The Discovery Series

Hear the stories behind the science and engage with University at events that are free, open to the public and designed for a wide audience.

The Discovery Series is a public speaker series at the University of Chicago. The series features panel discussions and talks given by the University’s renowned faculty about their latest breakthroughs, research, and major scientific advances, such as contributing to the discovery of the “God particle,” building prosthetic arms that can ‘feel’, and building better cities through innovative uses of big data.

Past Events

Against the Norm: Body, Citizen, Constitution, State | November 15, 2016

In today’s world of divisive politics and social debate, the 24-hour news cycle and global urbanization have dramatically accelerated the speed at which we gather information and acquire knowledge. Science, technology, history, and culture have all converged to form the framework for some of our deepest held beliefs about society and ourselves.

But what if we only have part of the picture? How often do we question our knowledge—what we believe to be facts, and how such knowledge was formed?  What sorts of assumptions do we live by, even about the most basic aspects of who we are as bodies, citizens, and members of a shared political system?

Join some of the world’s most renowned thinkers from the University of Chicago’s new Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge for a series of short talks that pull at the seams of our assumptions, uncover blind spots, and suggest new paradigms for how to think about our bodies, government, and society. An audience Q&A will follow. 

Giving TED-style talks, speakers will answer the following questions:

  • Are bodies everywhere the same? 
  • Is the concept of citizen a natural one? 
  • Are constitutions hot commodities? 
  • Do people define nations or do nations define people? 


Robert J. Richards (Moderator)
Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science and Medicine
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Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer
Helen A. Regenstein Distinguished Service Professor of Classics and the Program in Gender Studies, and Director of the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge
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Judith Farquhar
Max Palevsky Professor of Anthropology Emerita and of Social Sciences
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Tom Ginsburg
Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar, and Professor of Political Science
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James A. Robinson
University Professor, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago
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Future Science: Small Scale, Big Impact | April 6, 2016

What if we could cure cancer with a vaccine that activates the immune system to kill the dangerous cells and prevent them from spreading? What if sensors could provide new data to help solve global concerns relating to energy, climate and rapid urbanization? What if we could create new forms of matter and information storage to transform entire industries and vastly improve our quality of life?

These are just a few of the game-changing ideas that the world-class scientists and engineers of the University of Chicago’s Institute for Molecular Engineering are pioneering. Searching for solutions at molecular levels, IME researchers, in partnership with scientists at Argonne National Laboratory, are tackling some of the world’s most intractable problems in energy, the environment and human health. IME’s revolutionary solutions promise to redefine industries—from micro-electronics and computing to manufacturing and pharmaceuticals—as its faculty educate the next generation of innovators.

Join IME experts for a series of short talks about their groundbreaking work. An audience Q&A will follow.

Speakers will address the following questions:

  • What future technologies will quantum science make possible?
  • Does immunotherapy hold the key to curing cancer?
  • What new devices and technologies will self-assembling materials make possible and how might they boost manufacturing?
  • How will the explosion in data analytics and promising new nanotechnologies help improve quality of life and access to food, clean water and energy?

An audience Q&A will follow.


Matthew Tirrell (Moderator)
Dean and Pritzker Director, Institute for Molecular Engineering, The University of Chicago; Deputy Laboratory Director for Science, Argonne National Laboratory
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David Awschalom
Liew Family Professor, Institute for Molecular Engineering and the College, Deputy Director, Institute for Molecular Engineering, The University of Chicago
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Supratik Guha
Professor in Molecular Engineering, Institute for Molecular Engineering and the College, The University of Chicago; Director, Nanoscience and Technology Division, Argonne National Laboratory
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Paul Nealey
Brady W. Dougan Professor, Institute for Molecular Engineering and the College, The University of Chicago
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Melody Swartz
William B. Ogden Professor, Institute for Molecular Engineering and the College, The University of Chicago
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See a playlist of videos from the event >>

Brain Teasers: Cracking the Mind's Toughest Riddles | April 1, 2015

The human brain is just three pounds of biological tissue. Yet it is the source of every word spoken, every invention realized, every touchdown scored. Questions remain about virtually all its structures and functions—and why sometimes things go awry. Join neuroscientists from the University of Chicago’s new Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology, and Human Behavior for a series of short talks that explore the fascinating and profoundly mysterious human brain.

Giving TED-style talks, speakers will answer the following questions:

  • Can we determine who is at risk for developing a neurodegenerative brain disorder like Alzheimer’s? What can be done to prevent such disorders from developing?
  • Why do we often choke under pressure—and how can we perform our best instead?
  • Might those who have lost limbs ever touch, feel, or manipulate objects again?
  • What can rats teach us—both about the human condition and why the brain is so cool?

An audience Q&A will follow.


John Maunsell, PhD (Moderator)
Professor of Neurobiology; Director, Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology, and Human Behavior

Sian Beilock, PhD
Professor of Psychology; Vice Provost for Academic Initiatives

Sliman Bensmaia, PhD
Assistant Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy

Peggy Mason, PhD
Professor of Neurobiology

James Mastrianni, MD, PhD
Associate Professor of Neurology; Director, Center for Comprehensive Care and Research on Memory Disorders

Chicago: City of Big Data | November 20, 2013

An explosion of data has transformed the way cities are constructed and function. Chicago is at the vanguard of applying these data to address transportation, health care, education, energy, public safety, and other urban challenges.

Join experts from the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory, including the former chief data and information officer for the City of Chicago and the former chief scientist at Obama for America’s 2012 Campaign, to learn how scientists are collaborating with educators, architects, and government officials to develop analytical tools and computer models that can improve quality of life for residents of Chicago and metropolises worldwide.


Kathleen Cagney
Associate Professor, Sociology and Health Studies; Director, Population Research Center, NORC and UChicago

Rayid Ghani
Research Director, Computation Institute, UChicago/Argonne; Senior Fellow, Harris School of Public Policy, UChicago

Brett Goldstein
Senior Fellow in Urban Science, Harris School of Public Policy, UChicago

Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD
Associate Professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology and Medicine-Geriatrics; Director, South Side Health and Vitality Studies, UChicago

Critical Mass: How the Higgs Boson Discovery Sept the World | February 7, 2013

Why has the Higgs Boson caused such a stir around the world?
Why is the discovery such an important milestone in physics?
Does it really explain how we exist?
What’s next?

Last summer, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, announced the discovery of a new particle that could explain why elementary particles have mass. On February 7, 2013, join a panel of experts from the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory, and Fermilab to learn why this discovery marks the beginning of a new era in particle physics research.


Young-Kee Kim (Moderator)
Deputy Director, Fermilab
Professor of Physics, UChicago

Marcela Carena
Senior Theoretical Physicist, Fermilab
Professor in Physics, UChicago

Tom LeCompte
Physicist, High Energy Physics Division, Argonne

Patricia McBride
Scientist and Head of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) Center, Fermilab

Mark Oreglia
Professor in Physics, UChicago