Presentations For College & University Classrooms

The presentations listed below are ones I’ve actually given to general audiences, and are offered here as examples of what I do. I’m happy to adapt one of the talks below, or develop a new one -- on any of the subjects listed at right -- to match your class’s needs or your students’ particular interests.

The Problem of the Planets

Solar System
Astronomers have known, since antiquity, that the planets moved in closed orbits. That raised the fundamental question: “What keeps them in their orbits?” This talk survey’s the answers proposed by scientists from Aristotle and Ptolemy through Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler to Hooke and Newton, who provided the solution that -- with some embellishments by Einstein -- survives today.

Technology and Tactics
The machines at your disposal shape the way you fight wars: What kinds of targets you can attack, how precisely you can focus your attacks, what kinds of terrain you can fight in, and what level of casualties you expect to sustain, as well as the ethics of fighting it. This talk, adaptable to the Middle Ages, the Early Modern era, the mid-t9th century, WWI, or WWII, explores what that means.

Nuclear Weapons and the Cold War
The superpowers’ possession of nuclear weapons and the ability to strike each others’ homeland with them defined the Cold War. More than that, however, the gradual evolution of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems changed the way the superpowers confronted one another. Ranging from Hiroshima to the arms treaties of the early 1990s, this talk traces those world-defining changes.

Challenger: Inside an Engineering Disaster

The space shuttle Challenger and its seven crew members were lost, in January 1986, because design flaws present in the shuttle from the outset of the program went uncorrected for years due to operational demands, and became fatally apparent when NASA and one of its key contractors agreed that it was safe to launch the shuttle in unprecedented, near-freezing temperatures. This talk examines those causes, with an emphasis on engineering ethics.

Human Evolution: A Story in Six (and a half) Fossils

From the discovery of Neanderthal Man in Germany in 1856 to the discovery of Homo floresiensis in Indonesia in 2003, ideas about the origins of the human race have been repeatedly revised in light of new fossil discoveries: a fascinating case study of science doing what it does best. This talk looks at those two discoveries (and five more in between) as it traces scientists evolving picture of our origins.