The MIT Museum Presents Life in the Universe: Are We Alone?

 Life in the Universe – Are We Alone? That question has perplexed humanity for centuries.  In this special four part discussion series, the MIT Museum will bring together Harvard and MIT Professors who are world renowned in the fields of biology, astronomy, chemistry and anthropology to talk and share their insights as they explain some of their latest research about life on other planets, as well as on our own.  Moderated by MIT Museum Director, John Durant, and Museum Education Coordinator, Erika Reinfeld, this special evening series will give audiences both a historical overview and insight to current research about the search for life.


All discussions take place at the MIT Museum, 265 Massachusetts Ave. Cambridge, MA 02139.



6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Part 1 of 4: Life in the Universe

The Cambridge Science Festival’s Big Ideas for Busy People speaker, MIT physicist, Sara Seager, follows up on her popular talk about exoplanets with an explanation of how many places might there be that are actually capable of supporting some type of life. She is joined by Dimitar Sasselov, director of Harvard’s Origins of Life Initiative, whose deep understanding of astronomy and how planets are discovered are crucial to the conversation about where life might exist. His quest for understanding the universality of life as a chemical phenomenon has changed the way we view space and time.

Photos of Exoplanets


Wednesday 11/9

6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Life in the Universe
Part 2 of 4: In the Beginning

Nobel Laureate, Jack Szostak, explores the origins of life on the cellular level giving him the insight for just what it takes to have life, as we know it, exist in outer space. As a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, he covers many bases in the world of science as does Roger Summons, Professor of Geobiology at MIT. Fortunately for us, they have found time to talk and share in this second part of Life in the Universe, their own understanding of what it takes for life to appear, and how life as we know it has developed over time.

Breathing New life into the Earth, from the Summons Lab/MIT News office

Lunch with a Laureate (Jack Szostak) during the 2010 Cambridge Science Festival






Tuesday 11/15

6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Life in the Universe
Part 3 of 4: Why Mars Matters

What are we really searching for on Mars, and what might we conceivably find?

Panelists Klaus Biemann, Professor Emeritus in MIT’s Department of Chemistry, Wes Watters, Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Wellesley College, and postdoctoral associate Zara Mirmalek from MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society explain how and what they’ve learned  in the past 40 years about ‘the red planet’, and discuss why research about the planet Mars so intrigues the public.

Take a look at NASA images from Exploration Rovers to whet your appetite!



Tuesday 11/29

6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Life in the Universe

Part 4 of 4: Finding Intelligence

Nothing is more controversial than the search for intelligence in the universe. Do we even know what we are looking for? To better understand what “they” might be like, we need to know what is meant byintelligence.’ What does it take for animals to evolve intelligence, and how common is this event in the universe? Richard Wrangham, Harvard Professor of Biological Anthropology and author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, is renowned for his lucid explanations of the evolutionary origin of humanity, so he will help us with that answer. Paul Horowitz, the Harvard Professor of Physics and Electrical Engineering and SETI  (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) Principal Investigator whose expertise lies with custom instrumentation (such as a 3-beam, 250- million-channel radiofrequency Fourier spectrum analyzer performing an all-sky transit survey at the university’s 84-foot radiotelescope (!)), will talk about what it takes to search for what it is we think might be in outer space, looking for, or at, human life on planet Earth.


The SETI Institute



The MIT Museum is open 7 days a week from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. Admission – Adults: $8.50; Under 18, Students, Seniors: $4.00; MIT ID and children 5 and under: Free. The Museum also offers free admission on Sundays between 10:00 am – noon and on the second Friday of each month from 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.

The MIT Museum’s mission is to engage the wider community with MIT’s science, technology and other areas of scholarship in ways that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.

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