Pitzer’s 2018 Distinguished Scientist Lecture to Explore the Nature of the Sun and Scientific Inquiry

Keck Science Department Dean Ulysses J. Sofia
Ulysses J. Sofia, Weinberg Family Dean of W.M. Keck Science Department

Claremont, Calif. (January 31, 2018)—Ulysses J. Sofia, a noted astrophysicist and the Weinberg Family Dean of the W.M. Keck Science Department of Pitzer, Claremont McKenna and Scripps Colleges, will share solar secrets and explore the influence of money and politics on scientific inquiry at Pitzer’s 4th Annual Distinguished Scientist Lecture on Monday, February 19, at 4:15 p.m. His talk, “The Sun, the Scientific Method, and the Corruption of Science,” will draw on his years of experience as both an award-winning professor and a NASA-affiliated astrophysicist.

Sofia studies how the size of the sun changes over time and how those variations impact climate change.  His current research gathers data from a relatively small balloon-borne instrument, known as the Solar Disk Sextant, or SDS for short. Some of the SDS’ findings contradict data culled from a billion-dollar satellite. Sofia will also shed light on the scientific peer-review process and how it can determine whether a line of scientific inquiry is pursued or not.

“When self-interest infiltrates peer review, it taints the purity of the process, and opens the door to questioning scientific integrity and validity,” said Sofia, who became the dean of the Keck Science Department last July.

Prior to taking the helm of the Keck Science Department, Sofia was associate dean for research at American University. During his tenure there, Sofia also served as chair of the physics department, a professor of physics, the director of NASA’s District of Columbia Space Grant Consortium and the associate director of the Goddard Planetary Heliophysics Institute.

Sofia started working for NASA around the same time he started to drive. His first job in high school was crunching data at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He began his professional academic career at Whitman College, where he won the A.E. Lange Award for Distinguished Science Teaching and received the inaugural William and Diana Deshler Endowed Chair. He earned his PhD in astronomy with a concentration in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his BA from Wesleyan University in astronomy.

In addition to his research on predicting solar activity, Sofia is an expert on interstellar dust and the interstellar medium, which he colloquially describes as “the stuff between stars.” Sofia excels at translating scientific terms and concepts to a layperson. As an educator and physicist, Sofia believes in making complicated science comprehensible to all.

“Science affects everybody’s life these days, in ways big and small,” Sofia said. “Global climate change, genetically modified foods, nanotechnology, driverless cars—they’re all science. It’s everywhere, it’s not this esoteric thing that a few nerds do for a living.”

Pitzer College’s annual Distinguished Scientist Endowed Lecture Series brings prominent speakers in the sciences to campus to share their expertise and insights into the universe around us. Started in 2014, the Distinguished Scientist Lecture has featured noted scientists and researchers such as University of Utah Biology Professor Nalini Nadkarni and Nigel Taylor of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The 2018 Distinguished Scientist Lecture will be held on Monday, February 19, at 4:15 p.m. in Pitzer’s Benson Auditorium. For more information: https://www.pitzer.edu/event/ulysses-j-sofia-distinguished-scientist-lecture/

About Pitzer College

Pitzer College is a nationally top-ranked undergraduate liberal arts and sciences institution. A member of The Claremont Colleges, Pitzer offers a distinctive approach to a liberal arts education by linking intellectual inquiry with interdisciplinary studies, cultural immersion, social responsibility, and community involvement. For more information, please visit www.pitzer.edu.

About the W.M. Keck Science Department

The W.M. Keck Science Department is the interdisciplinary home to all biology, chemistry, and physics faculty for Pitzer, Claremont McKenna and Scripps colleges. The department is administered cooperatively and is housed within an 81,000-square-foot center located at the intersection of the three colleges. The department offers 13 discrete degree options, including dual-degree programs in partnership with schools of engineering and majors in conjunction with disciplines outside the sciences. The W.M. Keck Science Department provides comprehensive, interdisciplinary instruction in small class settings and numerous opportunities for students to conduct research.

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