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Purdue Pugwash conference brings in former astronaut David Wolf


Pugwash organizers

Biochemistry sophomore Caleigh Roleck (left) and Chemistry alumna Rachel Svetanoff organized the upcoming Purdue Student Pugwash Conference. The 2017 theme is "Space & Society: Governing the Galaxy."

The 2017 Purdue Student Pugwash Midwest Regional Conference will examine the social and ethical dimensions relating to current issues of space technology.

Pugwash poster

The two-day conference, titled “Space and Society: Governing the Galaxy,” will open at 5:30 p.m. on April 7 in Purdue Memorial Union West Faculty Lounge. Registration will begin at 5 p.m. On April 8, the conference will continue at 9 a.m. in Stewart Center, Room 306. Speakers include David Wolf, Purdue alumni astronaut and 28-year NASA veteran; Robert Zubrin, founder and CEO of Mars Society; Daniel Dumbacher, Purdue professor of engineering practice and Silver Snoopy Award recipient with 35 years of service at NASA; and Henry Melosh, renowned expert on impact cratering and Purdue distinguished professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

The conference is free to attend, but registration is required. The first 50 registrants at the door receive a prize of space food from NASA. All students are invited to have dinner with the speakers.

Organizers of the event include Biochemistry sophomore Caleigh Roleck and Purdue Chemistry alumna Rachel Svetanoff. Both young women believe science plays a tremendous role in society. Discussions abound and there is a lot to process.

“In my opinion, the public sees the value of science as a whole, especially fields such as biomedical science, which have clear, direct benefits to mankind,” Roleck said. “I think the majority of the public finds the subject of science fascinating as well, as people tend to be fairly curious, and enjoy learning about the world around them.

“Every time there's an exciting new discovery, I see it all over social media, shared by both scientists and non-scientists alike. Still, I believe the public is growing increasingly skeptical about scientific research and discoveries due to increased concerned about hidden agendas that they believe may be prevalent in scientific research. People are concerned that research-based scientific companies may be too profit-focused to conduct research in a way that has the public's best interests in mind.”

Svetanoff says the Pugwash Conference looks to educate and cover different sides of hot-button topics.

“Both our national organization, Student Pugwash USA, and Purdue Student Pugwash’s mission is to empower and equip students to identify, critically analyze, and shape the ethical, policy, and societal dimensions of science and technology,” said Sventanoff, currently a graduate student at Purdue’s Krannert School of Management.  “Too often, student voices are given less weight because of their inexperience in the field, but here at this conference we are leveling the playing field. We are providing a platform for which students are encouraged to question, challenge, and even debate with experts because this is their time to be listened to.”

Following the conference on Saturday there will be an interactive workshop designed to give students the skills to understand space and other technological systems in a societal and policy context. The workshop will include a visioning exercise, small breakout discussions and a model-UN exercise on space.

Roleck believes the space theme will bring in a substantial crowd.

“Society is fascinated by space, myself included, because space represents unexplored places and mysteries, as well as potential danger,” she said. “I'm curious to see what the experts in the field consider to be important issues in astronautics and space's role in society.”

Purdue Student Pugwash is an organization dedicated to empowering and equipping students to identify, critically analyze and shape the ethical, political and societal dimensions of space and technology. Pugwash has been on campus for 27 years and has been hosting the regional conference since 2006. 

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