Science Revealed: A Public Lecture Series

Science is more important in our society than ever before.  Science forms the basis for our technology, health care, transportation, and many other aspects of our daily lives; it even features in our politics and public policy.   This series will connect select researchers -- who have expertise in science and in communicating about science -- with members of the public interested in learning more about, and discussing, science.  How does science work?  How does science impact our lives?  What are the limitations of science?  Come to our sessions, and experience Science Revealed!

Our Programs


"ChatGPT Wrote this Title: Exploring the Impact of AI on Our Minds and Society"
Wednesday, April 19, 7 p.m. EST

A few months ago, a seemingly revolutionary technological milestone occurred when ChatGPT was released online. ChatGPT and other instances of what are called "generative artificial intelligence" (or generative Al) are programs that actually generate text, images, audio or other content for users. Ask ChatGPT to provide a premise for a sitcom, a poem in the style of Emily Dickinson, or an explanation of the basics of curling, and lines of text start materializing on the screen, seeming eerily like those that an expert human would write (although not always correct!). There has been much debate about how these programs may pose a threat or an opportunity for our education
Our session will present the research-informed ideas of several Pitt experts on the broader topics of how this technology may affect the way we think, write and speak, and the associated impacts on society.  Use this link to view a recording of this event.



Colin Allen is a Distinguished Professor and Director of Graduate Studies for the Dietrich School's Department of History and Philosophy of Science and an Adjunct faculty member in the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition

Professor Allen's main areas of research concern the philosophical foundations of cognitive science and neuroscience. He is particularly interested in the scientific study of cognition in nonhuman animals and computers, and he has published widely on topics in the philosophy of mind, philosophy of biology, and artificial intelligence. He also has several projects in the area of humanities computing. He is a faculty affiliate of Pitt's Digital Studies & Methods program and of the CMU/Pitt Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition



Malihe Alikhani is an Assistant Professor of computer science in the School of Computing and Information at the University of Pittsburgh. She earned her Ph.D. in computer science with a graduate certificate in cognitive science from Rutgers University in 2020. Her research interests center on using representations of communicative structure, machine learning, and cognitive science to design practical and inclusive NLP systems for social good. Her work has received multiple best paper awards at ACL, UAI, INLG, and UMAP and has been supported by DARPA, NIH, Amazon, and Google. .



Diane Litman is a Professor of Computer Science and a Senior Scientist with the Learning Research and Development Center. From 2010-2020, she served as Faculty (Co-)Director of the Graduate Program in Intelligent Systems. Professor Litman’s current research focuses on enhancing the effectiveness of educational technology through the use of spoken and natural language processing techniques such as argument mining, summarization, and dialogue systems.

Professor Litman is a Fellow of the Association for Computational Linguistics, has twice been elected Chair of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics, has co-authored multiple papers winning best paper awards, and has been awarded Senior Member status by the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.




Annette Vee is Associate Professor and Director of the Composition Program in the Dietrich School's Department of English, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in writing, digital composition, materiality, and literacy. Her teaching, research and service all dwell at the intersections between computation and writing. She is the author of Coding Literacy (MIT Press, 2017), which demonstrates how the theoretical tools of literacy can help us understand computer programming in its historical, social and conceptual contexts. Her work is read in dozens of university courses in literacy, composition, textual studies, digital humanities, and computer science education.  

Her current research examines the ways that computational technology is supplanting traditional realms of writing and rhetoric such as in law and commerce. She is at work on projects that consider the history of the Basic programming language; how blockchain technology affects rhetorics of trust; and how computational algorithms that write and read are affecting human writers and relationships. Past work has explored the role of bots online to spread fake news, the connections between computation and rhetoric, and the strange status of computer code as a form of writing protects by both copyright and patent law.   



Paul Munro is an Associate Professor in the School of Computing and Information, and has a secondary appointment in Pitt's Center for Neuroscience, and is a member of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition.

Professor Munro has been involved in neural network research since the early 1980s, and is interested in modeling learning at both the neurophysiological level (synaptic plasticity) and at the cognitive level using artificial neural networks. His work has mainly centered on using mathematical models to understand how cognitive processes emerge from biological structures.  




"Reaping What We Spill, Leak and Spew"
Monday, February 6, 4 -5:30 p.m. EST

There is no doubt that humans impact the health of the environment and that the environment, in turn, impacts human health.  Where consensus can break down is in deciding how urgent it is to respond to these impacts and what form this response should take. This is where science and data become indispensable. 

In "Reaping What We Spill, Leak and Spew," our expert panelists from various schools at the University of Pittsburgh will discuss how researchers can measure levels of contaminants in the environment, how they can determine the health effects that result, and how these factors are or can be affected by policy and regulations. Come join us to hear from and engage with these experts on these crucial issues! 
Use this link to view a recording of this event.


Dan Bain is an associate professor in the Dietrich School’s Department of Geology and Environmental Science at the University of Pittsburgh.  Dan combines hydrology, geomorphology, biogeochemistry, ecology, and spatial analysis to examine fundamental human interactions with landscape components, particularly fluvial (stream) and urban systems, over the last several centuries. Read more about Professor Bain's research.




Aaron Barchowsky is a professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health in the School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. Aaron is a metals toxicologist who, for the past thirty years, has investigated mechanisms of disease caused by exposure to metals and environmental contaminants. He is best known for discoveries of how arsenic in drinking water promotes cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, as well as how inhaled metals promote pulmonary disease.




Tina Ndoh is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Pitt’s School of Public Health. She is a dedicated education, equity, and environmental leader. She is passionate about environmental justice and has worked toward efforts that allow all people to enjoy the natural environment free of pollution. She has over 20 years of engineering and air quality experience, has mentored early-career environmental professionals, and has managed student interns in environmental fields.




Shanti Gamper-Rabindran is a professor at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) and the Dietrich School’s Department of Economics.  Her book America's Energy Gamble: People, Economy and Planet (Cambridge University Press 2022) details how political, financial and legal institutions entrench fossil fuel dependency, but how efforts to shift to renewable energy are gaining traction. Her edited volume The Shale Dilemma: A Global Perspective on Fracking and Shale Development (University of Pittsburgh Press 2018) details the decisions of countries to pursue or to eschew shale development and the impacts of shale extraction on local communities.  In 2021-22, she served on National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study panel on Enhancing the U.S. Chemical Economy through Investments in Fundamental Research in the Chemical Sciences. She also served as the August-Wilhelm Scheer Visiting Professor at the Technical University of Munich, Germany.



Cassie Quigley is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Science Education in the Department of Teaching, Learning, and Leading at the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. She received her doctorate in Curriculum & Instruction at Indiana University in 2010. Prior to joining the School of Education at Pitt, she was an associate professor of science education at Clemson University. Currently, she works with in-service teachers on expanding their current pedagogical practices to include equitable approaches in science. Additionally, she examines the ways collaborative problem solving can be a tool for disrupting status in classrooms and a way to promote computational thinking skills for girls and students of color.




"UFOs and the Stories We Tell About Them"
April 7, 2022, 7-8:30 p.m. EST

UFOs have long fascinated us. Although most reports of UFOs have terrestrial explanations, they have spawned a good deal of speculation about extraterrestrials. The many ways in which we try to make sense of UFOs are just as interesting as the UFOs themselves!

Come listen to our panel of multidisciplinary experts from departments across Pitt's Dietrich School to get perspectives about how people in the middle ages might have conceptualized UFOs, how misinformation persists about ETs building ancient edifices, how our cognitive processes and biases work in making sense of UFOs, the likelihood of travel from exoplanets, the latest on a US intelligence report on UFOs, and how to detect nonsensical claims.

This event was recorded and is available for viewing.



Elizabeth P. Archibald is a lecturer in the Dietrich School's Department of History. Her research focuses on the history of education, literacy, and the transmission of knowledge in medieval Europe. She has published her research on topics including school texts in the medieval curriculum, women's book ownership, and historical techniques of pedagogy, and is the author of the blog and book Ask the Past.





Elizabeth Arkush is a professor in the Dietrich School Department of Anthropology and Associate Director of the University of Pittsburgh Comparative Center for Archaeology. Her research focuses on the archaeology of Andean South America with field projects in the Lake Titicaca basin of southern Peru. She has written extensively about the ways violent conflict was related to political authority and community through time in the pre-Columbian Andes. 

Current research focuses on connections between climate, human land use, and long-term social histories of growth, collapse, conflict, and resilience.



Carlos Badenes is Associate professor at the Department of Physics and Astronomy. His scientific interests include stellar evolution, supernova explosions, and the so-called compact objects: white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. He obtained his PhD in 2004 from the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain, and has held postdoctoral positions in the United States and Israel.

In his spare time, he enjoys film and literature, particularly science fiction.




Marc N. Coutanche is an Associate Professor in the Dietrich School Department of Psychology, faculty in the joint Pitt-CMU Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, and a Research Scientist in the Learning Research and Development Center. His research is focused on questions in the field of cognitive neuroscience related to human memory and perception. He is particularly interested in how the human brain processes perceptual information and transforms it into knowledge and conceptual understanding. He has secondary research interests in the development of new neuroimaging analysis methods to understand the human brain.



Melanie Good is a Lecturer in the Dietrich School's Department of Physics and Astronomy. She earned her MS in observational astronomy and her PhD in physics education research at the University of Pittsburgh, completing the latter in 2018. In 2009 she co-founded an exoplanet research group which remains active to this day.  She has 11 years of university teaching experience, and has received awards for teaching and course transformation.  Melanie is also a consultant with Wiley, producing introductory physics video content. 

Her physics education research is ongoing, with projects related to stress and mindfulness interventions for introductory physics students, and the prevalence of academic dishonesty in introductory physics classes.



Lara Putnam is UCIS Research Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh. She researches social movements and political participation in local, national, and transnational dimensions. She has published two books and over two dozen articles on migration, popular culture, and social movements in the Greater Caribbean. Since 2017 Putnam has been using ethnographic and oral historical methods to explore shifts in grassroots political organizing in “rust belt” Pennsylvania and beyond. She is now the co-lead of the Pitt Disinformation Lab’s Southwest PA Civic Resilience Initiative.




"Nothingness: So much to talk about!"
December 2, 2021, 8-9:30 p.m. EST

Words like “nothingness” and “empty space” may seem like simple concepts, referring to the complete absence of content. But in practice, these concepts have been topics of ongoing debate with important implications for our understanding of the universe.  This panel discussion and Q&A at this event, involving several leading Pitt experts as well as our distinguished visitor James Owen Weatherall (author of the popular book Void: The Strange Physics of Nothing), will reveal in publicly accessible terms some of the complications and interesting ideas that arise when we try to get a grip on…nothing.  What is (or is not) really out there? What are its properties? What shape does it take? Join us to find out a lot about nothing!

This event is presented in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Center for Philosophy of Science and is free and open to the public. Please register to receive log in information for this Zoom Webinar event. 


Marian J. R. Gilton is an assistant professor in the Dietrich School Department of History and Philosophy of Science. Her primary research interests are in the history and philosophy of physics. She's interested in the mathematical and conceptual foundations of contemporary particle physics; the relationship between classical and quantum field theories; the history of quantum mechanics; and the history of mathematical, metaphysical, and other conceptual precursors to the Scientific Revolution. She has secondary research interests in philosophical logic, especially as applied to moral reasoning.




Kiumars Kaveh is a professor in the Dietrich School Department of Mathematics. Kaveh works in algebraic geometry and Lie theory. Specifically he is interested in connecting the geometry/topology of varieties and group actions, with the study of combinatorial objects such as convex polytopes with integer vertices. Some keywords in his research are: transformation groups, toric varieties, flag varieties, Schubert calculus, spherical varieties, Newton polytopes, Newton-Okounkov bodies, equivariant cohomology, localization and GKM theory. He also has a side interest in quantum information and cryptography (algebraic geometric methods).




James Owen Weatherall is a physicist, mathematician, and philosopher. He is Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Irvine, where he is also a member of the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Science. He currently serves as Director of Graduate Studies for the department; he is also the department DECADE mentor. Weatherall has been a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University; at Clare Hall College, Cambridge; at the Center for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics; and at the Center for Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh.








Andrew Zentner is a professor in the Dietrich School Department of Physics and Astronomy. He is a theorist with research interests that range throughout a broad cross section of cosmology to encompass galaxy formation, the phenomenology and identification of the dark matter and dark energy, and astrophysical limits on fundamental physics.





Moderator, Edouard Machery is Distinguished Professor in the Dietrich School Department of History and Philosophy of Science and Director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Philosophy of Science. His research focuses on the philosophical issues raised by the cognitive sciences. He has written extensively about concepts: he has argued that the notion of concept is ill-suited for a scientific psychology, and he has criticized the neo-empiricist accounts of concepts. His current research focuses on the methodology of experimental psychology, with a special focus on null hypothesis significance testing, external validity, and issues in statistics. Recent research projects and publications also include the nature and origin of racial categorization, the application of evolutionary theories to human cognition, the nature of culture, and the structure of moral concepts. Finally, he is involved in the development of experimental philosophy, and he has used experimental and quasi-experimental methods to study intuitions about reference, folk judgments about intentional action, causation, the folk concept of race, and the folk concept of phenomenal consciousness.



"Environmental Justice: Safe Water in Homewood and Throughout Pittsburgh"
October 5, 2021, 2 - 3 p.m.

How are water challenges in Pittsburgh neighborhoods connected to the larger global fight for environmental justice? Be a part of this important conversation featuring Dr. Emily Elliott, professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science and Director and co-founder of the Pittsburgh Collaboratory for Water Research, Education, and Outreach that bridges efforts in water research, governance, and action at the University of Pittsburgh; Alyssa Lyon (A&S '12), Director of the Black Environmental Collective; Zinna Scott, community activist and Ambassador with ReEnergize Pittsburgh; and, NaTisha Washington, environmental justice organizer at One Pennsylvania.

This event is organized in partnership with the Black Environmental Collective. All are welcome to this Civic Action Week program. Please register in advance to receive log in information.




African American woman wearing a covid mask"Perspectives on Health: (In)Equity Across Communities"
June 2, 2021, Noon - 1 p.m.
This event is a joint presentation with the Pitt Alumni Association Deliberative Dialogue Series.
All are welcome. Please register by June 1.

Amidst a global pandemic, the status of our mental and physical health has been brought to the forefront this past year and highlighted the effects of stress on our well-being. The pandemic has also brought attention to the disparities in healthcare access across different populations. 

Pitt alumnae and faculty members, Anna Marsland and Abimbola Fapohunda, will discuss the impact that stress and other factors have on our susceptibility to viral infection and response to vaccination, and the importance of taking action to address the long-standing disparities that existed in health equity worldwide and at home. Their conversation will be moderated by Mario Browne, the inaugural Associate Dean for Equity, Engagement, and Justice, and Associate Professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Abimbola Fapohunda, DrPH (GSPH ’97, ’99)

Prior to teaching in the Dietrich School's Department of Africana Studies, Abimbola Fapohunda was a visiting assistant professor of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. 

Over the past 10 years, she has conducted several studies among African Americans, Africans in the Diaspora, and on the African Continent. She is an epidemiologist and health educator with over 20 years’ experience running her own consulting company in public health, conducting needs assessments and program evaluations on the effectiveness of numerous community-based initiatives related to health disparities in both behavioral and physical health, including nutrition, smoking cessation, HIV/AIDS, and oral health in Black communities. The focus of her research is “Healthy Community for Black Immigrants” in Allegheny County, PA. 


Anna Marsland, PhD (A&S ’92, ’97G)
Anna Marsland is a professor in the Biological and Health Psychology Program in the Dietrich School’s Department of Psychology. Her research focuses on the association of psychological, social, and lifestyle factors with risk for physical disease. In particular, she researches how these factors impact the immune system in ways that may contribute to susceptibility to immune-related diseases, such as viral infections. Some of her work has examined factors that are associated with risk for viral-infection and with magnitude of immune responses to vaccination. She plans to talk about her work and the work of others in her field and discuss possible implications for response to the COVID-19 vaccination.



Mario Browne (GSPH ’05), Moderator
Mario Browne is the inaugural Associate Dean for Equity, Engagement, and Justice, and Associate Professor in the School of Pharmacy at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the immediate past director of the Office of Health Sciences diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Schools of the Health Sciences. Mr. Browne is an Affiliate Faculty Member of the Center for Health Equity in the Graduate School of Public Health and a past Faculty Fellow in the Center for Urban Education in the School of Education.

He is a Certified Diversity Practitioner and a Certified Health Education Specialist, and hold a BS in Biology and a BS in Medical Technology from Salem University and a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, and currently pursuing his Doctorate of Education in Administrative and Policy Studies at Pitt’s School of Education. Mr. Browne serves on various community and professional Boards and Committees including the Pennsylvania Department of Health COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, and is the Co-Chair of the Community Research Advisory Board (CRAB) at Pitt School of Public Health’s Center for Health.


The Deliberative Dialogue series is hosted by the Pitt Alumni Association to promote constructive conversations around difficult topics. Each presentation will highlight a topic related to an underserved population to help bring awareness to the variety of experiences across Pitt alumni. Questions about the Deliberative Dialogue series may be directed to Cassie Hayt at


"Safety in Numbers?  The Use (and Misuse) of Data in Society"
April 15, 2021
7 p.m. EST

Data is everywhere: from COVID efficacy rates to election polling, from the justice system to the internet. 

Data can be a tool to improve our lives, but what about the downside to all of this use of data – not only through hacks and security breaches, but also when data is manipulated to advance certain political and social agendas?

Join Dietrich School faculty members Thomas Hales, Lucas Mentch, Sandra Mitchell, Lara Putnam, and moderator Lisa Parker for a lively conversation about the role that data plays in society--the good, the bad, and the life altering.

This event was recorded and is available for viewing.


Thomas HalesThomas Hales, Andrew Mellon Professor
Department of Mathematics 

Topic: "Safe data with encryption"
Encryption uses math to keep data from falling into the wrong hands.  In ongoing "crypto wars," some governments are fighting against strong encryption.


Lucas Mentch, Assistant Professor
Department of Statistics

Topic: "Data in the Justice System"
The abundance of data available today can be used throughout the justice system for everything from validating forensic science procedures, to investigating disparities in police killings, to creating algorithms to predict prison sentencing.  What are the ways in which this can strengthen our trust in such institutions and what are the pitfalls we must be careful to avoid?




Sandra Mitchell, Distinguished Professor
Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Topic: “What data can and cannot tell us”
Scientific data from controlled experiments is the best source of causal information but it has limitations for application to everyday decisions and policies. The difference between judgments of efficacy and effectiveness of covid-19 vaccines exposes the additional considerations required in knowing HOW to use scientific data in different contexts.

Lara Putnam, UCIS Research Professor
Department of History

Topic: "Social Media and Social Movements: Crowdsourcing Knowledge, Combatting Disinformation”
The rise of social media has created new ways for people to learn about and join social movements. Researchers have kept step, creating new crowdsources platforms that enable us to seeing the scope and spread of protest movements like those supporting racial justice or opposing policies or regimes. But social media has also made it possible for disinformation and false narratives about protestors and social movements to spread: creating new challenges for democracies in a digital age.

Lisa Parker, Moderator
Professor and Director, Center for Bioethics & Health Law