“On the Shoulders of Giants”: panel discussion

Nov. 19, 2016, 7:30 p.m.

On the Shoulders of Giants

This phrase appears over and over again in historic texts, perhaps most famously by Sir Isaac Newton in 1676: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the sholders [sic] of Giants.” Possibly, Sir Isaac was referring to a 12th century scholar, who wrote, “...we are dwarfs astride the shoulders of giants. We master their wisdom and move beyond it.” – from the works of the Jewish tosaphist Isaiah di Trani (c. 1180 – c. 1250)

The question we have asked our panel of science historians to discuss is who among the many prominent astronomers of the 20th century are the “giants” upon whose shoulders we are now standing. It's not an easy question to answer. For one thing, the 20th century was possibly the most explosive ever in terms of new discoveries, advancing technologies, and the sheer numbers of important scientists. In addition, all present day adults were born during the 20th century, which means we are all actually embedded in the events being discussed. Historical significance is something that becomes clearer over time. What we’re really asking our panelists to speculate on is who we will recognize in the future were the giants of 20th century astronomy.

While it is a challenging question, our panelists are exceptionally well qualified to address it.

Dr. Sethanne Howard is a professional astronomer recently retired from the US Naval Observatory where she was the Chief of the Nautical Almanac Office. She is a well-known speaker on the subject of “4000 years of women in science”, editor of the Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, and secretary of the American Astronomical Society Division on Dynamical Astronomy.

Dr. Steven Dick is also an astronomer and earned his Ph.D. in the history of science. He served for 24 years as an astronomer and historian of the US Naval Observatory, followed by six years as NASA Chief Historian. He currently holds the Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology.

Dr. David DeVorkin is senior curator of history of astronomy and the space sciences at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum. DeVorkin’s major research interests are in the origins and development of modern astrophysics during the 20th Century and the origins and development of the space sciences from the V-2 rocket to the present.

For more information, see November Friends Weekend: “On the Shoulders of Giants”

Doors open: 7 p.m. Show begins: 7:30 p.m.

Our capacity is 58 seats. We set aside 20 seats to accommodate those who arrive without a reservation, so if the show is sold out you can still try to attend by arriving close to 7 p.m. However, although we will do whatever we can to seat all comers, there is no guarantee of admission without a reservation.