Several Nobel Laureates and prestigious international researchers from different scientific disciplines will share with the audience their passion and knowledge about a wide range of subjects, such as astrophysics, software engineering, quantum physics, neuroscience, botany or biomedicine. Tales of exploration, scientific challenges and a generous dose of Passion for Knowledge in the flagship of the festival.

Most of the Plenary Lectures will be held in San Sebastian, in the main venue, but lectures have also been scheduled in other nearby cities, like Bilbao, and we will also cross the border into our neighbouring country to take Passion for Knowledge to Bordeaux.

Entrance to all the Plenary Lectures is free of charge until seating capacity is complete, although prior registration is recommended.

Register now for Public Lectures


Simultaneous interpretation service into English, Basque and Spanish will be available, and all sessions will be streamed live over this website.

Aboutus slide 1
  Tuesday, 27 SEP
Afternoon
18:15 - 20:30 Plenary Lectures imagen ponente

Victoria Eugenia Theatre, San Sebastian

18:15

Dudley HERSCHBACH Harvard University, USA

My father had a favorite saying: "The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer." The second phrase appealed to me as a kid, I suppose because of its whimsical incongruity and heroic ring. Decades later, the appeal is stronger still. Again and again, I've seen intrepid, persevering scientists achieve wonderful things that had been regarded as "impossible." Many of those dauntless innovators have pursued both teaching and research with inspiring verve, devotion, and joy. This talk deals chiefly with observations and proposals pertaining to high school and undergraduate science teaching and learning. These stem from opportunities to talk with many students and teachers at high school science fairs and summer programs, as well as my experience teaching freshman chemistry at Harvard University for over twenty years. First, however, I recount a story of an "impossible" educational triumph. Beyond its explicit message regarding educational strategy, this story implicitly conveys key aspects of the scientific enterprise, including the practical value of curiosity-driven research and the kinship of science and the humanities as liberal arts.
18:55

Break

19:05

Andrew BLAKE The Alan Turing Institute, UK

Machines with an ability to see have become a reality in the last decade. We find vision capabilities in cameras and photography, cars, artistic software and in the design of everyday appliances. These machines bring benefits for safety, in consumer experiences and healthcare, and in media and the arts. Their operation is based on ideas from mathematics and artificial intelligence. Psychologists have established that the visible world is an ambiguous place and machine vision systems have to deal with the resulting uncertainty. They do so by computing with probabilities – in effect, by placing bets. The shapes, movements and colours of objects can all be treated in this way. It is an approach that fits into a philosophy of perception as exploration: comparing and selecting hypotheses about what objects may be visible, in order to explain an image as fully as possible.
19:45

Dame Jocelyn BELL BURNELL Oxford University, UK

Often when we view the Universe in a new way, new and unexpected phenomena are discovered. Recent developments in detectors (for example CCDs) and in computers are now allowing astronomers to search systematically for short duration phenomena – flares, bursts and other kinds of changes in the brightness of stars and galaxies. Some such phenomena were already known (supernovae, for example), and some have been accidentally discovered (gamma ray bursts, for example). There has also recently been more systematic searching for moving objects, such as asteroids that might impact the earth. We are now entering a new phase with more and bigger telescopes, larger data flows, and observations with new, lower frequency, radio telescopes. This talk will describe this burgeoning field and speculate on what might be found.


  Wednesday, 28 SEP
Afternoon
17:30 - 19:30 Plenary Lectures imagen ponente

Victoria Eugenia Theatre, San Sebastian

17:30

Sir John PENDRY Imperial College London, UK

21st century science presents optics with new challenges for controlling light. Fortunately we have a new class of materials than can help us. Metamaterials are a new concept which enable unprecedented control over light. Photons normally come in big packets as large as 1 micron but using these materials we can bring light to a focus a thousand times smaller down to the nanoscale where a photon meets an atom on equal terms bringing new possibilities for devices. More these metamaterials can allow light to flow like water around obstacles making these objects invisible to observers. There has been a truly amazing amount of innovation but more is yet to come. The field is developing into a highly disruptive technology for many applications where control over light (or more generally electromagnetic radiation) is crucial, ¬ amongst them telecommunications, solar energy harvesting, stealth, biological imaging and sensing, and medical diagnostics.
18:10

William FRIEDMAN Harvard University, USA

Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University Director William (Ned) Friedman has an eye for detail and infectious enthusiasm when the subject matter is plants. For years, he has been regularly sneaking out of his office and lab, walking in the Arboretum’s living collection of trees, and intensively photographing these magnificent plants and their biological magic. In this presentation, Ned will share his images and a few stories of some of the most beautiful and ephemeral phenomena that he has had the good fortune to observe in Harvard’s living museum of trees. Everything from “buzz” pollination by bees in the rhododendrons; the quest for the perfect picture of a young red conifer cone; the beauty of winter buds, and especially “naked buds”; and role of botanical gardens in documenting the process of mutation that lies at the heart of evolution. Best of all, he will share the insight that all it takes to create amazing pictures of plants and learn about nature’s great beauty and complexity is a desire to observe, a small pocket camera, and a garden to walk in regularly throughout the year.
18:50

Álvaro de RÚJULA CERN (Switzerland); Instituto de Física Teórica UAM-CSIC (Spain)

Our ability to “create” is what distinguishes (some) humans from all other animal species. At least two of the three types of creation that are usually mentioned have to do with (among other things) understanding the universe and, in particular, its origin. The recently discovered Higgs Boson and the accelerated expansion of the universe tell us a great deal about the nature of vacuums, which turn out not to be empty after all. A vacuum is not the total absence of matter. And to top it all, the difference between the mean density of energy in a vacuum, as measured by cosmologists, and that estimated by particle physicists since the discovery of the Higgs Boson, is no less than 56 orders of magnitude. This is quite possibly the greatest (scientific) contradiction of all time. Anyone who does not dedicate at least one hour a day to trying to resolve this conundrum deserves to be severely punished.
19:00 - 20:00 Plenary Lecture

Bizkaia Aretoa UPV/EHU, Bilbao

19:00

Klaus von KLITZING Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Germany

Metrology- the science of measurements- is responsible for the international uniformity and precision in standards. Today, the seven units for meter, kilogram, second, ampere, kelvin, mole, and candela of our international system of units (SI units) are used as a basis to express everything in nature by numbers and units. The first global system of units was introduced during the French Revolution with prototypes for the meter and kilogram. Even today, an artefact of platinum iridium is by definition the international unit of mass but this standard is not stable enough. Therefore, the General Conference on Weights and Measures at his last meeting in November 2014 encouraged the international metrology community to complete all work until July 2017 necessary for a replacement of the current SI by a new system based on constants of nature. The quantum Hall effect (Nobel Prize 1985) plays a crucial role in this development, not only for the electrical units but also for the kilogram.


  Thursday, 29 SEP
Afternoon
17:30 - 19:30 Plenary Lectures imagen ponente

Victoria Eugenia Theatre, San Sebastian

17:30

Agustín SÁNCHEZ-LAVEGA University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Basque Country

The first exoplanet (i.e. a planet in orbit around a star other than the Sun) was discovered in 1996. Since then, over 3,500 exoplanets have been catalogued and many of them have properties that are very different from those found in our own Solar System. Together, they form a rich variety of worlds termed "planetodiversity". Some are Earth-type planets and some are Super-Earths; others are more like Jupiter - gas giants but very very hot, and yet others are completely covered by oceans. During this lecture we will present the study methods and principal (known) characteristics of exoplanets, as well as future exploration aims which seek to find evidence of life on those exoplanets located at an appropriate distance from their star, in the so-called habitable zone in which water is available in liquid form (something vital to life as we know it).
18:10

Elena CATTANEO Università degli Studi di Milano, Italy

The presentation will illustrate some of the domains of stem cell research and will reflect their potential in understanding human diseases and developing new cures. The starting point will be the stories of everyday science to recall how an experiment is brought to life, how you achieve a result and how you learn to endure through a failure. All this will be part of a pathway dominated by the awareness of the vitality and responsibility science brings together when exploring the unknown on behalf of our society. In the end we will show how this path is built on freedom and contributes to civil and social growth.
18:50

Martin KARPLUS Harvard University, USA; Université de Strasburg, France

The lecture will present an intellectual path from the role of motion in animals to the molecules that make the motion possible. Motion is usually a way of distinguishing live animals from those that are not, but not always. Just as for the whole animal, motion is an essential part of the function of the cellular components. What about the molecules themselves? Does motion distinguish molecules designed by people from those developed by evolution? For animals to move, they require energy, which is obtained primarily by using oxygen. So how are whales and dolphins able to use their muscles to dive to great depths, where oxygen is not available? The immediate energy source for muscle function is the molecule ATP. For the generation of this molecule, Nature has developed a marvelous rotary nanomotor. Experiments and simulations, particularly those with supercomputers, are now revealing the mechanism of this nanomotor and other cellular machines.
18:30 - 19:30 Plenary Lecture

Amphithéâtre Pitres, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux

18:00

Sir John PENDRY Imperial College London, UK

21st century science presents optics with new challenges for controlling light. Fortunately we have a new class of materials than can help us.


  Friday, 30 SEP
Afternoon
17:30 - 18:10 Plenary Lecture imagen ponente

Victoria Eugenia Theatre, San Sebastian

 

Rafael YUSTE Columbia University, USA

In physical systems built with many components, emergent properties, such as ferromagnetism, are often generated from the interactions among these particles. These emergent properties are often invisible when observing individual particles, since they depend on large-scale interactions between them. Likewise, the function of the brain has been mostly studied by examining the responses of individual neuron, yet it is probably an emergent property that arises from the coordinated activity of large numbers of neurons in each of its neural circuits. To capture this emergent level of brain function, we have launched a large-scale, international public project, the Brain Activity Map Project (or BRAIN Initiative), aimed at developing new methods to measure and control neural activity across complete neural circuits in experimental animals and human patients. This technological effort, sponsored by the White House as its flagship BRAIN Initiative, is an interdisciplinary project, incorporating into neuroscience many methods and approaches from the physical sciences and nanotechnologies. The data obtained with these new methods could prove to be an invaluable step towards understanding fundamental and pathological brain processes. Finally, the novel technologies developed by this project, like it happened with the Human Genome Project, could give rise to new areas of economic and industrial development and likely alter our society.
18:50 - 19:30 Plenary Lecture imagen ponente

Victoria Eugenia Theatre, San Sebastian

 

Claude COHEN-TANNOUDJI École Normale Supérieure (ENS), France

Every scientific discovery opens new horizons and changes our vision of the world. The great scientific synthesis, like the conservation of energy, the wave particle duality for light and matter, the expansion of the universe, the genetic code, have an aesthetic value like the masterpieces of painting, music or literature. They enrich the heritage of mankind and can thus be considered as an integral part of the culture. The scientific activity also contributes to the improvement of the moral qualities of those who practice it: curiosity, desire to learn, to transmit their knowledge to younger generations, modesty, open mind, sense of dialog, of confrontation of ideas. Needless to say, Science also contributes to the improvement of the living conditions of mankind by finding solutions to the problems of energy, water, food, health. Finally, Science is a universal language. Scientists belonging to people in conflict can meet, talk together, exchange ideas, and contribute to the fight against intolerance and fanaticism.


  Saturday, 1 OCT
Afternoon
18:30 - 19:10 Plenary Lecture imagen ponente

Victoria Eugenia Theatre, San Sebastian

 

Alessandra BUONANNO Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, Germany

In the theory of general relativity spacetime is a dynamic and elastic entity both influencing and influenced by the distribution of mass and energy that it contains. The accelerated motion of mass and energy can ring spacetime, generating ripples or gravitational waves that propagate away from the source at the speed of light. Those ripples encode unique information about the source that has generated them, whatever the source is: a rapidly rotating neutron star, a binary black-hole system, a supernova or a rapidly changing gravitational field. Those ripples passing through the Earth were detected for the first time in 2015 by the LIGO instruments, which monitor displacements of mirrors at about a ten-thousandth of a proton’s diameter. The discovery of gravitational waves heralded a new era in physics and astrophysics, as it permits a new kind of observation of the cosmos, quite different from today’s electromagnetic and particle observations. In this talk I will review the discovery and discuss the bright future of gravitational-wave astronomy.
19:20 - 20:00 Plenary Lecture imagen ponente

Victoria Eugenia Theatre, San Sebastian

 

Klaus von KLITZING Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Germany

Metrology- the science of measurements- is responsible for the international uniformity and precision in standards. Today, the seven units for meter, kilogram, second, ampere, kelvin, mole, and candela of our international system of units (SI units) are used as a basis to express everything in nature by numbers and units. The first global system of units was introduced during the French Revolution with prototypes for the meter and kilogram. Even today, an artefact of platinum iridium is by definition the international unit of mass but this standard is not stable enough. Therefore, the General Conference on Weights and Measures at his last meeting in November 2014 encouraged the international metrology community to complete all work until July 2017 necessary for a replacement of the current SI by a new system based on constants of nature. The quantum Hall effect (Nobel Prize 1985) plays a crucial role in this development, not only for the electrical units but also for the kilogram.