2012 Popular Science Lectures

This year's popular science lectures took us on a journey into the world of food science, the science of memory - and particle physics. The event took place September 5, 2012 at the University Aula in Oslo.

Nathan Myhrvold: An Inside View of Food

Nathan Myhrvold was Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft's technical department for 14 years before he quit to pursue his many interests. Besides being an award-winning nature photographer, involved in archaeological excavations and volcano-explorer, he has had a lifelong interest in cooking and food science.

He has several years' experience in gourmet restaurants, as an apprentice, strategist and cook, and has grown familiar with many of the leading science-inspired cooking techniques. This resulted in a 2,400-page cookbook, Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, which shows science-inspired techniques for preparing food.

Myhrvold, his two co-authors, and a staff of 20 people are using tools such as centrifuges, water baths, hydrocolloids, emulsifiers and enzymes to come up with a variety of new flavors and textures. As he himself puts it: "We are the only ones in the world to have a cookbook with partial differential equations."

In his lecture he illustrates the inseparability of science and cooking.  Through the use of groundbreaking photographic techniques, Myhrvold explains why an understanding of heat transfer, the physics of water, and the anatomy of muscle results in better cooking.

Lisa Randall: Knocking on Heaven's Door

Professor Lisa Randall is an American theoretical physicist at Harvard University and a leading expert on particle physics and cosmology. Her research relates theoretical insights against the unsolved mysteries in our understanding of matter properties and how they interact. To address these questions, she has studied and developed a number of models that extend beyond the standard particle physics, the most prominent involving extra dimensions of space.

She is one of todays most influential and highly cited theoretical physicists, and has received numerous awards and honors for her contributions. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Physical Society and has received numerous honors.

In 2007, Randall was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People (Time 100) under the section for "Scientists & Thinkers." Randall was given this honor for her work regarding the evidence of a higher dimension. She has become a public figure through her research, her writing, her lectures and radio- and television appearances. She has written two popular science books: Warped Passages: Unraveling the Universe's Hidden Dimensions from 2005 and Knocking Heaven's Door from 2011.

Her lecture is based on her latest book Knocking on heaven's door, and she will describe the nature of particle physics today, with emphasis on the roles of scale and the recent Higgs boson discovery.

May-Britt Moser: A Taste of Memory

May-Britt Moser is a Norwegian psychologist, neuroscientist and Founding Director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and Centre for the Biology of Memory (KI/CBM) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. Moser and her husband Edvard Moser have pioneered research on the brain's mechanism for representing space during the last decade.

Her main interest is in understanding how the brain computes and processes information and how this results in cognitive behavior and experience.May-Britt and Edvard Moser have studied how spatial location and spatial memory are computed in the brain. Their most famous contribution is probably the discovery in 2005 of entorhinal grid cells (Hafting et al., Nature 2005), which points to the entorhinal cortex as a hub for the brain network that helps us to find our way. The discovery of the grid cells showed for the first time that the rat brain has its own universal map for encoding self-position in any environment. The discovery opened up new opportunities for investigating the cognitive functioning of the brain. The mapping system is probably also found in the human brain and that of other mammals.

In this public lecture she highlights recent advances in our understanding of the neural basis of memory. Memories are stored as patterns of connections between thousands of brain cells and that memory is an active process, not photographic. Remembering an episode is a reconstruction process in which fragments of information, retrieved from overlapping clusters of interacting brain cells, is put together to a meaningful whole, much like in a jigsaw puzzle. She discusses how forgetting may be a positive aspect of memory that allows us to remember and the role emotions play in determining which memories are remembered. She also talks about the types of memory, with a particular emphasis on whether memories of smell and taste are different from other memories.

Nordic Food Lab: Delineating the Edible and Inedible

Nordic Food Lab is a gastronomic research institution situated on a houseboat in the canals of Copenhagen, which has become a factor in the movement to cultivate a new, locally based food culture. Here, shelves are packed with herbal vinegars, extractions, infusions, while bags of teas from actual wood occupy the fridges, and storage rooms heaped with aging seaweeds and crates of foraged plants and tree specimens.

Lars Williams is Head of Research and Development Emeritus at Nordic Food Lab; a non-profit, self-governed organisation, established in 2008 by head chef of Noma Rene Redzepi and gastronomic entrepreneur Claus Meyer.

Mark Emil Hermansen, who will accompany Williams in Oslo, is a member of the Nordic Food Lab and an anthropologist who recently presented a paper on An Anthropological Perspective on New Nordic Cuisine as an Expression of Nordic Identity.

Together with Rene Redzepi, the founder of the restaurant NOMA, which has two stars in the Michelin guide and was awarded the best restaurant in the world in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the crew of the Nordic Food Lab has staked out a new course to shape the Nordic Food Culture, and spread the knowledge obtained through a scientific and methodological approach to new, natural food. They investigate old and new raw materials and techniques, developing recipes and ideas to share with the Nordic region and the world.

In their talk they describe the many food lab experiments: They extract flavours from trees and moss, peas get degraded to bring out the natural indices of fat, fermented mackerel is turned into fish sauce, seaweed is used as a natural stabilizer in ice cream. These are just some of the clever experiments conducted to work out the best flavors the Nordic lands have to offer. In a continuous search for new and exciting flavours previously unknown, forgotten, or plainly undiscovered, they aim to challenge the cultural concepts of what is and what is not edible as a way to innovate food, most recently in their quest for finding the deliciousness of insects.