Adventures in Scholarship

Monday, November 21, 2016

By Blake Cole

With each new issue we choose a selection of features we feel will best highlight all the exciting initiatives here in Penn Arts and Sciences. It’s both easy and challenging—there is a surplus of topics but only a limited amount of space. In this issue, both our cover story,“The Data Oracle,” and the feature, “When Should We Expect the Robot Army?,” highlight machine learning, a burgeoning field that encompasses a diversity of disciplines. While some may associate machine learning—a type of artificial intelligence where computer programs can teach themselves, and learn from new data—with disciplines like engineering, you’ll find when exploring these features that the contributions of the arts and sciences are vast and invaluable. From Professor of Criminology Richard Berk, who uses big data algorithms to find patterns that can improve forecasting criminal behavior, to Assistant Professor of Philosophy Lisa Miracchi, a theoretical roboticist who is studying what it means to be an intelligent being, intellectual contributions from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities are indispensable to the growth of applications and to our understanding of the potential, and challenges, of fields related to artificial intelligence.

In the pages ahead you’ll follow our scholars on academic adventures around the globe and into the upper atmosphere, as Professor of Philosophy Michael Weisberg and Senior Fellow in the Psychology Department Deena Weisberg travel to the Galapagos Islands in “Following in Darwin’s Footsteps,”and physicist Mark Devlin preps for the launch of a balloon-borne telescope to study the evolution of the galaxy in “Liftoff.” Hepburn Professor of Physics Andrea Liu and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Zahra Fakhraai delve into a mystery hiding in plain sight in “Researchers Shatter Our Idea of Glass,” while Ph.D. student in Italian Studies Andrea Gazzoni brings Dante’s travels through the afterlife to stunning digital glory in “Mapping the Divine Comedy.”

Now that the election is over, we invite you to visit the classroom of Political Psychology in “Voter Motivations,” which allowed undergraduates this past semester to wade into the fray and examine the psychological underpinnings of the average voter. And in “Chronicling a King’s Farewell,” alumni filmmaker Erika Frankel rides a wave of critical acclaim with her journey through the final chapter of famed Chef Georges Perrier’s iconic Philadelphia restaurant Le Bec-Fin.

So sit back and follow our scholars, students, and alumni through a tour of the exciting, envelope-pushing pursuits that make Penn Arts and Sciences unique.