LASER talks:
Evening of December 10th, 2018

Stanford University
by Alex Smith

Evening Speakers

Hirohisa Tanaka
SLAC National Laboratory, Professor of Particle Physics and Astrophysics at Stanford University on "Neutrinos, The Desperate Remedy"
Helen Blau
Director of Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology, Stanford University on "Stem Cells : Seeds of a Therapeutic Revolution
Michal Kosinski
Associate Professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Business on "The End of Privacy"
Mauro Ffortissimo
Media Artist, Poet and Piano Deconstructor on "What is a Piano?"

Neutrinos: The Desperate Remedy

Hirohisa Tanaka, Professor, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
To begin his talk about his work with neutrinos at SLAC, Hirohisa posed a thought experiment to the audience:

Supposed I have a chair...I tell you that the chair doesn’t have arms. Nor does it have a back. And you say maybe that’s more like a stool, but okay. It doesn’t have legs. And it doesn’t even have a seat. And so somewhere along this line of thought you said, you probably don’t have anything at all.

He then discussed a particle. This particle doesn’t have an electric charge, and it lacks other properties that would allow us to “see” it in any form. This particle could pass through 10^10 meters of lead without leaving a trace. And, it doesn’t have a mass. Eventually, we wonder if this particle is anything at all, and if it makes sense to say that such a thing exists. The particle in question is the infamous neutrino particle. The neutrino is, however, a fundamental building block of the universe, and there are huge amounts of it all around us, all the time. There are billions of neutrinos streaming through each square centimeter of the Earth every second, just from the sun. When a star explodes, 99% of its energy is released as neutrinos rather than light. To learn more about neutrinos, particles, and absurdly large physics laboratories, watch Hirohisa Tanaka’s talk “Neutrinos: The Desperate Remedy.”

Stem Cells: Seeds of a Therapeutic Revolution

Helen Blau, Professor and Director, Stanford Baxter Laboratory for Stem Cell Biology
Helen Blau discussed stem cells in tissue regeneration, covering the whole field and the highlights of her work. Aging is a topic that fascinates us all. Regenerative medicine is often thought of as a solution to aging, which is seen as the transition from young and vibrant to debilitating and decrepit. Helen posed the question, do we have to age this way? No, she says. Though our life expectancies have increased substantially in the last century, what type of years of life are we gaining? We are getting more years of chronic disease as opposed to healthy years.

The idea of regenerative medicine is to optimize longevity, giving us more active and healthy years instead of just years. Some of the goals of stem cell and tissue engineering include regenerating or replacing damaged or diseased tissues to help with Parkinson’s and strokes, using cells to deliver genes missing in inherited diseases like muscular dystrophy and hemophilia, understanding early human development, modeling disease processes, and testing drugs. This research is for all of us, young and old, Blau specified; it’s not just for the elderly. To hear Helen discuss her work in technical detail, and learn about the three types of stem cells: embryonic, iPSC, and adult, watch Helen Blau’s talk “Stem Cells: Seeds of a Therapeutic Revolution.”

The End of Privacy

Michal Kosinski, Assistant Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Business
In 2012, the daily global output of data per person was 500MB. In total, that is a tower of 8.5”x11” pieces of paper stacked from the Earth to the sun, four times over. By 2025, that number is expected to balloon to 62GB per person, globally. This data has a wide variety of applications and uses, from autonomous vehicles and diagnosis and disease to facial recognition. Michal Kosinski’s interest is what we can learn from this data.

Our digital footprints oftentimes can be leveraged to learn other information about us. A person’s likes on Facebook can provide hints about their political preferences, age, parents’ relationship (divorced or not), whether they smoke or drink, and their sexual preferences. For example, by analyzing a given person’s geographical data (think Google Maps or Apple Maps), someone or some company can determine where this person lives, works, and visits regularly, which can yield a solid estimate of that person’s mortgage, salary, and other information, when combined with other data and machine learning algorithms. What does this mean for you? If you want to learn about the future of data, and Michal Kosinski’s thoughts on the post-privacy world we’re living in, watch his talk "The End of Privacy

What is a Piano?

Mauro Ffortissimo, Media Artist, Poet and Piano Deconstruction
Mauro Ffortissimo was born in Argentina, trained in classical piano, and has worked in multiple media like sculpture and sheet metal. He is known for deconstructing pianos, which he discussed in his talk, “What is a Piano?” The piano evolved from the harpsichord, which had one volume level, the pluck of a string. An instrument maker for the Medici family in Florence, Italy, added a felt piece and a hammer in the late 1600s, which allowed for the musician to vary the volume level. The piano has twelve notes, which Mauro feels is limited, and so he alters pianos to free them.

To his talk, Mauro brought one of his deconstructed pianos, which he calls Piano Liberado. This piano has 36 strings, and Mauro uses brass tubes, fishing like, and violin rosin on his fingers to create a wider variety of rich and diverse sounds. After discussing his deconstructed piano, Mauro gave an enchanting live performance of it. If you want to hear Mauro Ffortissimo discuss his functional sculptures, and hear him play Piano Liberado, watch “What is a Piano.”