and how it does and doesn't help one find one's way in the world. Poet Susan Case will tell how mathematicians hung out in the Scottish Cafe in Lvov before being swept into the vortex of World War II. A quartet, led by Ben Holmes (trumpet) and featuring Brian Drye (trombone), Take Toriyama (drums) and Reuben Radding (bass) will take the theme to music, with original compositions and free improvisations on traditional melodies of East Europe.

Dec. 4: “Neon” with light artists Kenny Greenberg and Clare Brew, Roald Hoffmann, Oliver Sacks, and dancer/choreographer Rachel Cohen. Something about intense, clear, colored light delights the eye and mind. Light artists Kenny Greenberg and Clare Brew, teaming up with dancer and choreographer Rachel Cohen, will create synaesthestic light fantasies for us. Roald Hoffmann will lapse into his professorial mode, and do a show-and-tell on emission, absorption, and line spectra, while Oliver Sacks recounts the remarkable history of the noble gases.


Feb. 5: “Darwin’s Birthday Bash” with anthropologist and entertainer Richard Milner, magician Mark Mitton and writer Jonathan Weiner. So it’s a week early…. But Darwin and evolution are in the air. And in the courts. Jonathan Weiner, the author of “The Beak of the Finch,” tells some war stories from the people who actually watch evolution happen, anthropologist and entertainer Richard Milner will try out some brash new songs on evolution, and master magician Mark Mitton will treat us to an “Evolution in Action” show. Now you can find out where those rabbits really come from!

March 5: “In your Ear”, neurobiologist Jim Hudspeth, and the Karen Waltuch Quartet. In one of our less plausible eighth grade lessons, we learned that hammers, plucked taut strings, and reeds stir up the air, and that clutter, passing through our ears... somehow emerges in the brain as music! This evening, composer/violist Karen Waltuch and her quartet (with Loren Dempster, Mary Wooten, and Leanne Darling) will most pleasantly fill our ears with air molecules vibrating in response to her original compositions. And eclectic Rockefeller University neurobiologist Jim Hudspeth will try to explain what really goes on in there.

April 2: “ Afternoon of the Chimeras: Filmmaker Daniel Conrad, biologist Rene Hen and the poetry of Wislawa Szymborska. Daniel Conrad, an award-winning filmmaker from Vancouver, will show us his two most recent films -- one bearing the title of this program, the other, "7 Universal Solvents." Both feature contemporary New York and Canadian dancers, and forces of nature. René Hen, who studies genetic models of anxiety and depression, will tell us of mutant mice and chimeras in modern biology. And Katarzyna Kaim and Roald Hoffmann will read some apposite poems by Wisława Szymborska.

May 7: “Biomineralization: The Beauty of Function”, with Lia Addadi and Joanna Aizenberg, and Agata Olek. A mouthful, that word. Yet you feel the implicit paradox in it, of the soft and the hard. For soft as we are, we have bone and teeth (and wish they wouldn’t fail us!). And there is nothing more beautiful in Nature than the shelters and solid inner structures that small and big critters alike have evolved. Lia Addadi of the Weizmann Institute and Joanna Aizenberg of Bell Labs will introduce us to this exquisite world of structure and function between the organic and inorganic. Agata Olek (an artist who will crochet anything from a Venice vaporetto to prostate cancer), working with actor Carol Haunton, will crochet balloons and a fairy tale to illuminate a Venus Flower Basket, a glass sponge which “traps” two shrimp in its interior. Maybe she’ll crochet around you; watch out!

June 4: “Small Talk Among the Bacteria”, with biologist Bonnie Bassler and puppeteers Todd Teichart and Jennie Lee Mitchell. Microscopic single celled organisms (a.k.a. bacteria) were, until recently, thought to live asocial lives. New research shows that bacteria are quite conversational, and that they talk with a chemical vocabulary. This chemical chit-chat is dubbed "quorum sensing" and it enables bacteria to act in unison to reap benefits and wreck havoc that cells acting as loners could never achieve. Bonnie Bassler of Princeton University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will translate this bacterial language and discuss her group’s efforts to develop anti-quorum sensing molecules for use as novel antibiotic therapies. Shadow puppeteers Todd Reichart and Jennie Lee Mitchell will explore the interesting things that happen when one becomes many and the many transform.

Sept. 3: “Blue Choices” with chemist and conservation scientist Marco Leona, and the blues of Kenta Nagai and Satoshi Takeishi.From blue pigments to the Blues, artists select what they need: this is a program about their choices. Marco Leona, a scientist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will talk to us about pigments and color, from indigo to the remarkable Maya blue, and from the arrival in Japan of Prussian blue to the aniline invasion. Guitarist Kenta Nagai and percussion player Satoshi Takeishi, both composers as well, will take us down the road traveled by other blues, perhaps from the Mississippi delta to Chicago. Choosing instruments, choosing styles, creating harmonies.

Oct. 15: Chateau Jiahu, Vintage 7000 BC, with biomolecular archaelogist Patric McGovern, wine expert Darren Siegfried, choreographer Rachel Cohen, some possessed women and men and virtuoso glass player, Katie Down. This evening, you will have the chance to taste Chateau Jiahu, the most ancient, chemically-attested alcoholic beverage in the world, dating back to about 7000 B.C. It is a mixed fermented beverage of malted rice, wild-flower honey, and white grapes, fermented on a sake yeast with hawthorn berries. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Biomolecular Archaeology laboratory will discuss how his lab and colleagues resurrected ancient Chinese and Near Eastern beverages. Darrin Siegfried, wine expert and restaurateur, former Sommelier Society of America President, will comment on the qualities of the new old wines, and lead the tasting. Music will be provided by Katie Down, playing water – whoops, wine – glasses. And choreographer and dancer Rachel Cohen will invest the peaceful glade of the Cornelia Street Café with her troupe of possessed women. Any bulls nearby may be sacrificed, for this night Dionysus rules!

Nov. 5: “Naming Nature” Robbin Moran and David Wolfe on Linnaeus vs. Woese, with some evolving Swedish music as well. What’s in a name? Robbin Moran, a taxonomist from the New York Botanical Garden, will tell us about the quirky Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-78), founder of modern taxonomy, and his influence on the scientific practice of naming the living world. Does Linnaeus's creationist method of classification work in a Darwinian world? And will it survive molecular biology? David Wolfe, an ecologist at Cornell, takes up that side of the story -- how Carl Woese established that in a tree of life based on genetic information (as opposed to what things look like), the entire animal and plant "kingdoms" are just tiny twigs, and that most of our planet's genetic diversity and evolutionary history lie within the microbial domains. So is it Woese vs. Linnaeus, molecular vs. classical biology? Anders Nilsson, an exciting Swedish jazz guitarist, will let us experience evolution in another way on his 11-string instrument – we’ll hear how a Swedish folk melody changes over a few hundred years.

Dec. 3: “I Forgot to Learn to Forget” David Sulzer (or perhaps David Soldier), artist Vitaly Komar, with music by Rebecca Cherry and Steve Beck. How do you learn a habit and how can you unlearn it? Why do you not forget how to ride a bike, but it’s hard, ain’t it hard, to unlearn smoking? In tonight's exploration of recall and habit, painter and conceptual artist Vitaly Komar will present Three-Day Weekend, interwoven Christian, Jewish, and Muslim symbols that first appeared in his childhood dreams and resurfaced when he discovered the only photo of his intact family in Russia. Brilliant young violinist Rebecca Cherry, formerly principal violin in the London Symphony, will present selections from The Compleat Victrola Sessions, a collaboration with composer Dave Soldier – an evocation of the allure and danger of addiction in the 1920's, using black and white silent film with nostalgic, surreal virtuoso music. Neuroscientist Dave Sulzer will explain how the brain integrates wild stabs at success with feedback from the environment, how that underlies habit learning, and why a decision contrary to habit requires so much effort.


January 7: "Cosi Simili, Cosi Diverse." The tension of things being the same and not the same is in the soul of science and art. Roald Hoffmann will tell four chemical short stories of molecular identity: presumed, feigned, healing, lethal. In what seems – only that -- to be another world, soprano saxophonist Joe Giardullo and percussionist Todd Capp explore the creative core of independence and unity

February 4: "Mirror, Mirror On the Wall." Life exists only as one mirror image! Playing macro (our heart on the left, our liver on the right), or micro (all proteins and nucleic acids), nature chooses just one. In Denmark vs the Superbowl, a great organic chemist from Aarhus, Karl Anker Jørgensen, tell us how we, emulating and contending with nature, may control the making of one of the mirror-image forms of a molecule. And trumpeter and composer Poul Weis gives us his take on the mirror-image world in and around us.

March 4: "Atypical Antipsychotics: Bench to Bedside to Band. No, not the denizens of the Cornelia Street Café, but life-saving and controversial drugs. Herb Meltzer will describe his own journey from the chemistry lab to treating and studying schizophrenia, ground-breaking studies which revolutionized the treatment of this disorder. He’ll give us his views of the current critique of antipsychotic drugs, where schizophrenia research is headed, and also what listening to music and schizophrenia have in common, at least with regard to brain chemistry. Which brings us to the other component of this evening, the Amygdaloids. The rock band that really gets into your head is made up of four NYU scientists: the son of a Louisiana butcher (neurobiologist Joseph LeDoux), a former Israeli army soldier (cognitive neuroscientist Daniela Schiller), a dome builder (environmental scientist Tyler Volk), and a philosophy major (cognitive neuroscience researcher Nina Galbraith Curley). As Newsday says, “Heavy Mental.”

April 1: “A Riff On the Way to Structure” with molecular engineer Shuguang Zhang and composers and musicians Lisa Karrer and David Simons.Construction crosses the natural/synthetic divide, for we are destined to build – temples and music and molecules – just as nature assembles its generous complexity. There be building blocks, propensities, but most assuredly the process is dynamic, a coming on and coming off, a riff on the way to rich structure. Self-assembly is the subject of our evening. Molecular architect Shuguang Zhang, from MIT’s Center of Biomolecular Engineering, shows us how nature and we build on the molecular scale, from the bottom up. And Lisa Karrer and David Simons perform music that assembles and re-assembles itself in real time, triggering sounds in unpredictable ways, asking the listener to create their own connective tissues of meaning.

April 28 (extra program): “Himalayan Art and Music” with chemist and art collector Richard Ernst and friends. Richard R. Ernst, a scientist who later won the Chemistry Nobel Prize, discovered by accident in 1968 the beauty of Tibetan painting. He will share his personal fascination with Tibetan art through slides that reveal another cultural world; its philosophical and religious background will be touched. The attraction of Tibetan art comes from a highly perfected pictorial language that allows the painter to express eternal truths in vivid, easily understood images. This is an art of nearly limitless creativity. And it is difficult to escape its colorful attraction. The speaker cannot, will not fully hide his own professional interests when he speaks also about pigment analysis and conservation of the delicate paintings. The evening will feature a performance by Yungchen Lhamo, a compelling performer of Tibetan song, who explores with talent and deep feeling the country’s traditional themes of spiritual pilgrimage and delight in nature. Yungchen has been called “a voice from the skies.”

May 5: “Phallacy”, scenes from Carl Djerassi’s new play. She’s a top art historian in a world famous museum. He’s a distinguished professor of chemistry. She searches for artistic truth through connoisseurship; he finds scientific fact through cold material analysis. Between them stands the object of her affection: a revered classical statue long thought to be a roman original…and he just proved it to be a 16th century cast. But is it now worth less? Is it now less beautiful? As personal rivalries and professional reputations clash, how far will each go to prove the other wrong? Renowned chemist and playwright Carl Djerassi will engage his biting wit to illuminate the background behind his new play PHALLACY, which is based on real events in a major European museum. Actors Lisa Harrow and Simon Jones will then preview a scene from PHALLACY, which will run at the Cherry Lane Theatre from May 15 – June 10.

June 3: "The Face in the Mirror: Reflections of the Animal Mind," with cognitive scientist Diana Reiss, Dave Soldier and David Ferris, elephant art and music. Do other animals share with us a sense of self? How big and complex a brain does it take to recognize that the one staring back at you in a mirror - is you! Diana Reiss, cognitive psychologist at Hunter College and senior research scientist at Wildlife Conservation Society presents her compelling work showing that dolphins and elephants, along with great apes and humans are members of an exclusive club whose members recognize themselves. And can elephants make art and music? We'll explore this question with a brand-new video of musician Dave Soldier teaching and conducting the Thai Elephant Orchestra, and a presentation of elephant art by David Ferris, director of the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project.

July 1: "Channeling the Sound of the Cosmos," with cosmologist and jazz musician Stephen Alexander and music theorist Robert Rowe. Ever since the discovery of the 'quantum fluctuations' in the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation in the early nineties, people have tried to figure out how the primordial structures in the universe emerged from 'nothing'. Stephon Alexander, a cosmologist at Penn State as well as a superb sax player and composer, will explore with us the origin and persistence of large scale structure formation in the universe. And, with his group, reinterpret this process through jazz improvisation, resonance and rhythm. He will be paired with composer and NYU music theorist Robert Rowe, whose work has two main strands: the programming of music composition and improvisation, and interactive music systems, in which composition is influenced by a machine analysis of human musical expression during live performance. If you will, a search for large- and small-scale structure formation in improvised and composed music over time.

August 30: "Scents and Sensibility: How Your Nose Knows," with biologist Stuart Firestein and performer Christophe Laudumel. The vertebrate nose is arguably the best chemical detector on the face of the planet. Even humans have quite a good sense of smell, as can be seen from the sophisticated aromas of gourmet food and wines (Cornelia!) and the fact that many products we use or eat contain an added flavor or fragrance – not to mention the several billion dollars we spend annually on products intended to alter our personal odors or make our bathrooms smell like pine forests. How do our noses accomplish these feats and provide us with some of the more ethereal sensual pleasures? How do perfumers blend art and science to create fragrances that give rise to these intangible sensations? Stuart Firestein, Professor of Neurobiology at Columbia University, and Christophe Laudamiel, Senior Perfumer at International Flavors and Fragrances, will discuss recent findings in the science of olfaction and then reveal the art of fragrance creation by mixing – right before your noses – a few sketches and olfactory treats, including the enigmatic fragrance Nuit Napolitaine. And there will be a reading from a recent classic of olfactory literature.

October 7: "Harmonious Triads," music theory and instrument makers in 19th century Germany, with historian Myles Jackson and violinist Pico Alt. The nineteenth century witnessed an incredible spurt of musical creation. And, in the same period, physicists and musical instrument makers, working together with composers and performers, tried to understand the nature of musical genius and virtuosity, the underlying physics of acoustics, and the instruments themselves. Myles W. Jackson, the new Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology at Polytechnic University, tells us of this exciting period. And talented young musicians, Pico Alt Violin; Christina Courtin Viola, and Jeremy Turner Cello, play a Beethoven string trio for us.

November 4: "All is Pattern," with environmental scientist Tyler Volk and choreographer Christopher Caines and his troupe.What do galaxies, grapes, soil food webs, Zen ensos and dance troupes have in common? They are all patterns made of interacting parts. Tonight environmental scientist (and patternologist) Tyler Volk of NYU explores the nature of patterns in nature, culture, and the rest of the universe, and asks if there could be a science of everything based on patterns. His thoughts spin on the complementarity between patterns and their functions, for remarkable convergences are born when the forms that are woven by diverse scales of nature and culture (and even our minds) share common roles. And what more quintessential patterns of culture are there than dance and music? When Claude Debussy chastised Erik Satie, remarking that the eccentric composer ought to "soigner sa forme"--pay better attention to form--Satie replied, not in words, but in music. His riposte is the "Three Pieces in the Form of a Pear," a short suite for piano four-hands whose witty irony (not without a touch of sarcasm) is already signaled by the fact that the music consists not of three pieces, but seven. Choreographer Christopher Caines, together with members of his dance company, presents excerpts from a new work in progress (specially arranged for the Cornelia Street Café) exploring this pivotal score in Satie'soeuvre. Caines, a 2006 Guggenheim Fellow, should prove the ideal choreographer to illuminate questions of structure, form, and pattern in the relation of dance to music.

December 2: "Thinking, Feeling." Hiram Pines’ one-man show, The Day the Universe Came Closer, travels gently and with wit through science, epistemology and religion tries to make a darn good case for the brilliance of the human instrument. Hiram, who recently moved to New York, will perform about half of the 45-minute stage play, focusing on a funny little thing that messed with our heads for hundreds of thousands of years. Neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux, from the Center for Neural Science at NYU, author of “The Synaptic Self” and “The Emotional Brain,” will talk about the separation of cognition and emotion in the brain and the consequences that has for our interpersonal (and international) relations. He will emphasize fear as the main example. LeDoux is also one of the founding members of the stellar downtown rock group, the Amygdaloids.


January 6: "Sea Change: Reversing the Tide," is a dramatic lecture devised, written and presented by scientist Roger Payne and his wife, actress Lisa Harrow. Roger Payne, who discovered that humpback whales sing songs, has been working for the conservation of whales for decades. SeaChange weaves the knowledge of science and the wisdom of poetry into a compelling presentation arguing that the human species is not the overseer of life but an integral part of life’s complex web, and that our survival requires that we attend not just to our own well-being, but also, to the well-being of that entire web of life. SeaChange: Reversing the Tide blends the poetry of Shakespeare, Shelley, Robert Frost, Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver and others with a clear exposition of the consequences of our current indifference to Natural Laws and the benefits that can be achieved by living in accordance with those laws.

February 3: "Five Feet High and Rising," a journey to Greenland and Antarctica with David Holland, songs by Julia Meinwald. From the Ilulissat Ice Fjord in Greenland, to the Pine Island Ice Shelf In Antarctica, New York University's David Holland invites us along on a journey from the extreme North to the extreme South. An expert in polar environmental science, Professor Holland discusses two of his recent field trips to investigate the possibilities of future global sea level change from melting ice sheets. Rolling icebergs, hidden crevasses, unstoppable mosquitoes, plane crashes, sun burn, frost bite, and snow blindness - it's all part of the quest to understand sea level change! Julia Meinwald, a talented emerging songwriter and recent graduate of Tisch's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at NYU, will showcase (with the help of some friends) her original songs of water in all its emotional states.

March 3: "It's the Way It Shatters That Matters," with injury researcher Nadine Levick and jazz musicians Dan Furman and Michael Vitali. So what are the biggest threats to our day to day safety? The facts may well come as a big surprise. Where are our real weaknesses? How come hips break? How do ballistic vests work? And what is crashworthiness? The drive to survive! Learn the answers to these questions from Nadine Levick, Emergency Physician and Injury Researcher - best known for her John Hopkins ambulance crash tests, awarded the International Society for Automotive Engineers Women's Leadership Award! And… conduct your own special and edible crashtest experiments and be entertained to the fabulous sounds of Dan Furman (Piano) and Michael Vitali (Drums) from the Primordial Jazz Funktets and the Dan Furman Trio who will transport you into some exhilarating musical inspiration to soothe your soul.

May 4: "Why Do Whales Sing?" with David Rothenberg, Sal Cerchio, Graham Burnett and Lukas Ligeti.

June 1: "Illuminate Me," with light artists Kenny Greenberg and Clare Brew, choreographer Rachel Cohen, and Roald Hoffmann.

See also:

Roald Hoffmann