2017- Speakers/Topics

March 21, 2018:  Update from SETI

The focus will be the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) as discussed at the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW) meeting held in Huntsville, Alabama in October 2017.  The meeting agenda included about 30 technical presentations, 4 seminars, 3 workshops and two posters, plus science fiction, art and music events.  The sponsored public lecture was by Dr. Andrew Siemion of the UC Berkley Center for SETI Research, who discussed “The Search for Ourselves Among the Stars” and during our meeting, we’ll watch the video of Dr. Siemion’s presentation with commentary from Dr. Fields and John Preston.


siemion file

January 25, 2018:  Astronomy at the University of Tennessee, David McCallister


The University of Tennessee Department of Physics and Astronomy does not have a pure astronomy major, nor any full professors researching observational astronomy. Despite this, the topic is popular among undergraduates, with the introductory survey lectures at capacity once again this semester and the recent creation of a student-run astronomy club. We will discuss the department’s course offerings as well as the academic requirements for the astronomy concentration in the physics major. We will also examine the various astrophysics – related research groups (including my own research on Young Solar Analogs), the astronomy facilities and equipment used, as well as the education and public outreach activities of the department.


McCallister Profile

Dave McCallister is a graduate student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, pursuing a Master’s degree in Astrophysics. He has over a decade of experience in education and public outreach, in both formal classroom roles and informal settings like planetariums and star parties. He has been interested in science since he was seven, when his grandfather pointed his telescope toward a crescent Venus in the dark West Virginia skies. He taught high school physics in northern Kentucky for several years before moving to Knoxville with his wife Sarah. He has a B.A. in Physics from Northern Kentucky University and a Master of Arts in Teaching from Thomas More College. Dave is an Astronomy Ambassador designated by the American Astronomical Society, and has been awarded the Wayne Kincaid Award and the Robert W. Lide Citation by the UT Physics and Astronomy Department for service to the astronomy laboratory and outreach programs. When not huddled up with a telescope under a dark sky, he enjoys baseball, visiting his nieces and nephews, and travelling with his understanding and lovely wife.

November 15, 2017:   “Habitable Worlds”, Kenneth Roy


Much effort has been expended on the search for habitable worlds. The unstated goal is to find a second Earth, another home for Humanity. But the problem with habitable worlds is that they are inhabited. Oxygen in the atmosphere will probably not exist without life of some sort releasing it as a waste product. Aside from the ethical issues, Earth life may not be compatible with alien life and attempts to colonize such worlds may not end well for Humans. All of life on Earth utilizes 21 very specific amino acids to build the proteins that form us. These amino acids are synthesized within the cells of living plants, animals, and fungi. Thus, the universe of amino acids that we are exposed to is limited to these specific amino acids. Earth DNA systems are tailored to direct the construction of useful proteins from these amino acids. There are some 300 naturally occurring and an estimated 3000 plus possible amino acids that could exist. Life that has evolved independently on a distant planet is likely to utilize some but not all of amino acids used by Earth life and will probably use amino acids not used by Earth life. Ingesting (and perhaps even slight contact with) these alien amino acids could disrupt the proper functioning of Earth based cells. The Panspermia Theory suggests that this might not be the case, with similar extremophiles being distributed throughout the universe. Or perhaps Earth cells have the ability to discard alien amino acids. These are open questions. It may be that when Humanity ventures to other solar systems, the search will not be for living alien worlds to colonize, but instead for suitable sterile worlds that can be transformed over time into a true second Earth inhabited with life from Earth.


Kenneth  Roy  is a retired (but still working)  engineer living and working amidst the relics of the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  He invented the “Shell Worlds” concept.  In 1997, he made the cover of the prestigious Proceeding of the U.S. Naval Institute for his forecast of anti-ship, space based, kinetic energy weapons.  With his co-authors R.G. Kennedy and D.E. Fields, has appeared multiple times in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS) and Acta Astronautica with papers on terraforming and space colonization.  He is a graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  He enjoys reading science fiction and books on terraforming.


July 19, 2017:  Fusion of Art and Science: A Criticality” – John C. Mannone


This talk will explore why it is critical important that our education should fuse science with art. In the creative mind, visualization strongly enhances understanding, while science lends the creative writer new metaphors. There’s a connection between physics, metaphysics, and religion and the connections become more apparent with art and science taken collectively. Creativity is an essential resource to the scientist.



John C. Mannone

John C. Mannone achieved a PhD Candidacy in Electrical Engineering with a dissertation on expanded space charge theory in dielectric fluids (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, 2002), an MS in Physics specializing in plasma physics (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, 1988), an MS in Physical & Theoretical Chemistry specializing in photoelectron spectroscopy (Georgetown University, Washington, DC, 1978), and a BS in Chemistry (Loyola College/University, Baltimore, MD, 1970). His research interests are in astrophysical plasmas and electromagnetic theory.

As a research chemist for Martin Marietta in Baltimore, he worked on life detection systems on the Viking missions as well as on accelerated aging of electro explosives used on the Voyager missions. He broadened his career when he joined Westinghouse Naval Reactors in Idaho. This launched his consulting in the nuclear industry in which he helped to solve industry challenges for over thirty years in both commercial nuclear reactors and DOE nuclear projects. Retired since 2010, Mannone remains active in teaching university level physics and in astronomy outreach, where he is often sought out as a speaker. But he has also developed a passion for the literary arts since 2004, and fuses those arts with science. With over 600 poems and prose published, he has several collections of poetry and has won numerous literary distinctions, including the 2017 Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Appalachian literature. He currently serves as the president of the Chattanooga Writers’ Guild.



June 28, 2017“Chasing Total Eclipses:  An Addictive Obsession” – John Rather, PhD.  


The August 21st total solar eclipse provides a uniquely wonderful opportunity for many Americans.  Many people have viewed partial eclipses with scarcely a ho-hum glance, but they missed the crucial point: There is a literally mind-blowing difference between a 99.9 % partial and a 105% Total Eclipse.  For a few precious minutes viewers are transported to a different world that can be remarkably beautiful and inspiringly memorable if the weather cooperates.  This is why eclipse chasing has become a worldwide obsession for many people who are willing to go to strange places to discover new cultural, geographical and psychological excitement.  It is unique indeed for this rare opportunity to offer itself free to vast numbers of people across the United States.  In this talk Astronomer John Rather will describe his adventures, beginning with scientific motivations that evolved into the thrill of the hunt combined with many inspirational human interactions.  He will show short movies of his experiences at five total eclipses around the world, hoping that this motivates parents and children to get to the centerline of totality for an unprecidented tail-gating experience.


Dr. John Rather is an astronomer/physicist/defense & aerospace scientist whose primary areas of focus have included creation of major technology programs, scientific innovation, invention of medical technologies, and development of clean energy sources.

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Dr. John Rather

His career experience includes government work with NASA, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense.  Additionally, he has worked extensively in private sector research, development, and management, including Vice President of an aerospace company.  He has authored 9 U.S. patents.


Rather was raised in Tennessee and began his career as a research technician/physicist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), where he worked on the team that created and developed the Bumpy Torus controlled fusion concept. He attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, earning a bachelor of science degree in physics and graduating with honors in 1963.  Following graduation, Rather went to work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California.  While continuing his work at LLNL, Rather pursued graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, completing his Ph.D. in astronomy in 1970.  His thesis work resulted in the first accurate measurements of millimeter wavelength radio emissions from extragalactic sources.

After earning his Ph.D., Rather went to work for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) facility at Kitt Peak near Tucson, Arizona, where he built a state-of-the-art device for 1 millimeter wavelength observations of the sun, planets, and galactic and extragalactic objects. Rather developed a system that he took to Kenya in 1973 to observe a maximum total solar eclipse. To enable the experiment, he obtained support from the USAF, the RAF, the Kenya Air Force, and the US National Science Foundation. This inter-agency experience led to major broadening of his career path.