Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Past Events 2015-2016

2015-2016 Lectures

Faculty Department or Field Title of Talk

Renee Engeln


Fighting the Body Blues

Thirty years ago, Rodin et al. (1985) coined the term “normative discontent” to refer to high rates of body dissatisfaction among women in Western cultures. In other words, if you’re a woman living in this part of the world, no one should be surprised to hear that you struggle to appreciate or accept your body. Body dissatisfaction comes with a host of unpleasant psychological correlates and is one of the strongest predictors of the onset of eating disordered behavior. In this talk, I will discuss evidence regarding specific cultural practices that encourage women’s body dissatisfaction and what (if anything) can be done to shift these practices. Additionally, I will discuss theory and data supporting the argument that many popular movements purportedly designed to make women feel better about their bodies are likely to backfire. I’ll conclude with initial evidence for a new approach to alleviating women’s body dissatisfaction.

Shane Larson

Physics & Astronomy


Virtually everything you know or have seen about the Cosmos has been learned using light. One hundred years ago, Einstein changed the way we think about gravity and discovered there was another way to see the Universe --- using gravity itself. Today, technology has caught up with this remarkable notion and we are beginning the first reconnaissance of the Cosmos, looking for faint undulations in space and time called "gravitational waves." In this chat, we'll talk about what gravitational waves are; we'll talk about the enormous multi-disciplinary effort to build machines that can detect them; and we'll talk about what we hope to learn about the Cosmos from hearing these faint whispers of gravity.

John Wynne


Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods: What did the Greeks and Romans believe about their gods? 

Athena, Cupid, Jupiter, Venus: the ancient Greek and Roman gods are still familiar from myth and symbolism. But what is hard to understand is how the ancients could worship these strange, and often distasteful, figures.  Did they really believe in giant humans hurling thunderbolts? How could such an alien religion offer comfort, meaning, or guidance in life? We will examine the various detailed, and surprisingly deep, philosophical answers to these puzzles suggested by the Roman statesman, Cicero.

Seth Stein

Earth & Planetary Science

The Midcontinent Rift: when North America almost split a billion years ago

Lake Superior itself, and the spectacular scenery around it result from a huge geological structure. The Midcontinent Rift  is a 1.1 billion year old 3000 km long scar along which the North American continent started to tear apart, but for some reason failed to form a new ocean. The rift gave rise to Lake Superior that is the basis of the area’s water-based history and economy, the copper and building stone deposits that shaped the region’s settlement and growth, and today’s tourist industry.

Eric Schulz


Some Behavioral Economics on Fashion, Identity, Trust, and Happiness

Behavioral economics incorporates results from psychology and neuroscience in the attempt to gain deeper insight into economic behavior, to make better predictions, and to generate improved policy prescriptions.  While the topics we’ll discuss may not seem to fall in the standard realm of the subject, economics in general these days is defined more by the approach that economists take than by the subject matter itself.  The plan is to sketch some findings and then to discuss applications in these areas.

Eula Biss


Metaphors In and Around Vaccination

My "talk" will not be a prepared talk. But I will speak loosely on the subject of "Metaphor In and Around Vaccination," which can serve as a title for "a discussion of the metaphors that shape the way we understand science and the metaphors that shape the way scientists think."

Shane Larson

CIERA/Physics & Astronomy

WHISPERS FROM THE COSMOS II: The Dawn of Gravitational Wave Astronomy

The last time we talked, we explored the idea that there was a new way to see the Universe --- using gravity itself. As it turns out, we live in the future, and gravitational wave astronomy has become a reality.

On 14 September 2015, the LIGO observatories in Washington and Louisiana made the first detection of gravitational waves from outer space. The signal unexpectedly came booming out of the sky in the early morning hours, surprising astronomers who were not expecting to see something quite so loud so soon. But saw it we did, and we spent the next 5 months looking at the data over and over again, convincing ourselves that it was what we thought --- the gravitational signal from two black holes crashing together, 1.3 billion lightyears away.

In this chat, we'll talk about this momentous discovery --- how we all found out about it, what LIGO saw, what it taught us about the Universe, and what the future holds in store for us now.

Back to top