DATE: Saturday, May 31, 2014
TIME: 4:00 PM-5:30 PM
VENUE: NYU Global Center, Grand Hall
MODERATOR: Mario Livio
PARTICIPANTS: Dimitar Sasselov, Sara Seager, Jack W. Szostak


The World Science Festival’s annual salon series offers in-depth conversations with leading scientists, extending the discussion of the Festival’s premiere public programs to graduate students, postdocs, faculty and well-informed members of the general public.

An interdisciplinary study has grown out of the search for the origins of life, and collaborative plans for the next twenty years of this hunt are underway. Our panel will discuss the potential of three high-tech pieces of equipment: Starshade, a flower-shaped shield to block excess light and reveal distant Earth size planets; TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite that will measure the brightness of roughly 500,000 stars; and the famed James Webb Space Telescope, infrared successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The technology will advance the research in many areas of the research. In labs, what do chemists hope to cook up in the next twenty years? Thinking about the future has biologists, astronomers, and physicists alike working collaboratively to be ready for what’s on the horizon.

This program is part of the Big Ideas Series.

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Astrophysicist, Author

Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist, a bestselling author, and a popular speaker. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has published more than 400 scientific papers on topics ranging from dark energy, cosmology, and black holes, to supernova explosions, extrasolar planets, and the emergence of life in the universe. Livio is the author of five popular science books, including The Golden Ratio (for which he received the Peano Prize and the International Pythagoras Prize) and Is God a Mathematician? which inspired the 2015 NOVA program The Great Math Mystery. Livio’s most recent book, Brilliant Blunders, was on the New York Times Best Sellers list and was selected by the Washington Post as one of the “2013 Best Books of the Year.”



Dimitar Sasselov studies stars and planets at Harvard University, where he is the Phillips Professor of Astronomy. His research explores modes of interaction between light and matter. Sasselov and his team discovered several planets orbiting other stars with novel techniques that he hopes to use to find other planets like Earth. His book The Life of Super-Earths describes the renewed search for life on other planets. Sasselov has a Ph.D. in physics from Sofia University, followed by a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Toronto. He’s received numerous awards and has lectured at DLD, TED, and Davos. Sasselov is the founding director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative, a cross-disciplinary research effort. He was a senior science advisor for the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a member of the Global Agenda Council on space security at the World Economic Forum.

Planetary Scientist, Physicist

Sara Seager is a planetary scientist and astrophysicist. She has been a pioneer in the vast and unknown world of exoplanets, planets that orbit stars other than the sun. Her ground-breaking research ranges from the detection of exoplanet atmospheres to innovative theories about life on other worlds to development of novel space mission concepts. Now, dubbed an “astronomical Indiana Jones”, she on a quest after the field’s holy grail, the discovery of a true Earth twin. Seager earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University and is now the Class of 1941 Profesor of Planetary Science and Professor of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a MacArthur Fellow and was named in Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential in Space in 2012.

Biochemist, Geneticist

Jack Szostak shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his investigation of telomeres. His current research delves into self-replicating systems and the origin of life. He is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Massachusetts General Hospital, and a professor at both Harvard University and Harvard Medical School. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. In his earlier research, he developed a tool for the isolation of functional RNA, DNA, and protein molecules.