Free Science Lecture Series Kicks Off Dec. 8 at UC Riverside

Lectures will focus on the search for life beyond Earth

Science Lecture Series poster

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — The 2016-17 University of California, Riverside Science Lecture Series kicks off Dec. 8 with the first of five lectures focused on the search for life beyond Earth. Each lecture will be followed by a special activity, including two guest panel discussions, a telescope viewing, and a hands-on science experience. All events are free to attend and open to the public.

The series, called “Are We Alone?,” will focus on how the search for alien life is defining a new era of space exploration – from Mars and icy moons in our solar system to Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars. Attendees will learn how scientists hope to find life beyond Earth and explore what that means for humanity.

The lectures are sponsored by UC Riverside College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and the university’s recently launched Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center. Each event will be held from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the University Theatre (Humanities 400.)

Free parking will be provided in parking lot 6. Refreshments and prizes will be offered. The lectures will be live-streamed and recorded for viewing later. Instructions for connecting remotely will be available at

The following is a list of the lectures:

  • Thursday, December 8. “Our Cosmic Origins: Stars, Galaxies, and the Stuff of Life.” Speaker: Bahram Mobasher, a professor of physics and astronomy and the associate director of Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center. The lecture will be followed by a guest panel discussion called “Humanity’s Place in the Universe” featuring a former director of the Vatican Observatory and UCR professors in history, philosophy, and creative writing. The panelists are: José Funes, an Argentine Jesuit priest and astronomer who was the former director of the Vatican Observatory and is now a visiting scholar at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley; Nalo Hopkinson, a UC Riverside professor of creative writing and a speculative fiction writer; Eric Schwitzgebel, a UC Riverside professor of philosophy specializing in the nature of belief; and Dana Simmons, a UC Riverside associate professor of history specializing in science and technology studies.
  • Thursday, January 12. “Alternative Earths: How Earth’s Past Guides NASA’s Search for Life.” Speaker: Tim Lyons, a distinguished professor of biogeochemistry and the director of the Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center. The lecture will be following with a telescope viewing event called “Our Celestial Neighbors,” with a special focus on the detailed features of the full moon.
  • Wednesday, February 1. “Ocean Worlds: Missions to Icy Moons and Dwarf Planets.” Speaker: Kevin Hand, deputy project scientist, solar system exploration directorate, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The lecture will be followed by a hands-on science experience called “Sensing the Universe.”
  • Thursday, March 23. “Mars 2020 & Beyond: Will We Find Life on the Red Planet?” Speaker: Ken Williford, deputy project scientist, Mars 2020 Mission and director, Astrobiogeochemistry Laboratory, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The lecture will be followed by a guest panel discussion called “Colonizing the Solar System.”
  • Thursday, April 13. “Alien Planets: Are Other Earths Lurking in Our Galaxy?” Speaker: Antígona Segura Peralta, professor of astrobiology, National Autonomous University of Mexico. An activity following the lecture will be determined at a later date.

Teachers who are interested in receiving professional development credit for attending the lecture series must make arrangements in advance with University Extension. The contact is Annette Webb, 951-827-1653 or To receive credit, teachers must attend all lectures in the series.

About the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences (CNAS): CNAS is home to world-renowned scholars pursuing research that deepens our knowledge of the universe we live in and improves the quality of life for inhabitants of the state, the nation, and the world. Central to this research is educating the students who come to CNAS to learn science, and who leave with an integrated grasp of how they can change the world. These students, and the faculty who teach them, benefit from a structure that is unique among land-grant colleges: CNAS’s 13 departments encompass the life, physical, mathematical, and agricultural sciences. This structure encourages an extraordinary degree of collaboration, reflected in the interdisciplinary research centers and the many cooperatively taught degree programs. Modern science is team based, and CNAS embodies that principle in everything it teaches and practices.

About the UC Riverside Alternative Earths Astrobiology Center: Housed in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, the center builds on existing UC Riverside strengths in biogeochemistry, Earth history, and astrophysics. Building on $12 million in support from NASA, scientists at the center seek to cultivate a “search engine” for life on planets orbiting distant stars—so-called exoplanets—and other worlds beyond Earth using the best possible template: the billions of years that Earth was teeming with simple life, long before the evolution of animals.

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