David A. Weintraub

John Wiley Jones Distinguished Lecture in Science

February 17, 2012  1-2pm
Rochester Institute of Technology
Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science 
Book signing to follow - How Old is the Universe?


David A. Weintraub
Professor of Astronomy
Vanderbilt University

Exoplanets, Extraterrestrial Life, and Terrestrial Religion

Abstract: Astronomers are now discovering, every year, hundreds of planets in orbit around other stars. In the next decade, astronomers will start studying these planets in detail, looking for evidence of the presence or absence of life on these planets. If astronomers develop convincing evidence that life exists beyond the Earth, what impact will that discovery have on terrestrial religions? Or, if astronomers develop an abundance of evidence that indicates life on Earth is unique, how would that knowledge affect our religiosity?



David Weintraub is a Professor of Astronomy and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Director of the Program in the Communication of Science and Technology, and co-Director of the Program in Scientific Computing at Vanderbilt University, where he has been since 1991.  He is currently Chair of the University Faculty Senate and served previously as Chair of the College of Arts & Science Faculty Council.  Prior to joining the faculty at Vanderbilt, he earned his undergraduate degree at Yale, his doctoral degree at UCLA, and was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Florida.  He teaches basic classes in astronomy, advanced courses in astrophysics and on black holes, as well as a course on the trial of Galileo. 

Weintraub's research interests are focused on questions involving how planets form and whether the formation and existence of planets is something that is normal or unusual around other stars.  For his research he has used telescopes in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Wyoming, Spain and Chile as well as orbiting telescopes, including the NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory.  He is the author of about 70 refereed journal articles based on these research projects and has had five students complete their PhDs under his supervision, all of whom remain in the field as professional astronomers.

Weintraub was awarded the Chancellor’s Cup in 2001 (awarded annually to the Vanderbilt faculty member 'who has made the greatest contribution outside the classroom to undergraduate student-faculty relations in the recent past'), the Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in the College of Arts  & Science in 2003, the Chancellor’s Award for Research in 2005, the Thomas Jefferson Award in 2009, recognizing a Vanderbilt faculty member “for distinguished service to Vanderbilt through extraordinary contributions as a member of the faculty in the councils and government of the University,” and the Ernest A. Jones Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award in 2011. His first book Is Pluto a Planet? was published in 2006 by Princeton University Press.  His second book How Old is the Universe?, which was released in January 2011, also by Princeton University Press, is currently being translated into both Spanish and Polish.