Distinguished Lecture Series


Friends' Central School's Distinguished Lecture Series seeks to inspire the next generation of writers, educators, scientists, researchers, policy makers, and thinkers by bringing renowned scholars to campus for courses and a public lecture. A core group of Friends' Central students prepare for the lectures in advance and participate in special classes and workshops both on campus and at the lecturer's home institution as part of the Distinguished Visiting Humanist and Scientist Programs. The lectures are always free and open to the general public. 

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Previous Lectures

Janna Levin

2017 Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Barnard College Professor of Astrophysics

Dr. Janna Levin is the author of – among several books – Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space. She is also director of sciences at Pioneer Works, a non-profit foundation in Brooklyn that fosters multidisciplinary creativity in the arts and sciences. Levin's Distinguished Lecture was entitled "Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space: The Story of the Detection of Gravitational Waves."


2017 Distinguished Humanities Lecturer

Dr. Elizabeth Milroy, Professor and Department Head of Art and Art History in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University and author of The Grid and the River: Philadelphia’s Green Places, 1682-1876, delivered a lecture entitled, "Inventing Public Parks: Frederick Law Olmsted & Philadelphia's Green Places."


2016 Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Harvard Professor of Genetics

David Reich, Professor of Genetics at Harvard University and population genomic researcher delivered a fascinating lecture entitled "Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past."

David Reich is interested in interested in human history and its relationship to biology. His lab takes advantage of the revolution in gene sequencing that has occurred in the last decade, along with new technology to sequence DNA extracted from ancient bones. The historical perspective that he brings to genetic data has led to a number of new insights about human biology and disease.


2016 Distinguished Humanities Lecturer

Asali Solomon, author of the critically acclaimed novel Disgruntled and Assistant Professor of English at Haverford College, spoke about her novel and about the creative writing process. Solomon's lecture was the culminating event in our yearlong community-wide exploration of the theme "Girls in Transition: Coming of Age Across Cultures."


2015 Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Harvard Professor of Astronomy

David Charbonneau, Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University and astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics delivered a fantastic lecture entitled "The Fast Track to Finding an Inhabited Exoplanet." Charbonneau, whose area of study focuses on exoplanets –planets outside of our solar system – with a particular interest in finding planets like Earth, is currently involved in four projects: the MEarth Project, the Kepler Mission, the EPOXI Mission, and Exo Atmospheres.


Friends’ Central was thrilled to kick off its 2014-2015 Distinguished Visiting Scientist Program in October with a lecture by NASA Senior Scientist and Nobel Laureate John Mather (pictured below) entitled “The History of the Universe: How We Got Here, and Where We Are Going.”

Lara Cohen '95 and Halimah Marcus '03

2014 Distinguished Visiting Humanities Lecturers

Illustrious FCS graduates Lara Cohen ’95, Assistant Professor of English at Swarthmore College, and Halimah Marcus ’03, Editor-in-Chief, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, discussed the thread of American literary production from past to present: how stories are written, edited, published, and distributed, and what it means to be a literary entrepreneur in the democratic realm of the Internet. 

Lawrence C. Smith

2014 Distinguished Visiting Scientist, UCLA Climate Scientist and Author

One of the world’s most respected climate scientists, the work of Dr. Laurence Smith, Professor and Chair of Geography and Professor of Earth & Space Sciences at UCLA, envisions the future of a warmed planet. His debut book, The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilizations Northern Future, has received praise and critical acclaim for its assessment of future climate change and its effects on northern ecosystems and countries, including the United States. Smith has published over 70 articles in leading science journals, and his work has also been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The EconomistThe LA Times, The Washington Post, NPR, BBC, and CBC Radio.

Al Filreis

2013 Distinguished Visiting Humanities Lecturer – Author, English Professor, and Director, Kelly Writers House, University of Pennsylvania

Al Filreis, Kelly Professor, Director of the Kelly Writers House, and Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, has prepared a mini-version of his hugely successful (online) Coursera course just for the FCS community. This exciting, dynamic course will focus on his trademark modern and contemporary American poetry work at Penn, as well as his Coursera course, popularly known as “ModPo.” Read more about his poetry at http://fcsmodpo.blogspot.com/

Filreis is the author of several books, including Secretaries of the Moon, Wallace Stevens & the Actual World, Modernism from Left to Right, and Counter-Revolution of the Word, and is the co-founder and co-director of PennSound, a web-based archive of one of the largest collections of digital recordings of modern poetry on the Internet. Filreis is also the parent of two alumni/ae, Ben Filreis ’10 and Hannah Albertine ’12.

Hopi Hoekstra

2013 Distinguished Visiting Scientist
"From Darwin to DNA"

Hoekstra is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Curator of Mammals in the Museum of Comparative Zoology with Harvard University's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. Her work involving the Evolutionary and Ecological Genetics of Adaptation and Speciation has been featured in many publications, including the New York Times, National Geographic, the Washington Post, and Popular Science, as well as television and radio networks, including MSNBC, NPR, CBC Radio, and BBC News.

Dan Biddle '71

2012 Distinguished Humanities Lecture
"Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America"

Dan Biddle ’71 highlights Friends’ Central’s year-long celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. Hear Biddle and co-author Murray Dubin talk about their book, Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, which the Philadelphia Inquirer calls, “A masterful history, centering on Philadelphia and 19th-century leader Octavius Catto.” While working for the Inquirer, Biddle and his investigative reporting team won a Pulitzer Prize for their series about injustice in the Philadelphia court system.

Brian Greene

2012 Distinguished Visiting Scientist
"The Hidden Reality"

Columbia Professor, physicist, string theorist, and author Brian Greene has been described as “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today” by the Washington Post. Greene is the author of several New York Times bestsellers including The Elegant Universe.

Eve Troutt Powell

2011 Distinguished Humanities Lecture
"Other People’s Help: Exploring Slavery & Servitude In Other Cultures"

Eve Troutt Powell, an expert on Middle East history and a MacArthur Foundation Fellow, will speak about slavery in the Middle East and East Africa. Learn how the American Perception of "The Help" compares with the history of slavery in the Middle East and East Africa. Powell is Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of A Different Shade of Colonialism: Egypt, Great Britain and the Mastery of the Sudan.


2010 Distinguished Visiting Scientist
"The Stressed Brain: Providing New Insights into Treatments for Pathological Fear and Anxiety”

Ki Ann Goosens, Principal Investigator, MIT McGovern Institute for Brain Research & Assistant Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT University, studies the relationship between fear, anxiety, and stress. She found that chronic stress increases the tendency to form fearful memories. Her current research is focused on understanding the basis of this effect. Goosens hopes that a better understanding of the brain's response to stress will lead to new therapeutic strategies for anxiety disorders, depression, and other psychiatric diseases. Later in the spring, the students visited Ki Ann Goosens at her laboratories at the McGovern Institute.


2009 Distinguished Humanities Lecture
"In the Garrets and Ratholes of Old Houses"

Laurel Ulrich, 300th Anniversary Professor of History at Harvard University & Friends' Central School grandparent, is well known for her work in early American social history, women's history, and material cultures. Her book, A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812, won the Pulitzer Prize in History and the Bancroft Prize in History in 1991.


2009 Distinguished Visiting Scientist
"Globalization: For Better or For Worse"

Jared Diamond began his career as a biologist studying birds in Papua New Guinea. Today, the scope of his research includes some of the most challenging questions in the world:

* Why have certain groups of people dominated others historically?

• What causes cultures to disintegrate and how can we preserve our own?

• How do interactions with biology and the environment shape human cultures?

• What are the implications of globalization for different human societies?

In recognition of his work, Diamond has been awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Science, and the National Geographic Society’s Burr Award. Currently, he serves as a professor of Physiology and Geography at UCLA.


2008 Distinguished Humanities Lecture
"The Word of the Lord is Upon Me: The Righteous Performance of Martin Luther King, Jr."

In The Word of the Lord Is Upon Me, Jon Rieder '65, Professor of Sociology at Barnard College, Columbia University, takes us "deep into King’s backstage discussions [to tell] a powerful story about the tangle of race, talk, and identity in the life of one of America’s greatest moral and political leaders." (Harvard University Press)

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. calls the book "absolutely brilliant....Rieder represents King as a master performer who was never less than authentic."

Jon's lecture included previously unseen footage of King and relate his analysis of King's oratorical performances to the political speeches that have defined the 2008 election year.


2008 Distinguished Visiting Scientist
"Understanding our Global Warming Forecast: Our Past and Future Climate."

On Thursday, April 10, 2008 the Friends' Central School Distinguished Scientist Program welcomed Peter DeMenocal, Associate Professor at the Earth Institute of Columbia University. DeMenocal is a paleocenaograher/marine geologist who uses geochemical analyses of marine sediment to understand how and why climates are changing. He was featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio film, The 11th Hour, and regularly lectures on impending changes the earth faces. He delivered portions of his recent paper, "Cultural Responses to Climate Change in the Late Holocene" which looks to past cultural adaptations to persistent climate change…[for] perspective on possible responses of modern societies to future climate change." Later in the year, a select group of Friends' Central students visited DeMenocal at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Obervatory in New York.


2007 Distinguished Visiting Scientist
"Light at the Edge of the World: An Exploration of Diversity in the Biological and Human Worlds"

Davis, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, is an ethnobotanist and anthropologist who has spent the past 25 years studying the ways indigenous people live in harmony with the natural world. He has lived in Borneo, Australia, Tibet, Kenya, Haiti, the Arctic, and the Amazon exploring the connection between cultural and biodiversity. His new book, Light at the Edge of the World, is a collection of photographic essays documenting his time spent with vanishing cultures. Later in the spring, a select group of Friends’ Central students visited Davis at National Geographic in Washington, D.C.

2017 Distinguished
Scientist Lecturer


Dr. Janna Levin
Astrophysicist, Artist, & Author

"Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space: The Story of the Detection of Gravitational Waves" 

Dr. Levin spoke on April 5. Stay tuned for 2017-2018 Lecture Series Information.

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