Department of Social Sciences

Great Problems, Great Minds Seminar Series

The Great Problems, Great Minds seminar series explores the major problems facing humanity as we move into the heart of the 21st century. At a technical school, we often forget that humans play a major role in shaping the implementation of every technical solution that is developed and applied. Major problems faced by society include climate change, food security, energy security, education, poverty, and disease, all of which have partial solutions that have been opposed by segments of society. As we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, a simple solution like a mask doesn’t work if people don’t accept it.

In this series, we’re bringing in some of the world’s Great Minds to speak on the Great Problems facing society. We will discuss potential solutions, and especially the interaction of people with potential technical solutions.

For more information, contact Social Sciences Department Chair Jeff Terry.

Seminar Videos

Jeff Terry Seminar Slide Thumbnail

What happens when people, the economy, and technology clash? Social Sciences Department Chair Jeff Terry provides the kickoff lecture for the seminar series.

Ken Caldeira Seminar Slide Thumbnail

Ken Caldeira is a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science and a professor at Stanford University’s Department of Earth System Science. In this lecture, he considers how people’s values and goals affect decision making around climate solutions.

Bonnie Jenkins

Bonnie Jenkins served from 2009 to 2017 as Special Envoy and Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, U.S. Department of State. She is the Founder and Executive Director of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation; a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; and teaches at Georgetown University and George Washington University.

Great Problems, Great Minds: Infrastructure Resilience Under Climate Uncertainty Presentation Thumbnail

Costa Samaras, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, discusses stormwater infrastructure in the United States and how infrastructure managers, engineers, researchers, and policymakers can manage uncertainty and ensure climate-safe infrastructure systems for the 21st century and beyond.


 

Engineering Humanitarian Missions Slide Thumbnail

Shamsnaz Bhada discusses systems engineering, which pushes the domain boundary by not only supporting engineering missions but also humanitarian and social missions. Bhada is an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Nuclear Weapons and Society and You! slide thumbnail

Martin Pfeiffer argues that our distorted official nuclear history hampers us from acknowledging and fixing past and ongoing harms from nuclear energy projects. He also argues that this distorted history threatens democratic governance by concealing past social movements and citizen governance around nuclear weapons. Pfieffer is a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

Rep. John Shimkus

Nuclear waste has no final disposition solution in the United States, even though Yucca Mountain, the proposed site of a deep geological nuclear waste storage facility in Nevada, is the law of the land. John Shimkus, a Member of the United States House of Representatives for the 15th District of Illinois, will discuss the prospects of developing a solution to this issue.

Protecting the Vote slide thumbnail

In an age of disinformation, and amidst growing questions about the legitimacy of American government, protecting the vote means building a participatory representative democracy suitable for the 21st century, and defending it against enemies foreign and domestic who would do it harm. Alexander Konetzki is a Chicago-based lawyer who served on the voter protection staff of President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign. 

Human Dynamics in Smart Cities Collage

Xinyue Ye is an associate professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at Texas A&M University, where he also directs the Urban Data Science Lab. In this talk, he shares case studies illustrating human-centered urban informatics in the big and new data context.

Jesse Jenkins Decarbonizing Electricity Title Slide

Jesse Jenkins is an assistant professor at Princeton University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Andlinger Center for Energy and Environment. In this webinar, he discusses the deep decarbonization of the electricity sector, the portfolio of solutions needed to reach this key goal at an affordable cost, and the potential role of commercial fusion power plants in future 100 percent carbon-free electricity systems.

David Kang

David Kang is the Crutcher Professor of International Relations and Director of the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California. In this talk, he argues that if scholars and policymakers want a meaningful discussion of a way out of the U.S.-China conflict, they need a more careful analysis of the East Asian historical record itself.