Solutions for Social Impact

Saint Michael's College Presents

Solutions for Social Impact

Join Saint Michael’s College and learn about research and advances in science addressing global challenges through a new speaker series
Solutions for Social Impact.

Solutions for Social Impact will include three seminar-style presentations by faculty who teach and research in scientific fields. Students who worked on the research projects will also be involved in several of the talks. Anyone interested in the topics can attend the seminars – no advanced scientific understanding is required.

All three events will take place in the McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall on campus, and they will be livestreamed. They are all free and open to the public.

Saint Michael’s College has long focused on how students, faculty, and staff can make an impact on the larger community and improve the lives of others, and these ideals remain at the core of the College’s mission. The research being presented during this series aligns with this larger mission to “do well and do good.”

To learn more, check out the upcoming speakers below.

Upcoming Presentations

Is there a clean-energy path to a stable climate future? 

Presenter: Professor Alain Brizard, Ph.D., Department of Physics 

We live in a society that makes huge demands on energy production and distribution. Creating this energy has a price – and our environment has often borne the brunt of that cost. But, could there be a way to produce energy without wreaking havoc on our Earth and destabilizing its climate too?   

Saint Michael’s College Physics Professor Alain Brizard has been one of the world’s leading theorists in fusion plasma research for almost four decades. He will present on the major forms of energy used in our modern society (derived from fossil and nuclear fuels, as well as derived directly and indirectly from the Sun), and discuss their impacts on the environment as well as their potential roles in stabilizing or destabilizing Earth’s climate. 

Past Presentations

Helping Pollinators by Unlawning America

Professor Brian Collier, Department of Fine Arts: Art and Design

“How much lawn do we really need?”

That’s the very question Saint Michael’s College Professor Brian Collier prompts his audiences to explore.

For more than 20 years, Collier has been creating work that investigates the plants and animals that live in and around our built environment. His projects use a wide range of artistic media and strategies to enrich understanding, appreciation, and enhancement of our more-than-human neighbors to develop a stronger sense of connection to the natural world where we live and work.

Collier has examined the history, culture, and ecological impact of lawns – hoping to inspire people to shift away from the unquestioned habit of continuous lawn mowing, and thus the many negative impacts it has had on the world around us. This presentation will focus on declining insect populations, the ecological problems related to keeping large areas of mowed lawn, and how to create more pollinator-beneficial habitat using various strategies Collier has proposed through the “Unlawning America” project.

The Biodiversity Crisis and What We Can Do About It

 Presenter: Biology Professor Declan McCabe, PhD 


Throughout our recorded history, humans have co-opted an increasing bulk of Earth’s resources and turned them to our bidding. As a result, the loss of certain species has increased at an alarming level. There is no “us and them” – humans and nature are one, and we sink or swim together. We have caused the problem, and we must take ownership of the solutions. So, what can we do about it?  


Biology Professor Declan McCabe will draw upon the wealth of conservation literature to discuss applied solutions to this crisis applied at all scales – from individual choices to international policies. Management strategies applied on Saint Michael’s College’s campus will be used to illustrate straightforward actions that all of us can take to reduce biodiversity loss and effectively rehabilitate habitats.

Feeling overwhelmed? How to spot the signs and address approaching burnout

Presenters: Neuroscience Professor Ruth Fabian-Fine, PhD, and Neuroscience students, Vice President for Student Affairs/Dean of Students Dawn Ellinwood, Director of Counseling Kathy Butts, and Associate Dean of the College Tim Mackin 

It’s easy to feel completely exhausted and overburdened by everything happening in the world around us these days. Sometimes it’s hard enough just to complete daily tasks at work or school. Add to that world events, social media, financial or personal struggles, and other stressors that can easily cause people to feel overwhelmed and anxious – often to the point where they burn out.  

Students in the Saint Michael’s College Neuroscience Program will provide a scientific foundation to explain how stress, anxiety and burnout can be caused and how they manifest in the brain. Dawn Ellinwood, Kathy Butts, and Tim Mackin will then share their observations of what they’ve seen around campus, how to spot signs of impending burnout, and what tools and resources are available to College community members so they can mitigate these feelings and avoid burnout.

Weed and the Wheel

How recreational drugs affect behavior and motor skills

As more states legalize retail cannabis – including Vermont – many still question the overall public safety aspects of legal pot. Technology for determining whether a person is driving while under the influence of marijuana is still catching up with legalization efforts. In the meantime, experts like Psychology Professor Ari Kirshenbaum have been researching the acute psychological effects of cannabis, including how the drug might impair a person while driving. He will discuss this research and how it can inform the public about the dangers of using weed while driving.

Kirshenbaum received a National Science Foundation grant in 2020 to build a device that can assess cannabis intoxication and impairment. He created a mobile app called “Indicator” that cannabis consumers can use to determine how cannabis impairs their functioning. He has also worked with law enforcement and public safety officials in Vermont to educate them on impaired driving. He is currently involved in training police officers who serve as Drug Recognition Experts to detect marijuana impairment, and he also works with state prosecutors.

Creating a Star on Earth

The role of Nuclear Fusion in a Carbon Emission-free Future

Watch the Presentation 

Presented by Physics Professor Dr. Alain Brizard and Student Researchers

Nuclear fusion offers unlimited energy with zero carbon emission, promising significant benefits in a world where climate change pushes us toward an uncertain future. Nuclear fusion energy powers all stars, including the sun. But, creating this type of nuclear energy on Earth comes at a very high technological cost – building a nuclear fusion reactor means creating a star on Earth under conditions seen nowhere in the universe.

Professor Alain Brizard has been one of the world’s leading theorists in fusion plasma research for almost four decades. He will discuss work done over the last 60 years toward building a nuclear fusion reactor, the promising outlook for harnessing nuclear fusion power over the next 30 years, and his own recent research done with the help of Saint Michael’s College students.

Shedding Light on Neurodegenerative Diseases for Non-Scientists

Underlying causes, prevention and the latest research findings

Watch the presentation:

Presented by Neuroscience Professors Dr. Adam Weaver, Dr. Ruth Fabian-Fine and Student Researchers

Neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia, ALS and Alzheimer’s Disease are irreversible neurodegenerative conditions that affect millions of people globally, and currently, no cures are available. Despite decades of research and millions of dollars spent trying to find cures, much remains unknown about their underlying causes.

Professors Ruth Fabian-Fine and Adam Weaver will discuss current knowledge of these diseases, including:

  • What is known about early and progressive signs of neurodegeneration.
  • The latest theories on its causes and prevention.
  • The evidence they have developed regarding what likely contributes to memory loss and irreversible brain degeneration.

Fabian-Fine and Weaver will also present a brand-new theory they have developed through their two years of research formulating a hypothesis as to why neurodegeneration occurs. Their research is supported by the Vermont Biomedical Research Network.