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Gaston Lecture Series discusses the spiritual implications of finding methane on Mars

Loyola press release - March 9, 2009

What does the discovery of methane on Mars have to do with God? Brother Robert Novak, Ph.D., C.F.C., professor of physics and chair of the physics department at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y., will explore this and other spiritual queries during his lecture, “Belief in God while Searching for Life on Mars.”

Novak will speak at Loyola University New Orleans on Wednesday, March 18, at 7:30 p.m., in Nunemaker Auditorium, located in Monroe Hall, on Loyola’s main campus. The lecture, which is part of the Gerald N. Gaston Lecture Series in Science and Religion, is free and open to the public.

In the lecture, Novak will describe his work in science as an active collaborator with NASA’s Astrobiology Group. As a member of the group, he studied the atmosphere of Mars by using an infrared spectrometer attached to a 120-inch telescope on top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii.

He will also discuss the insights he has received in his own spiritual quest, including exercising God-given talents; participation in God’s ongoing revelation; obtaining a more complete view of God’s creation; and discussion of how finding life on another planet can change our view towards redemption.

Novak, a member of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Iona College, a master’s degree from Stevens Institute of Technology and a master’s degree and doctorate from Columbia University. He joined the Iona College Physics Department in 1976 as a lecturer and has been a full-time faculty member since 1980. For the past 13 years, he has collaborated with NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, located at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

He has been part of a team that has detected organic chemicals, water vapor and carbon monoxide in comets and the atmosphere of Mars. The team recently published a paper on the detection of methane in the atmosphere of Mars.

Since 1997, Novak has made more than 20 trips to NASA’s 120-inch telescope located on top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. He is the author and co-author of more than 35 research publications.

The Gaston Lecture Series, supported by the Gerald N. Gaston Distinguished Professorship in Science and Religion currently held by the Rev. James C. Carter, S.J., explores the area of science and religion true to the Jesuit philosophy of finding God in all things. It seeks to explore and create awareness that the scientific method is but one way of knowing. The lecture series was established in 1999 through the generous support of Loyola alumnus Gerald N. Gaston.

For more information on Novak’s lecture or the Gaston Lecture Series, contact Sean Snyder in Loyola’s Office of Public Affairs at smsnyder@loyno.edu or call 504-861-5882.

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