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 Assistant Professor of Social Sciences Hao Huang.

Fall 2023

Dates Title Speaker Location
Sept 8 The Driverless City Project Ron Henderson On-campus
Sept 15 Initiatives and Research Toward Sustainable Air Mobility Yu Zhang Online
Sept 15 Rural Road Stimulus and the Role of Matching Mandates on Economic Recovery in China Anthony Howell, Arizona State University Online
Sept 22 System Thinking When Modeling Complex Systems—Covariation Mining and System Dynamics Simulation Danlin Yu, Montclair State University Online
Sept 29 Assessing Older Adult Mobility Using Wearable Technology Bruce Newbold, McMaster University Online
Oct 6 Achilles’ Heel: Architecture Change and Competitive Disadvantage of Geographical Clustering Pengfei Li, University of Calgary Online
Oct 13 Humanistic GIS: Towards A Research Agenda Bo Zhao, University of Washington Online
Oct 20 Crafting Just, Equitable and Circular Food Systems Weslynne Ashton, Illinois Tech On-campus
Oct 27 Understanding Capitalist Globalization: A Spatio-temporal Perspective Eric Sheppard, UCLA Online
Nov 3 Workforce Gender Inequality—What Can We Learn from the Physician Workforce?  Xiaochu Hu, Association of American Medical Colleges Online
Nov 10 Housing Production and the Structural Changes in China’s Real Estate Development Industry Lan Deng, University of Michigan Online
Nov 17 Coping with the Age of Paradox: Exploring the Role of a Quantum Perspective Daniel Sui, Virginia Tech Online
Dec 1 Uncertainty in Spatial Analysis: Visualization, Measurement, and Modeling Yongwan Chun, UT Dallas Online

Spring 2023

Date Title Video Link
Jan 19 Maternal and Infant Health Inequality: New Evidence from Linked Administrative Data Watch the Video
Jan 26 Data-Driven Wildfire Evacuation Modeling for Communities with Transient Populations in the Wildland-Urban Interface Watch the Video
Feb 2 Research Parks and Innovation Districts: Established and Contemporary Innovation Strategies for Economic Development Watch the Video
Feb 16 Crime Geography and Crime Analysis Watch the Video
Feb 23 The New Global Politics of Waste and Recycling Watch the Video
March 2 Using Google Street View to Examine Associations between Built Environment Characteristics and U.S. Health Outcomes—Census Tract, County, and Individual Levels Watch the Video
March 9 Incorporating Uncertainty Into Geographical Data Visualization Watch the Video
March 23 Combating Disinformation on Social Media and Its Challenges  
March 30 Toward Carbon Neutral: A Discussion on New Planning and Research Challenges Watch the Video
April 6 Small Area Fair Market Rents and Opportunity Moves Watch the Video
April 13 Comparative Sensitivity of Social Media Data and Their Acceptable Use in Research Watch the Video
April 20 Local Economic Specialization and The Long-term Impact of an Earthquake Watch the Video
April 27 Sustainability Science Trilemma: Puzzle and Pathways Watch the Video

Fall 2022 Events

Date Title Video Link
Sept 1 Nationalism, Cosmopolitanism, and Geographical Imaginations Watch the Video
Sept 8 Facilitate Smart Planning with Cloud-Computing and Crowdsourcing Technologies for Small City-Town Regions Watch the Video
Sept 15 India’s Rural-Urban Transition Watch the Video
Sept 22 Migration and Split Households in the Global South: Gender and Intergenerational Perspectives Watch the Video
Sept 29 Artificial Intelligence Enabled Urban Planning Watch the Video
Oct 6 Exploring the Impact of Perceived Travel Environment on E-scooter Riders’ Stress Level Watch the Video
Oct 13 An Integrated Approach for Spatiotemporal Research, Teaching, and Applications Watch the Video
Oct 20 Understanding the Impact of Local Economic Change Watch the Video
Oct 27 Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and Economic Development Policy

Watch the Video

Nov 3 Mapping Social Networks: Visualization, Metrics and Case Studies

Watch the Video

Nov 10 Adversarial Social Media

Watch the Video

Nov 17 Modeling Transmissibility of COVID-19 from a Geospatial Perspective

Watch the Video

Spring 2022 Events

Date Title Video Link
Jan 20 How Conspiracy Theories, Misinformation, and Politics Can Limit the Impact of Science (And What To Do About It) Watch the Video
Jan 27 When Do States Make Environmental Treaties Easy to Modify, and Does It Work When They Do? Watch the Video
Feb 3 Inter- and Intraregional Patterns of Shrinking Places in the United States Watch the Video
Feb 10 Gentrification and Health: Measured, Perceived, and Experienced Watch the Video
Feb 17 A Political Scientist's Adventures in the Wonderland of Science and Technology Watch the Video
Feb 24 New Strategies for Solving Chicago’s Intercity Transportation Puzzle Watch the Video
March 3 Shaping the World's Urban Future: Planning Megacities in the Global South Watch the Video
March 10 Worlds Lost and Found: Analytical Contributions in Support of Collective Decision Making for Collective Action Watch the Video
March 24 Precision Public Health in the Era of the Mobile Phone: A Geography Perspective Watch the Video
March 31 What Does the Future of Nuclear Energy Look Like? Watch the Video
April 7 Global Governance and Corporate Social Responsibility Watch the Video
April 14 Book Talk: Feeding the Hungry: Advocacy and Blame in the Global Fight Against Hunger  
April 21 The Convergence of Global "Protein" Industries: Implications for Sustainability and Resilience Watch the Video
April 28 Does Skill Make Us Human? Migrant Workers in 21st Century Qatar and Beyond Watch the Video

Fall 2021 Events

Date Title Video Link
Sept 2 Nuclear Energy and Society, Today and Tomorrow Watch the Video
Sept 9 NASA Health and Air Quality Applications Watch the Video
Sept 16 The Lonely Ideas: A History of Chinese Technology Watch the Video
Sept 23 U.S. Interstate Trade Will Mitigate the Negative Impact of Climate Change On Crop Profit Watch the Video
Sept 30 The Geography of Brains in the Sunbelt and Rustbelt Watch the Video
Oct 7 From Food Deserts to Supermarket Redlining: Reframing Discussions of Food Access Watch the Video
Oct 14 Rethinking Disasters: Politics and Policymaking in the COVID-19 Era Watch the Video
Oct 21 A Weapon or a Default Option? Nationalism, Weaponized Interdependence, and South Korea’s Strategies for Mutual Prosperity in East Asia Watch the Video
Oct 28 Will There Be a "Post-Pandemic City"? Watch the Video
Nov 11 Rethinking China and Innovation Watch the Video
Nov 18 Addressing Disparities in Cognitive Aging: What Can Economists Contribute? Watch the Video
Dec 2 Extreme Weather, Air Pollution, and Urban Exposome Watch the Video

Spring 2021 Seminars

Cia Verschelden, M.S.W., Ed.D.

Cia Verschelden, M.S.W., Ed.D., discusses strategies and practices for creating learning environments that can help students in certain minoritized groups recover cognitive capacity.

Financial Foundations for Thriving Communities

Shayne Kavanagh, senior manager of research at the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada, discusses a new formula for how local governments can maintain their financial health and thereby contribute to a thriving community.

Inventing Future Cities

Michael Batty, Bartlett Professor of Planning at University College London (UCL), explores what we need to understand about cities in order to invent their future, focusing on many of the ideas concerning science, prediction, and complexity of the last 50 years.

Movement Analytics for Sustainable Mobility

Guest speaker Harvey Miller, a professor in the Department of Geography at The Ohio State University and Director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, discusses the concept of sustainable mobility and how new, data-driven science helps to address essential transportation issues. 

Immigrant Entrepreneurship and Urban Development

Cathy Yang Liu, professor and chair of the Department of Public Management and Policy at Georgia State University, discusses theories and evidence around various dimensions of immigrant entrepreneurship including economic development, community building, transnational activities, high-technology, and urban policy.

Do EU Regions Benefit from Smart Specialization?

Guest speaker David Rigby, a professor of geography and statistics at UCLA, discusses smart specialization, a framework developed by EU policymakers to identify new growth paths connected to the existing knowledge cores of regions, and looks at GDP growth and employment growth in EU cities from 1981 to 2015.

Geospatial Analysis in Health Studies

Guest speaker Xun Shi, a professor of geography at Dartmouth College, discusses geospatial analyses used in epidemiology and public health studies, including discussion of some fundamental concepts, theories, methodologies, technologies, and case studies.

Urban Health Risk Mapping

Guest speaker Junfeng Jiao, an associate professor and director of the Urban Information Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses his work with a machine learning system that can measure the health effects of neighborhood environments in ten major U.S. cities using public data.

AI in the Wild

Peter Dauvergne, a professor of international relations at the University of British Columbia, argues that although artificial intelligence is generating some environmental gains, powerful corporations and states are exaggerating the benefits, ignoring the risks, and deploying AI in ways antithetical to sustainability.

Breaking the Social Media Prism

Chris Bail, a professor of sociology and public policy at Duke University and the author of Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing, discusses how stepping outside of our echo chambers can make us more polarized, not less.

Building Walkable Communities

Guest speaker Li Yin discusses her research using Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing (RS), Global Positioning System (GPS), and artificial intelligence (AI) to explore how people interact with places for better health and quality of life.

Fall 2020 Seminars

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.