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Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturers 2011-2012 Abstracts

Wilfred Arnold

The chemistry of Vincent van Gogh.
At the time of his suicide in 1890 the genius of Vincent van Gogh was acknowledged by only a small cadre of friends and followers. His jagged thirty-seven years had been marked by early uncertainties, interludes of luckless love affairs, wrenching episodes of self-mutilation, crises of debilitating sickness, and periods of painful striving for lofty goals. Today, his art is universally recognized. He is on everybody's list of outstanding artists and in every catalog of creative people.

Van Gogh not only had an identifiable syndrome, based on medical signs and the time-course of his illness, but his life-style directly influenced the expression and severity of symptoms, exacerbated his condition, and provoked crises. Such well-documented yet seemingly disparate factors as overindulgence in alcohol (especially as the romantic but toxic absinthe), smoking too much, malnutrition, fasting, environmental exposure, and infections all come together and support a unifying hypothesis of acute intermittent porphyria as the artist's underlying disease, from which two of his five siblings also suffered.

In this PowerPoint presentation the portrait of Vincent van Gogh is not as a mad artist, but rather as an exceptional man who suffered from an inherited metabolic disorder. He was wonderfully creative because of intelligence, talent, and hard work. He was a genius in spite of his illness not because of it.

King George III's urine and indigo blue.
"The Madness of George III" was first performed at the Royal National Theatre, London, in 1991. In dramatizing the illness of King George III (1738-1820), Alan Bennett evoked sympathy, titillation, humor — all within a milieu of power struggles. Success led to a film, that was also well received in the U.S. In the final scene two attendants remark upon their King’s return to health and observe that the royal urine which had been blue is now normal. A sentence floats overhead to inform the audience that the King suffered from porphyria, as first proposed by McAlpine and Hunter. The remarkable thing for any student of porphyria is the reference to blue because porphyric urines, after aging, are associated with red, reddish-brown, or purple pigments. However, detailed reading of the literature reveals that on two occasions specimens of bluish urine were actually registered on behalf of the King by Sir Henry Halford (1766-1844).

This PowerPoint presentation demonstrates the formation of blue pigment in aged urine as due to the excretion of abnormal amounts of indoxyl sulfate from the patient, the participation of bacterial cells in the collection vessel, and the eventual formation of indigo blue. I reproduced the observations of Sir Henry from 1811 using physiologically-reasonable concentrations of indoxyl sulfate; a common bacterium called Providencia stuartii; and porcelain crucibles to mimic chamber pots. Furthermore, a rational story for the historic blue urine follows from King George III’s suffering from acute intermittent porphyria, accompanied by episodes of severe constipation, as indicated in royal bulletins.

Chopin’s Heart.
Frédéric Chopin was born near Warsaw, Poland, in 1810 but from 1831 lived mostly in France where he achieved international acclaim for his music in spite of a debilitating and life-shortening illness. He died in 1849 and an autopsy by Dr. Jean Cruveilhier supposedly confirmed tuberculosis of the lungs and larynx, together with cachexia, although written documentation was subsequently lost.

Chopin’s body was interred in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, except for the heart which was preserved in alcohol (cognac), sealed in a crystal urn, taken to his native Poland by his sister Ludwika, and sequestered within a pillar of the Holy Cross Church, in Warsaw.

In 1987, a novel analysis of the available information led to the suggestion of cystic fibrosis as Chopin’s congenital disease. In 2006, a group of Polish biologists not only adopted this diagnosis but attempted to justify genetic analysis on a sample of Chopin’s heart, “to deepen our knowledge about the great Polish composer, but foremost to give hope and meaning to those who nowadays suffer from genetically inherited disorders.” [To suggest that discovering a famous person with the same disease would bring understanding or solace to current patients seems to me to be a specious argument.] To date, Polish authorities have refused DNA testing on the alcohol-preserved organ.

This PowerPoint presentation will show that the clinical and pathological evidence for tuberculosis, a microbial disease, remains much more compelling than that for the genetic disease of cystic fibrosis and this surely adds to the societal and religious arguments that have been expressed against invasive interference with the relic.

Mark Batzer

The Impact of Retrotransposons on Human Genome Evolution (G,S)
Their ability to move within genomes gives transposable elements an intrinsic propensity to affect genome evolution. Non-long terminal repeat (LTR) retrotransposons— including LINE-1, Alu and SVA elements — have proliferated over the past 65 million years of primate evolution and now account for approximately one-half of the human genome. The lecture will focus on this major class of elements and discuss the many ways that they impact the human genome: from generating insertion mutations and genomic instability to altering gene expression and contributing to genetic innovation. Increasingly detailed analyses of human and other primate genomes are revealing the scale and complexity of the past and current contributions of non-LTR retrotransposons to genomic change in the primate lineage.

Mobile Elements: a Novel Source of Primate Genomic Variation (G,S)
Mobile elements belong to discrete subfamilies that can be differentiated from one another by diagnostic nucleotide substitutions. An analysis of lineage specific mobile element insertions throughout the primate order was undertaken to assess mobile element associated primate genomic diversity. Our screening of the mobile element insertion loci resulted in the recovery of a number of "young" mobile elements with different distributions throughout the primate lineage. Many of the mobile elements recovered from various human and non-human primate genomes were restricted to various parts of the primate lineage, with some elements that were polymorphic for insertion presence/absence in diverse primate genomes. Many of these loci have proven useful for elucidating human and non-human primate population relationships and for the resolution of primate phylogenetic relationships. The distribution of mobile elements throughout various primate genomes makes them useful tools for resolving non-human primate systematic relationships.

Franco Einaudi

Weather and Climate: Its Science, its Applications and its Challenges (P,G)
This presentation deals with the possible impact of human activities on weather and climate.

We are all familiar with the weather and with the accuracy of its forecast up to a week, especially for extreme events such as snowstorms and severe weather outbreaks. We are also familiar with the increasing uncertainty associated with forecasts for seasons out to a few years in advance, such as for El Niño and La Niña. There is a great deal of day-to-day weather variability and year-to year variability of the average weather.

There is however a deterministic component as well: we know, for example, that the Earth would become warmer if we were to move the Earth closer to the sun, or increase the brightness of the sun. The presence of this deterministic component in the Earth System forms the basis for our ability to make climate predictions long into the future.

It is our challenge to evaluate the implication of the rate of change in global average temperature and in Green House Gases concentration revolution 260 years ago. The challenge is in part due to human-induced changes being of the same order of magnitude as those associated with natural variability and in part due to our very limited knowledge of tipping points. These are configurations of the Earth System that may be reached through some positive feed back mechanisms which, once triggered, tend to become stronger and stronger and may become irreversible.

Finally a brief discussion will be offered about the very important challenge that we have of communicating our results to the public and the policy makers. It is the responsibility of Earth System scientists to communicate effectively and in a dispassionate manner.

The Role of Physics in Atmospheric, Ocean and Earth Science (G,S)
Dr. Einaudi will describe the role of satellite missions in studying weather and climate. The natural variability of the Earth's environment in the last 600,000 years will be shown to be due in part to small variations of the Earth orbital parameters. Changes in the global temperature, sea level, water vapor and other trace gases since the beginning of the industrial revolution will be discussed. The challenges will be outlined of separating the natural variability in the Earth System from human induced changes. The possibility of reaching tipping points in the highly nonlinear Earth system will be examined. Dr. Einaudi will describe the role of satellite missions in i) increasing our understanding of the Earth System; ii) in monitoring it; and iii) in improving our ability to predict it.

The Role of Satellites in Studying the Earth's Environment (G,S)
The Earth system is a very complex system made of the Atmosphere, the Biosphere, the Hydrosphere, the Cryosphere and the solid portion of the Earth's surface. These components interact with each other in very complex highly nonlinear ways. Advances in remote sensing techniques and computational capabilities have allowed Earth system science to make substantial advances and contributions in the fields of geophysical fluid dynamics, chemistry, biology, cloud and aerosols dynamics and interactions, and computational science. Some of the major scientific achievements will be described. The scientific issues facing our field will be discussed, including challenges of climate and feedback mechanisms. Throughout the presentation, emphasis will be given to the physics behind our science.

Wesley L. Harris

Fluid Dynamics of Diffusion in Blood Microcirculation (S)
A novel, unsteady fluid dynamic model/simulation of blood microcirculation including non-linear convection, blood cell membrane deformation, and diffusion of oxygen from the blood cells to thee capillary walls is presented. Normal res blood cells and sickle blood cells are presented and compared to existing experimental results.

Grand and Not-So Grand Challenges for Engineering (G)
The results and implications of the National Academy of Engineering [NAE] Grand Challenges for Engineering are unpacked. Based on my participation as a member of the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering Committee, the fourteen (14) specific recommendations developed by the Committee are presented in the context of the colorful path to the recommendations, sans personalities.

The Face of American Science (P,G,S)
Based on projections from the 1990 U.S. census, the fraction of college-age adults from underrepresented groups is expected to double by 2020. Approximately one half of the college-age U.S. population will be members of these groups by 2020 compared to one quarter in 1990. Since 1999 the number of bachelor's degrees in engineering earned by underrepresented groups has been static and low in numbers. The 2006 percentage of bachelor's degrees in engineering earned by women (19.3%) is the lowest since 1998, while women are 56% of the overall undergraduate population. Progress in graduate education is more measurable but still slow. Minorities received almost 14 percent of all science and engineering doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens in 1995-99, up from 6 percent in 1975-79. In 1999 women constituted 43 percent of PhDs awarded in all fields, compared with 48 percent of the U.S. population 25 years and older with 4 years of college education. From 1920-24 to 1995-99, women's share of all science and engineering doctorates awarded increased from 13 to 33 percent. These and other similar demographic data will be presented and used as framework of discussion on a series of questions. For example: What are projected outcomes for U.S. competitiveness in an environment where underrepresented group members and women are so disproportionately trained in science and engineering? What are projected scenarios for U.S. colleges and universities in the next decade as the composition of the U.S. student body changes? Should the U.S. out-source its higher education enterprise post 2020? Note that the college freshman class of 2020 is now entering the first grade!

Gene Helfman

Fishing Is(n't) Murder: The Ethics of Sportfishing (P,G) Ethical questions deal with moral constructs of right and wrong, questions that we must ask ourselves despite a reluctance to do so. I hope to engage a general audience in an exploration of ethical arguments for and against sport and other types of fishing. I will focus on the question of whether (or not) fish feel pain and how that affects our personal decisions about sport fishing. Ethical decisions can be based on systematic and rational arguments, but they are often also legitimately personal. We must make decisions about the welfare of fishes and how our individual and collective actions influence their future. My chief objective here is to provide science-based information for making those decisions.

“A good rule of angling philosophy is not to interfere with any fisherman’s ways of being happy, unless you want to be hated.” Zane Grey (1919), “Tales of Fishes”.

Fishes versus Fisheries: Can Humans be Prudent Predators? (P,G,S)
Primarily aimed at a fisheries or resource management audience, but the issues are general enough and in the news so as to interest anyone concerned about resource conservation and ecosystem or evolutionary ecology.

Fish provide essential protein to almost one-third of humanity and are an increasingly popular food item in North America. My presentation includes a brief overview of the state of U.S. and global fisheries and a critique of commonly practiced management techniques and their failure, a failure in part due to leaving natural history, evolution, and ecosystem interactions out of the decisions. An alternative worth considering approaches fisheries management from an evolutionary/ecological perspective, viewing humans as predators in an evolved predator-prey context, with a focus on ecosystem-based approaches.

Anthony Johnson

Photonics, Diversity and Mentoring -- Over 30 Years of Experiences and Strategies on an African-American Physicist (P,G,S)
I hope to share a career that emphasizes cutting edge research in ultrafast optical phenomena, as well as outreach to women and underrepresented minorities that began over three decades ago at AT&T Bell Laboratories. In academia for 15 years now, I have had the good fortune to continue the research tradition, where the majority of my PhD and MS students have been women and underrepresented minorities. Indeed, these students are out there, they are hungry for the experience, motivated to give their best effort, and can thrive when given supportive environments. I will touch upon professional service and research grants and the impact these entities have had on the seemingly disparate foci that exists between photonics and diversity.

Ultrafast Optical Characterization of Novel Nanoscale Materials (G,S)
Ultrafast optical phenomena refers to dynamical processes that occur in various forms of matter on the timescale of picoseconds (10-12 s, ps), femtoseconds (10-15 s, fs) and attoseconds (10-18 s, as). These phenomena are relegated to the optical domain, primarily because only lasers have been fast enough to probe many of these processes. Ultrashort pulses of light have been utilized in fundamental studies of disciplines as diverse at semiconductor physics, lightwave transmission systems and biological systems. This talk will describe several of the techniques used by ultrafast opticists to measure events on this incredibly short time scale. The talk will concentrate on the use of fs duration visible and near-infrared optical pulses to measure ultrafast optical switching in single-walled carbon nanotubes. Additionally, I will discuss the use of fs mid-infrared optical pulses to investigate the ultrafast gain dynamics of active mid-infrared semiconductor quantum cascade lasers (QCLs). These mid-infrared QCLs are fundamentally different from the traditional visible and near-infrared semiconductor lasers that are common in everyday DVD players and supermarket scanners & these differences will also be discussed.

Gregory M. Paoli

Key Themes from the NRC Report, Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment (P, G, S)
In 2009, a committee of the National Research Council released a report entitled, Science and Decisions: Advancing Risk Assessment. In reaching its conclusions, the committee reviewed the state of the art of risk assessment, with a focus on the mandate of US Environmental Protection Agency. This lecture, given by a member of the committee, explains the recommendations for improving both the technical basis for risk assessment, as well as the utility of risk assessment. Three areas of focus will be the application of the value-of-information  methods, the recommended framework for risk-based decision-making and the recommendations related to harmonization of the approach to dose-response characterization for cancer and non-cancer outcomes. Finally, a look ahead to the future of risk assessment will be offered, considering the technological changes that may enable a very different future for assessments of risks borne by the public.

Accounting for Public Risks in Enterprise Risk Management Systems (P, G, S)
For many years, the concepts of risk and risk management has been the means of expressing and reducing the burden of harms faced by the public. Increasingly, public and private organizations have developed enterprise-wide risk management frameworks that focus on furthering the objectives of the organization, where risk applies equally to seeking opportunity as well as limiting losses. The ISO 31000 risk management standard provides an organization-centric model for the management of risks borne by an organization. For public sector agencies with a public risk management mandate, and private  sector organizations whose business directly impacts public risk, effective holistic risk management implies that the two worlds of risk management must co-exist and accept the reality of interaction and potential conflicts of interest. The web of risk arises because risks faced by the public can be increased or decreased through an organization’s behavior. In addition, risks faced by an organization can be affected by the risks faced by the public. The complex web of relationships between public and organizational risk bearing is often suppressed in the hope that enterprise risk management systems, properly executed, will manage the public risk as part of the organization’s objectives. The conflict of interest inherent in public-centric versus organization-centric risk management is not adequately represented. This lecture describes this web of risk and calls for an explicit recognition of the need to separately measure and manage public versus organizational risk. 

Jose-Antonio de la Peña

Mathematics in the movies (P)
We discuss (and show short parts of some) films where mathematics or mathematicians play a role. Through the eye of cinema we gain an understanding of the meaning of mathematics for society.

Mathematics as a human endeavor (G)
The power of mathematics to explain how the universe works has been seen with awesome: God is a mathematician or mathematics is the language of the universe. Even the purest mathematics often turns out to have practical applications in what Eugene Wigner has called "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics". In this lecture we discuss historic examples of human weaknesses in mathematics: mistakes, lack of rigor, biased viewpoints and others. 

Scientific and social networks: a mathematical view (P,G,S)
We discuss networks as mathematical objects and develop combinatorial and algebraic tools to better understand scientific networks (formed by scientists, scientific journals and others) and social networks (formed by organized societies, internet users and others).

Howard Pinderhughes

Dealing With Danger: How Innercity Youth Cope With the Violence that Surrounds Them (P,G)
In this presentation, Dr. Howard Pinderhughes examines how youth violence is mass produced in American society and examines the profound effects that exposure to violence has on inner city youth. The lecture presents a theoretical framework on the social production of violence in the United States. The talk is a unique presentation that combines both quantitative and qualitative data from Pinderhughes' research over the last 15 years on violence among youth in Oakland and San Francisco, California. The presentation also uses pictures and popular cultural music in a multimedia presentation about the causes and consequences of inner city youth violence. The talk is both a scientific and moving presentation of one of the most persistent and troubling social problems in contemporary US society.

Racial Identities, Attitudes and Conflict Among Youth (P,G)
In this presentation, Dr. Howard Pinderhughes examines the dynamics of intergroup relations among youth in high schools in New York City, Oakland and San Francisco, California. Dr. Pinderhughes presents findings from research on race relations among adolescents in each of these cities with a theory on the factors producing racial conflict among youth. The talk also presents data from an intervention study at a high school in San Francisco. This project PROPS - People Respecting Other Peoples was recognized as a model program in the Pathways to One America in the 21st Century: Promising Practices for Racial Reconciliation-- a report by President Clinton's Advisory Panel on Race Relations in America.

Love Is Blind: Relationship Violence Among Inner City Youth (P,G)
In this presentation, Dr. Howard Pinderhughes examines the dynamics of relationship violence among adolescents in San Francisco and Oakland. This lecture presents quantitative and qualitative data on the causes and consequences of adolescent relationship and dating violence. The talk examines the role of gender, race and class dynamics in the production and reproduction of adolescent relationship violence.

William N. Ryerson

Solving the World's Social and Environmental Problems through Soap Operas (P,G,S)
Solving the world's population problem is required to stop climate change. Yet the low status of women, large family traditions, and misinformation are standing in the way. Population Media Center (PMC) uses a special type of serialized melodrama for changing behavior on such issues as family planning, elevation of women's status and protection of the environment. Characters in locally written and produced prime time melodramas on radio and television in many developing countries evolve into role models for the audience and, in the process, lead to population-wide changes in behavior.

Sex, Soap Operas and Social Change (P)
Some of the world's most intractable problems - like population growth and the AIDS epidemic - are now being addressed through the medium of soap operas. Population Media Center (PMC) uses a special type of serialized melodrama for changing behavior on such issues as family planning, elevation of women's status and protection of children. Characters in locally written and produced prime time melodramas on radio and television in many developing countries evolve into role models for the audience and, in the process, lead to population-wide changes in behavior.

Role Modeling by the Mass Media in Shaping Health and Environmental Behaviors (P,G)
Entertainment media have a significant influence on social norms in most countries. Since entertainment programs on television and radio attract the largest audiences, a whole field of "entertainment-education" has been developed to use such programs to both attract large followings and simultaneously to provide audiences with information and role-modeling that will be useful for their lives. Find out how this approach is being used in both developed and developing countries and how audiences respond to these programs.

Application of Albert Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory to Practical Issues of Reproductive Health and Population Trends in Developing Countries (S)
Reproductive Health and Population Trends in Developing Countries Stanford University professor Dr. Albert Bandura is the most frequently cited living psychologist in professional journal articles. He first became known for his famous "Bobo Doll" experiments in which he showed that role modeling of violent or non-violent behavior on television dramatically affected the behavior of children who watched these programs. His Social Cognitive Theory explains how role models affect human behavior and what factors make someone (parent, peer, celebrity, or fictional character) more or less influential among observers. His work is now being applied to addressing reproductive health and population issues around the world. Learn the history of this work and the influence it has had globally.

Michael Summers

Mentoring and Retention of Minority Scientists (P,G,S)
African American students make up 11 percent of all college students in the U.S., but they earn less than seven percent of all bachelor’s degrees and less than two percent of the doctoral degrees in science and engineering. We have developed a system for diversifying our undergraduate and graduate STEM programs that focus on high achievement. Initiated in 1988, the program goal has been to build a cadre of well prepared minority students who would become leading researchers. We have focused on creating a climate that attracts serious students, sets high expectations, and then takes a proactive approach in helping them to succeed. More than 950 students have participated in the undergraduate Meyerhoff Scholars Program since its inception in 1988. Of these, >230 students are currently enrolled at UMBC, >800 (85%) graduated with STEM degrees, > 40% matriculated directly to top PhD or MD-PhD programs, 20% matriculated to STEM Masters programs, and 20% entered professional (mainly MD) programs. We typically receive 1500-2000 nominations and more than 500 applications annually from high achieving high school students (half URM students), with 80% of these coming from Maryland residents. Our data indicate that large numbers of high achieving, well-prepared URM students start college with interest in STEM areas, but few are retained.; Similar efforts at the graduate level are now yielding positive results. URM participation in STEM PhD programs has increased over the past 15 years from 3% to 17%, and URM PhD production has increased from 3 graduates in the 10 years preceding our program to 30 graduates over the past 10 years. The program currently includes 48 URM doctoral students, and the retention rate over the past 5 years is greater than 90%. The program components of the undergraduate and graduate programs should be replicable at other interested academic institutions.

Structural basis for HIV-1 assembly and genome packaging in infected cells (G,S)
In cells infected by HIV-1, newly synthesized retroviral Gag polyproteins are directed to specific cellular membranes where they assemble and bud to form immature virions. Membrane binding is mediated by Gag’s matrix (MA) domain, which contains an N-terminal myristyl group that can adopt sequestered and exposed conformations. Membane specificity is regulated by phosphatidylinositol-(4,5)- bisphosphate (PI(4,5)P2), a cellular factor abundant in the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane (PM). We now have evidence that phosphoinositides, including soluble analogs of PI(4,5)P2 with truncated lipids, bind HIV-1 MA and trigger myristate exposure. The phosphoinositol moiety and one of the fatty acid tails binds to a cleft on the surface of the protein. The other fatty acid chain of PI(4,5)P2 and the exposed myristyl group of MA bracket a conserved basic surface patch implicated in membrane binding. Thus, PI(4,5)P2 can act as both a trigger of the myristyl switch and as a membrane anchor, suggesting a structure-based mechanism for the specific targeting HIV-1 Gag to PI(4,5)P2-enriched membranes. The Gag protein is responsible for specifically recruiting two copies of the viral genome into assembling virions. We now have evidence that diploid genome selection by HIV-1 and other retroviruses is mediated by RNA structural switch mechanisms, in which dimerization-dependent changes in RNA base pairing expose conserved residues responsible for genome packaging. Recent studies of the structures responsible for genome selection will be presented.

Sheryl A. Tucker

The Pipeline: Igniting Children's Interest in Science (P,G,S)
Magic of Chemistry is a hands-on, inquiry-based science outreach program designed to ignite children's interest in science at an age where national studies indicate they begin to lose this curiosity. Three thematic workshops - "Case of the Unsigned Letter", "Fun with Polymers", and "Chemistry of Color" - held on a university campus rotate annually, exposing fourth through sixth grade Junior Girl Scouts to different science experiments and concepts. Approximately 81% of girls who completed the evaluations over a decade professed an interest in wanting to learn more about science and science-related careers following participation in the program. In addition, the program has been adopted throughout the country with other audiences, such as mixed gender classrooms.

From Having a Pet to Working with a Vet (P,G,S)
While many human treatments for medical conditions originate from small animal studies, there are also situations where veterinarians must adapt human treatment modalities to care for large animals, such as horses, whose body mass introduces significant challenges. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common tumor of the horse eye. It is locally invasive, may metastasize, and frequently results in blindness. Presently, there is no satisfactory treatment for this vision-threatening neoplasm. Local photodynamic therapy represents a novel delivery method and treatment modality for equine periocular SCC with favorable preliminary clinical results. Through a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach, the efficacy of this promising, novel, clinical treatment modality is explored, via molecular spectroscopy.

Understanding and Harnessing Molecular Containers (G,S)
In order to imitate and understand nature, especially after recognizing how many complex proteins and viruses are self-aggregating, many researchers are working on understanding self-assembling macromolecules, Most instantaneously, self-assembling structures are based on noncovalent bonds, generally hydrogen bonds. In our case, hexameric nanocapsules are formed by six C-hexylpyrogallol[4]arenes (PgC6) held together by 72 hydrogen bonds, making the structure stable in solution, even in nonpolar solvents. To better understand and potentially control the host-guest process, the encapsulation of fluorescence reporters, such as pyrene butyric acid, pyrene butanol and 1 (9-anthryl)-3-(4-dimethylaniline) propane, is explored. Very few reports, have examined these new materials in solution or explored their viability as molecular transporters.

Donald Winter

Deepwater Horizon – a case study in managing risk (P,G,S)
The Deepwater Horizon Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit was preparing an exploratory well in the Mississippi Canyon region of the Gulf of Mexico when a blow out occurred, killing 11 workers on the rig and injuring 17 others. The well proved to be exceedingly difficult to control, resulting in a massive oil spill with significant environmental and economic consequences. The blow out occurred in spite of the use of multiple flow barriers and safety systems, highlighting the challenges posed by such low probability but high consequence events. This lecture will status the ongoing investigation into the causes of the blow out and will also examine some of the proposed approaches to avoiding such events in the future.


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