This post was authored by Stephanie Marcus, Science Reference & Research Specialist, in the Science, Technology, and Business Division of the Library of Congress. She is also author of the blog posts “Kebabs, Kabobs, Shish Kebabs, Shashlyk, and: Chislic,” “The Potato Transformed,” and “Susan Fenimore Cooper: The First American Woman to Publish Nature Writing.”
The Science, Technology, and Business Division at the Library is in its twelfth year of partnering with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, in presenting space and earth sciences lectures. I thought it might be interesting to look back at the beginnings of this series to see how it came about and tempt you with the many webcasts of these programs available for viewing.
I reached out to my retired colleague, Peg Clifton, to ask her how the collaboration was born. She wasn’t sure what year the discussions began, but a friend of hers from the Library’s Geography and Maps Division had received a call from Jeannie Allen, the education outreach contractor for NASA, inquiring about the Library possibly taking on their speakers’ series. The lectures had been at the Smithsonian Institution, but the museum had decided they wanted to charge admission and NASA wanted them to remain free. Peg consulted with the chief of our division, Ron Bluestone, who liked the idea, so they met with Jeannie and some other NASA folks and set the stage for bringing the series here.
At first Peg and others went to Goddard to see presentations and talk about how our series could be tailored to non-scientists and general audiences, as well as those who might have more background. The first lectures were planned, and as time passed, they became a big success. Normally, in the autumn, Jeannie would solicit proposals and descriptions of the talks from the Goddard scientists, and we would make the choices. The hardest part for us then, and now, was nailing down a date with these busy scientists, many of whom are running missions and traveling the world for work and conferences. Then we need to get a room booked at the Library, which has hundreds of programs, on one of the few dates the scientists have open. For publicity, staffer Jennifer Harbster began doing promotions in our RSS feed and writing a blog post on the upcoming lecture for the division’s Inside Adams blog. Flyers posted around the Library were designed by science research specialist Alison Kelly. Each one has been eye-catching and we’ve collected them in a three volume “scrapbook” for our division, many autographed by the scientist.
An important task on the Library’s side of the collaboration is featuring items on the topics of the lectures to show the wealth of our science collections. Science research specialist Sean Bryant, who coordinates this series with me, pulls together a display of print materials for each lecture. The scientists have been very impressed seeing extremely old books, articles or book chapters they’ve written, as well as books they haven’t seen. Sean also creates a handout for each lecture that gives an introduction to the scientist, along with a short list of books on the subject and some NASA websites.
If you want to look through the twelve years of talks and find some lectures to watch, we maintain a list on our Science, Technology, and Business website at: //www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/events/events.html#webcasts. There are lectures going back to 2001, but the first of the NASA series was in January 2007, “Who Left the Freezer Door Open? What the Poles are Telling Us about Climate Change.” There were only two lectures that year, and then we expanded to four, then six, and now eight. There are usually so many good proposals that it’s hard to choose, so one year we just took them all! And we heard from our former liaison there, Lora Bleacher, the scientists act as if they’ve won the lottery when they’re chosen! These brilliant people are truly ‘down to earth’ and they love getting their stories out to the public.
Last year we had a couple of blockbusters. First, in June there was “The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse: Through the Eyes of NASA” with solar researcher Alex Young (He will be giving his third lecture here on December 6, “The Science of Space: Heliophysics and the Parker Solar Probe.” He’s not to be missed!). In September space scientist Conor Nixon talked about “Cassini’s Grand Finale” a week before the mission ended and Cassini plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere and disintegrated. We have learned about gravitational waves (before the Nobel Prize), Venus, exoplanets, icy volcanoes, missions to Pluto, Jupiter, and Mars, and a mission to collect the first samples from an asteroid. We’ve also heard about earth sciences missions, such as detecting landslides, wildfires, and global water reservoirs using satellite monitoring.
The lectures will resume in September, with four to round out the year. In October we’ll be asking our new Goddard contact, Trena Ferrell, to gather proposals for the 2019 series. We often request topics that interest us or have been suggested by attendees. Last year we had an offer from a scientist to speak about TESS, The Transiting Exoplanet Satellite Survey, and we’ll ask for her now that the mission to search for more exoplanets has finally launched.
You will notice webcasts on the list of many other programs which are not from the NASA series, but be sure to look through those to see if something else interests you. Have fun learning from some of the world’s foremost scientists!