March 18, 2014

Cornellians Gather to Watch and Discuss Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

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On Sunday night in a lecture hall in the Plant Sciences Building, Cornellians and science lovers alike gathered to watch the second episode of Fox’s revival of the Cosmos series, hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and discussed the biology in the episode with Binghamton University graduate student Ben Eisenkop, better known to many as user “Unidan.”

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is a follow-up to the 1980 t.v. series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage hosted by former Prof. Carl Sagan, astronomy. The orginal series was written by Sagan, Steven Soter Ph.D. ’71, and Ithacan Ann Druyan, who was Sagan’s wife when he died in 1996.

“[The original Cosmos] brought high production values and good storytelling to science and explained, in a compact format, many of the important discoveries brought about using the scientific method,” Jay Worley, a researcher at the Boyce Thompson Institute said. “The new series updates this historic program for a new generation, telling the story of science through its discoveries and the people that study it.”

The event was the first in a series of gatherings to watch and discuss Cosmos episodes with local experts and was organized by Worley and Ithaca’s Science Cabaret, a science outreach and education group. The series will continue for the 11 remaining episodes of Cosmos every Sunday evening, according to Worley.

Each episode covers a different area of science and scientific discovery. The most recent episode talked about biology and evolution, so Eisenkop, a biologist, was able to offer insight and commentary on the episode as it progressed.

“The speakers will generally be graduate students and postdocs from the area — mainly [those from] Cornell who have an interest in outreach,” Worley said. “We were very grateful for Ben to be our first guest speaker on such short notice, and are excited about our upcoming guests.”

Worley said he hopes the speakers series will increase people’s enthusiasm for science and scientific progress, as well as highlighting Cornell’s ties to the original Cosmos series.

“Honestly, I was a little surprised that there were no Cosmos events that I could find on or around campus,” Worley said. “Given the deep ties that Ithaca and Cornell have to the original series and its updated remake, it seemed like something that we should be celebrating.”

According to Worley, guest speakers will both provide an opportunity for viewers to ask questions not answered in the episode and highlight the stories of local scientists in the tradition of the original Cosmos series.

Worley said his favorite moment of the original Cosmos was the sequence at the beginning of the ninth episode where an apple pie is made and then sliced by Sagan, who uses the slice of pie to talk about the relative size of atoms. According to Sagan, if one cuts a slice of apple pie exactly in half 90 times, they will have a slice of pie the size of a single atom.

The series will continue next Sunday at 8:45 p.m. in the Big Red Barn, Worley said.