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The College of Arts and Sciences' communications office works closely with Cornell's Media Relations Office. As the College's representatives to media, we connect faculty experts and thought leaders to local, regional, national and international media organizations.
Linda Glaser, Publicist
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Tricia Barry, Communications Director
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Current press statements from Arts & Sciences faculty:
Remembering Stephen Hawking: a personal story - March 14, 2018
Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking passed away early on Wednesday and members of the science community worldwide are remembering his legacy.
Yangyang Cheng is a particle physicist and postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University. Cheng was born and raised in southeastern China. Her father – who passed away when she was 10, was a mechanical science and engineering professor. Cheng says that Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” became a ‘window’ into the father she never got to know.
“Being a young academic, my father was often away on work trips, and in the late 90s he spent a couple years working in the UK and the US as a visiting scientist when I was in elementary school. In his absence I would go to his study, tiptoe and stare at his giant bookshelf. Among the volumes of literature and philosophy with faded cloth covers, there was a series of popular science books in sleek dark design that stood out against the rest. The most notable in the series was the one with the shortest name, 时间简史, the Chinese translation of Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’.
“As a child science nerd, I had deployed cool phrases like blackholes and time travel into my vocabulary, despite being too young to understand their meaning in full, and I knew Hawking was considered the most brilliant mind alive. I longed for the day I’d be able to read that book.
“My father passed away very suddenly when I just turned 10 years old. It would be years before I was able to gradually read off his bookshelf. I finally read the translated copy of ‘A Brief History of Time’ when I was fifteen, in the summer before I started university to study physics at my father’s alma mater and former workplace. For me, ‘A Brief History of Time’ was not only an introduction to some of the most fascinating topics in physics, but also a window into the father I never got to know and the brilliant mind I was supposed to inherit. It’s only so fitting that the book was about time, albeit on a cosmological scale. For me it was also a conduit across time, and life and death itself.”
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Pi Day: 10 trillion digits and counting - March 7, 2018
Pi Day has now become a popular annual celebration nationwide, marked by special shopping events and quirky contests. But the date, which falls next Wednesday, also provides an opportunity to brush up on middle school math and celebrate a number that has intrigued scientists for thousands of years.
Ravi Ramakrishna, professor of mathematics at Cornell University, says that although mathematicians have solved the riddle of pi, a race remains to find its ever longer decimal expansion.
“The number pi (3.14159265...) has intrigued scientists and mathematicians for thousands of years. It is defined as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter (the same amount, no matter how big or small the circle!) but has eluded easy computation.
“Up through the 19th century people computed more and more decimal places in the hope of finding a pattern that would help us better understand this number. It was only in the late 1800s that it was shown that pi is not the solution of any standard algebraic equation - it's a new number!
“Nonetheless, because of the importance of pi and the long history of ‘computing’ pi, there is still a race to find ever longer decimal expansions. Recently, building on theoretical methods of Srinivasa Ramanujan (subject of ‘The man who knew infinity’ film) pi has been computed to over 10 trillion digits.”
Italian Parliamentary Elections
Italy is finally European, but not in a good way - February 27, 2018
On Sunday, Italians will go to the polls to choose their next parliament. While the latest predictions suggest that no party will secure enough votes to form a government, the main contenders include parties that have supported anti-European, anti-immigration and populist positions. Mabel Berezin is professor of sociology at Cornell University and an expert on the history and development of populism and fascism in Europe. She says the upcoming election may bring Italy in line with the worst tendencies in contemporary European politics.
Berezin is the author of the book “Illiberal Politics in Neoliberal Times: Cultures, Security, and Populism in a New Europe” and recently contributed the article “Crisis or Improvisation? A Historical Meditation on Italian Post-War Political Development,” to the volume Italy from Crisis to Crisis: Political Economy, Security.
“No matter what, the outcome of the elections will not be good. None of the three parties currently in the lead have enough votes to form a government, so a coalition must be formed.
“Berlusconi – who seems to be the most likely candidate for a significant coalition - does not shy away from partnering with the extreme right. If he succeeds, not only will this be an extraordinary political resurrection, but he would come to power with the same coalition that he assembled for his first government in 1994.
“But, 2018 is not 1994. Berlusconi’s original coalition, aside from enabling Lega to become a permanent force in Italian politics did not have much impact beyond Italy. Next Sunday’s election will bring Italy in line with the worst tendencies in contemporary European politics.
“As a founding member of the European Community, Italy has always been in Europe, but not completely of Europe. It has never been as nationalistic as its European compatriots, Italy’s strong regional identities kept some of the worst excesses of xenophobia that plagued other European countries at bay. Italians looked on in virtual indifference when migrants from North and South Africa began to arrive in the 1990s. The Euro crisis and attendant austerity followed by the refugee crisis have produced convergences across Europe where none had existed in the past. With the dissolution of the left and the emergence of an intense nationalism, Italy is becoming European, and not in a good way.”
Analyzing Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring"
Finding answers in the pigments: 'Girl With a Pearl Earring’ meets cutting-edge tech - February 27, 2018
Dutch painter Johanne Vermeer’s famous 1665 painting “Girl With a Pearl Earring” is off display and under the scrutiny of some of the most cutting-edge noninvasive technologies in existence. The purpose of the two-week intensive study of the painting at the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery in the Netherlands is to better understand the steps Vermeer used to bring his masterpiece to life. But even the latest tech can’t provide all the answers, according to a Cornell University art historian.
Lisa Pincus is an expert in seventeenth-century Dutch art and a visiting assistant professor of art history and visual studies at Cornell University. She says technology can provide important insights into art, but truly understanding meaning can prove more elusive.
“Getting under the skin of a painting via x-ray fluorescence may reveal several aspects hidden from unaided sight, such as changes in degraded pigments, previously overpainted compositions, and the chronology of a composition. Such discoveries give a boost both to materials science research and to a technical understanding of painting, and sometimes to questions of authorship.
“New technologies may well reveal new data, but these require analysis and interpretation to become useful and insightful knowledge about practices, markets, trade networks, historical significance. There are limits to science; a data-set alone can’t elucidate the meaning of a painting. For that to occur, we need other cultural practices to describe the kind of meaning that lodges in the eye.”