Keynote Speakers


Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine is the author of five books of poetry, including Citizen: An American Lyric and Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric; three plays including HELP, which premiered in March 2020 (The Shed, NYC), and The White Card, which premiered in February 2018 (ArtsEmerson/ American Repertory Theater) and was published by Graywolf Press in 2019; as well as numerous video collaborations. Her recent collection of essays, Just Us: An American Conversation, was published by Graywolf Press in 2020. She is also the co-editor of several anthologies including The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind.

In 2016, Rankine co-founded The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII). Among her numerous awards and honors, Rankine is the recipient of the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, the Poets & Writers’ Jackson Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, United States Artists, and the National Endowment of the Arts. A former Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Claudia Rankine joined the NYU Creative Writing Program in Fall 2021. She lives in New York.


Brian Greene

Professor Greene is world-renowned for his groundbreaking discoveries in the field of superstring theory, including the co-discovery of mirror symmetry and the discovery of spatial topology change. He is the director of Columbia’s Center for Theoretical Physics.

Professor Greene is known to the public through his New York Times best selling books and numerous media appearances from the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to Charlie Rose. The Washington Post called him “the single best explainer of abstruse concepts in the world today.” Professor Greene has hosted two NOVA mini-series based on his books, receiving the George Foster Peabody award for “The Elegant Universe with Brian Greene.” Greene has had cameo roles in a number of Hollywood films including Frequency, Maze and The Last Mimzy and in 2008, with producer Tracy Day, co-founded the World Science Festival. He is the director of Columbia’s Center for Theoretical Physics.


Bevil Conway

Bevil Conway is an artist and a neuroscientist, and a world-expert on color. His research transformed our understanding of color by discovering that as much brain is involved in color perception as in face recognition. Conway is a regular commentator on color, neuroscience, and society, and has appeared alongside a wide range of cultural leaders including Alan Alda, Bruno Latour, Tauba Auerbach, Mark Morris, and Sid Sriram. His scientific explanation of the viral internet sensation #thedress was read by 32 million people. Dr. Conway is a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health. He was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows working with the Nobel prize winner David Hubel. Conway was a founding member of the Kathmandu University Medical School and the Neuroscience Department at Wellesley College. He has authored dozens of discoveries in neuroscience and perception, with in-depth reviews and interviews in Wired, FastCo, Discover, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, Scientific American, Science Friday, NPR, The Today Show, SXSW, and Quirks and Quarks.


Bevil’s artwork explores many themes including the limits of visualization, the nature of representation, and concepts of process, beauty and the sublime. He works in glass-and-silk, etching, watercolor, and oil paint, and occasionally site-specific installation. His work is in the Boston Public Library, the Fogg Art Museum Rental Collection, the N.I.H. Building 35 Public Art Collection, and many private collections. He lives in Washington DC with his spouse, twins, and pets (chameleon, canary, & dog). Bevil is the author of the forthcoming books Color Coded (W.W. Norton Press) and The Creative Brain (with Alexander Rehding, Princeton University Press).




Panel 1: What Beauty Knows

Panelists: Maureen O’Hara Ure (Art and Art History), Chris Johnson (Computer Science), Erik Jorgensen (Biological Sciences)

What is the role of beauty in creating knowledge, whether by reducing abstract concepts into perceptible images or permitting leaps of the imagination otherwise impossible through pure evidence? How do science and art rely on the knowledge that beauty permits or even creates?

Panel 2: Beauty & Ethics

Panelists: Matt Potolsky (English), David Carrier (Biological Sciences), Rachel Mason Dentinger (History), Joyce C. Havstad (Philosophy)

Oscar Wilde stated that “Aesthetics are to Ethics what sexual is to natural selection. Ethics, like natural selection, make existence possible. Aesthetics, like sexual selection, make life lovely and wonderful, fill it with new forms, and give it progress, variety and change.”  Our panelists will take off from this quotation to ask what beauty and virtue really share.

Panel 3: Beauty & Form

Panelists: Jasmine Khaliq (English), Vitasta Singh (English), Jack Cook (Mathematics), Annapurna Post-Leon (Biological Sciences)

In Genesis, "the earth was without form", and God first brought light and then form to the earth by dividing light from darkness and water from land, thus creating the space for beauty.  What is the relation between form and beauty?  Is too much form boring just as too little results in mere chaos? How do poets, mathematicians and scientists create or observe form to engage with beauty?

Panel 4: Can an idea be beautiful?

Panelists: Anil Seth (Physics & Astronomny), Peter Trapa (Mathematics and College of Science), Hasse Borup (School of Music)

We tend to think of beauty as inhering in the world of the senses: the shape of a face, the taste of a peach, the sound of a bird.  But it is equally clear that beauty lives in the mind as inspired by that object.  Can ideas, whether from the sciences or humanities, act as objects that may free our minds for the experience of beauty?