Senator Penny Williams Distinguished Lecture Series

Sen. Penny Williams

Senator Penny Williams, Tulsa, former Chair of the Senate Education Committee as well as the Legislative Arts Caucus, has been a leader in education, science and technology, and arts and humanities issues in the Oklahoma legislature.  After serving four terms in the State House of Representatives, she was elected to the State Senate in 1988 where she served until 2004.  In 1983, then State Representative Williams introduced House bill 1286 which created the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics. Marshaling co-authors and battling for scarce funds, her tireless advocacy secured the passage of the bill and continuing support of OSSM.

In appreciation for the far-sighted vision of this special public servant, and in tribute to her role as the sine qua non of OSSM, her friends and friends of the school have created and begun the endowment of these lectures that will bring national and international figures in the arts and sciences to the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.  The contribution of ideas of speakers like these below to our state’s intellectual milieu is the greatest and most appropriate gratitude that we can offer Senator Williams.

Past Distinguished Lecturers

March 30, 2017         Geoffrey S.D. Beach, Ph.D. – Associate Professor of Physics, MIT  (Program for Lecture)

Associate Professor in the Department of Materials Science & Engineering and Chair of Undergraduate Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (and OSSM Class of 1993 alumnus!), Dr. Beach directs the Laboratory for Nanomagnetism and Spin Dynamics, which designs advanced materials for spin-based memory, logic, and emerging applications.  Developing ways to store information more densely and to access it more quickly requires understanding the magnetization configurations in nanoscale structures and how they evolve in time. His work aims in part to understand and control spin excitations in magnetic materials whose dimensions approach fundamental magnetic length scales. One of the most exciting prospects in magnetism today is the possibility of electrical control of the magnetic state of a device, taking advantage of the coupling between spin and charge in a conducting ferromagnetic material.

final photo BW for auditorium

March 1, 2016             Judith A. James, M.D., Ph.D. – Biochemical Researcher 

Chair of the Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Program; Lou Kerr Chair in Biomedical Research at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation; Associate Vice Provost for Clinical and Translational Science, Professor of Medicine, Adjunct Professor of Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology and George Lynn Cross Research Professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

Dr. James’ research interests focus on understanding the etiology and pathogenesis of lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome and related disorders, the evolution and pathogenic mechanisms of autoantibodies in systemic rheumatic disease, and the interplay of genetic risk and environmental responses in systemic autoimmunity.

IMG_3234 taken by Xifan Liu

April 22, 2014             Gregory A. Petsko, D.Phil. – Biochemist, Geneticist, Structural Biologist 

Arthur J. Mahon Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience and Director, Helen and Robert Appel Alzheimer’s Disease Research Institute, Weill Cornell Medical College; Adjunct Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Cornell University; Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry, Emeritus, Brandeis University; Adjunct Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School

Understanding biochemical bases of neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS; discovering drugs (especially by using structure-based drug design); key contributions to the field of protein crystallography.


October 24, 2008        Leroy Chiao, Ph.D. – Engineer, Astronaut, Entrepreneur

Holds appointments at Rice U and Baylor College of Medicine; special advisor for human spaceflight to the Space Foundation and serves on NASA Advisory Council.

Flew on three shuttle flights; commander of Expedition 10 where he lived on board the International Space Station for more than six months in 2004-2005; a co-author and researcher for the Advanced Diagnostic Ultrasound in Microgravity Project.


May 3, 2007                Eduard Brezin, Ph.D. – Theoretical Physicist

Professor at Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris, Past President French Academy of Sciences

Macroscopic physical properties of matter and high energy physics; leader in critical behavior theory; developed methods for distilling testable predictions for critical exponents. In using field theoretic techniques in the study of condensed matter, Brezin helped further modern theories of magnetism and the quantum Hall effect.


April 21, 2006             Irving Weissman, M.D. – Stem Cell Biologist

Director, Institute of Stem Cell Biology & Regenerative Medicine, Stanford U School of Medicine

Developed methods to identify stem cells; extensively researched stem cells and progenitor cells; widely recognized as the “father of hematopoiesis”—first to purify blood forming stem cells in both mouse and humans.


April 9, 2003               Jean D. Wilson, M.D. – Medical Researcher

Charles Cameron Sprague Distinguished Chair of Biomedical Research

U Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas

Extensive research on hormone action; developed methods for quantification of cholesterol synthesis, absorption, degradation, and excretion which led to development of paradigms to define contributions of diet and endogenous synthesis to cholesterol turnover.


April 19, 2001             Baruch S. Blumberg, M.D., Ph.D., Nobel Laureate 1976 – Medicine

Professor of Medicine and Anthropology, U Penn

Received Nobel Prize for “discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases.” Blumberg identified the Hepatitis B virus and later developed its diagnostic test and vaccine.