Walter Alvarez: Discoverer of astreroid that killed the dinosaurs at Microsoft Faculty Summit

Yucatan  crater
Partial imprint of the Yucatan crater created by the asteroid responsible for the Cretaceous-Tertiary Extinction Event.

Walter Alvarez teaches geology at Berkley and his main contribution to the history of science is the theory that the dinosaur era was brought to an end by a giant asteroid that landed on Yucatan peninsula 60 million years ago. The footprint of the asteroid is truly immense, more 180 km (110 miles) wide.

At the Microsoft Faculty Summit which I attended, he presented his take on teaching and studying what he calls “Big History“, a  heuristic and educational perspective proposed by David Christian, an Anglo-Australian scholar . Big History tries to help us comprehend the fact that natural history is a million longer than human history and that we tend to over emphasize our own human-based chronological perspective when judging historical periods. History should be divided into four stages, says Alvarez, each an order of magnitude larger than the next. Current events = 5 years, Human history = 5000 years, Human prehistory = 5 million years, Natural history = 5 billion years. One way to get around this exponential jumps trough time is to plot events on a log scale. This procedure does not, however, help human minds understand time scales properly.

Walter Alvarez’s student Roland Saekow  used Seadragon, a vizualization tool powered by Microsoft Silverlight, which allows zooming in and out of timelines in a way that gives a sense for how large the time jumps are.  The advantage of this tool is that you see the giant leaps of scale between the different levels of Big History.

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Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei - Professor of Communication at Purdue University - studies the relationship between information technology and social integration. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Ethical Reasoning in Big Data. He also co-edited Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , both the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei's teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

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