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Clarkson University Science Cafe Returns to Downtown Potsdam Sept. 23

[A photograph for media use is available at ]

Scientists and engineers will again take the stage starting Wednesday, September 23, at Jack & Wezzie’s Coffee House (formerly Fields Coffee House) in Potsdam for the Clarkson University Science Cafe Returns to Downtown Potsdam Sept. 23"Science Cafe."

This semester, Clarkson University faculty will be joined by professors from St. Lawrence University and SUNY Potsdam.

Science Cafes bring together engineers, scientists and townspeople in a relaxed, informal setting, such as coffeehouses and pubs. The speaker makes a short presentation about a topic in his or her field, and then opens up the floor to discussion.

Each Science Cafe will take place at 7:30 p.m. on September 23, October 7 and 21, and November 4 and 18.

Here’s a rundown of the topics and speakers:

September 23: Pain: Is it all in your head?

For most people pain is a highly unpleasant yet seemingly simple phenomenon: the body sustains an injury - a broken bone, a cut or burn to the skin that results in pain. The amount of pain we experience seems to be a direct result of the severity of the injury. But the relationship between pain and injury is actually far more complicated. Consider pain that occurs without any obvious sign of injury, or the experience of phantom limb pain, which is discomfort that arises from a body part (e.g., hand) that no longer exists. In this Science Cafe, join Clarkson Professor of Psychology Robert Dowman as we explore the complex physical, cognitive and emotional factors involved in the pain experience.

October 7: Biometrics, Fingerprints, and Spoofing

Biometric devices, such as fingerprint, face, iris and voice recognition, may someday replace security codes and photo IDs. But while biometrics may improve the security of everything from credit card transactions and personal computers to airports and borders, biometric systems are also vulnerable to "spoofing" or being fooled through fake samples such as artificial fingers. This talk and demonstration, led by Clarkson Professor of Electric and Computer Engineering Stephanie Schuckers, will give an overview of biometrics and results from research on ways to decrease the vulnerabilities of biometric devices.

October 21: Why are There Such Bizarre Life Forms in the Tropics? A Look at the Specialized World of Army Ants and Obligate Ant-Following Birds

The tropics are home to an amazing diversity of life forms that are not found anywhere else. In this Science Cafe we will focus on the ecology and evolution of one such group- the carnivorous swarm-raiding army ants, and the few bird species whose lives are so intertwined with the army ants, that they cannot live without them. Join St. Lawrence University Professor of Biology Susan Willson in a lively discussion of the fascinating ecology of army ants and ant-following birds, based on her years of work with these specialized animals in one of the most remote and pristine rainforests of the Amazon basin.

November 4: 1.3 billion Years of Peace and Turmoil: The Geologic History of Northern New York

The rocks beneath our feet reveal their history, one that stretches back about 1.3 billion years. The oldest tell a story of warm, quiet marine environments, like in the Gulf of Mexico today. Others tell of volcanic island arcs, not unlike Japan and the Aleutian Islands. Still others tell of a great continental collision, producing a mountain range of the same magnitude as present-day Himalayas, which was then completely eroded and washed to sea over the span of 400 million years. And that’s just the beginning. Join SUNY Potsdam Geology Professor Robert Badger for an interactive talk on the complex geologic history of the North Country.

November 18: Chaos Theory

The mathematical framework of Chaos Theory is at the root of many of the complex systems that we observe all around us. Although the rules for predicting behavior of these systems seem well described by the laws of physics (allowing us to make short term predictions), the long term behavior remains essentially unpredictable. For example, the roll of a die seems to produce a random outcome; the prediction of the weather a month from now seems equally a chance guess. However, both systems seem to be computable from the laws of physics. Chaos theory allows us to both understand and appreciate the unpredictability, as well as discover interesting patterns that seem to spontaneously emerge from the chaos. Join Clarkson Mathematics and Computer Science Professor Joe Skufca as we explore chaos theory and how scientists are able to control the chaos and, occasionally, manipulate that chaos to serve our needs.

Find out more about Science Cafes in general at

Find out more about Clarkson’s Science Cafe at

E-mail Daniel ben-Avraham at with any comments, questions or suggestions for future Science Cafe topics.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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