Influential ideas topic of next Scientia

Four speakers from across campus will each present five-minute talks on the ideas that have most powerfully influenced and engaged them in their careers and intellectual life at the next Scientia colloquium at 4 p.m. Feb. 12.

ScientiaThe talks, which are free and open to the public, will be will be held in Ray Courtyard at the Rice Student Center. A reception will be held after the talks. In case of rain, the colloquium will be held in Duncan Hall’s McMurtry Auditorium and is free and open to the public.

The speakers will be:

Steven Cox, professor of computational and applied mathematics. In his talk, “Atoms of Thought,” Cox will discuss the ideas of psychologist Donald Hebb, who created the first theory to give physical reality to “ideas.” Hebb’s complementary notions of synaptic plasticity, cell assemblies and phase sequences define much of modern neuroscience and hold the potential for a mathematical foothold on the staggering complexity of the brain, Cox wrote.

Michelle Hebl, professor of psychology and management, who will present “Discriminated Against.” In her abstract, she wrote, “‘Are they discriminating against me?’ is a question stigmatized individuals often ask themselves. The answer becomes more complex when the construct of discrimination is broadened to include behaviors that fall outside of those prohibited by law. Such behaviors include unconscious biases and more subtle forms of behavior that nonetheless have profound implications.”

Matthias Henze, the Watt J. and Lilly G. Jackson Professor in Biblical Studies, who will discuss “Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Unfinished ‘Ethics.’” On Dec. 15, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his prison cell in Berlin, “Sometimes I think I really have my life more or less behind me and that all that would remain for me to do would be to finish my ‘Ethics’ …” Even in its unfinished form, Bonhoeffer’s ‘Ethics’ succinctly captures the reasons for his staunch resistance to the Nazis.

Janet Braam, chair and professor of biochemistry and cell biology. Of her talk, “Life is Incredible,” she wrote, ”The phenomenon of life is both unsettling and amazing. I am disconcerted when I reflect on the cellular basis of my own existence, yet my fascination with how life works has inspired my career. Vignettes from my adventures in plant biology will be highlighted.”

Scientia is an institute of Rice University faculty founded in 1981 by the mathematician and historian of science Salomon Bochner. The lecture series provides an opportunity for scholarly discussion across disciplinary boundaries; its members and fellows come from a wide range of academic disciplines. For more information on Scientia, visit



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