Plenary Session Speakers

Monday, August 6, 2018
Baltimore Convention Center — Baltimore, Maryland

 

PLENARY SPEAKER #1

Jon Larsen
Project Stardust; Jazz Guitarist, Composer, Surrealist Painter, Author, Citizen Scientist

Using Microscopy to Find Stardust Anywhere

Jon Larsen is author of "In Search of Stardust," the first comprehensive popular science book on micrometeorites. The book also features a photo atlas presenting hundreds of micrometeorites imaged by high-resolution color optical microscopy and by scanning electron microscopy. Historically, cosmic dust was thought to be discoverable only in pristine areas like Antarctica or isolated deserts. Larsen became the first individual to demonstrate how to find micrometeorites in populated areas, allowing any individual to find tiny extraterrestrial stones in their nearest rain gutter. Since 2008, Larsen has collected dust particles and empirically classified various terrestrial contaminants. Suspecting that some of his particles were micrometeorites, Larsen worked with Matthew Genge from the Imperial College of London in 2015 to verify that indeed some of the particles were of extraterrestrial origin. Since then, Larsen has facilitated a community-based network of researchers through a program called "Project Stardust" so that anyone can conduct independent field work and lab analysis to document their own discovery of micrometeorites.

Larsen is also a self-trained and well-regarded guitarist, notably in the style of gypsy jazz inspired by Django Reinhardt, and has produced 450 jazz records with many prominent musicians throughout his musical career. Prior to composing music full-time, Larsen was a surrealist painter heavily influenced by Salvador Dali.

 

PLENARY SPEAKER #2

Manu Prakash, PhD
Stanford University

Every Child in the World Should Carry a Microscope in Their Pocket

Manu Prakash obtained a Bachelor of Technology degree in Computer Science from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India, and a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since 2011, he has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Stanford University. His lab applies cellular- and physical biology-based approaches to problems in organismic biophysics and develops novel tools for measurements in biological systems. A prominent goal in the Prakash lab is inventing novel tools for "frugal science" applied to global health and democratizing access to scientific experience.

Prakash and Jim Cybulski, a Ph.D. student in the Prakash lab, co-invented the "Foldscope." This foldable microscope is made mostly of paper and costs less than one U.S. dollar. Since 2014, 50,000 Foldscopes have been distributed to 135 countries, where they have been used to identify the microscopic eggs of agricultural pests in India, catalog the biodiversity of soil arthropods in the Amazon, detect fake currency and medicine, follow toxic algal blooms, detect bacteria in water samples, and map pollen diversity in a city landscape.

Prakash is a current HHMI-Gates Faculty scholar, a 2016 MacArthur Fellow, one of the "Brilliant 10" featured by Popular Science in 2014, and a 2014 MIT Technology Review top 35 innovator under 35 years of age. He has presented two TED talks featuring the use of origami and paper to create cost-effective diagnostic tools, one in 2014 on the Foldscope and one in 2017 on "Paperfuge," a hand-powered centrifuge costing only 20 cents. Prakash founded Foldscope Instruments in 2015, which handles large-scale production of Foldscopes for distribution to educators and individuals of all ages. Foldscope Instruments facilitates community engagement and sharing of experiences using Foldscopes through their "Microcosmos" online program, where children around the world post their micrographs and their experiences in scientific discovery.

 

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