2023 Spring Semester Schedule

All programs will be available via Zoom. For programs listed as hybrid, the presenter will be in person at UMass Lowell (UML) and the program will also be available via Zoom. The presenter will be remote for all programs labeled Zoom only. All hybrid classes will be in University Suites room 106.

Please check your email for the weekly program announcement and any last-minute changes. Hybrid programs will be on Zoom and in University Suites Room 106 (except as noted).

View an online map of with the location of University Suites, parking and building entrance (pdf).


Exploring the Universe

Presenters: Sayantan Bhattacharya & Nicholas Sorabella
Four Mondays: April 3, 10, 17, 24: 10 a.m. – Noon (Zoom Only)

The goal of this course is to understand the basic facts, principles, and methods of astronomy. This is meant to be an overview of astronomy from our solar system to the universe. In the end, we'll also discuss with hands-on examples of how 'you' can contribute with various citizen science programs.

  • Week 1: Our Universe: Origin & Fate
  • Week 2: Our Solar System & How to find others?
  • Week 3: Stars: How do they form, evolve, and die?
  • Week 4: Observational Astronomy & Citizen science projects

Coordinator: Bob Hanlon*

A Three-Week Course on Frankenstein

Presenter: UMass Lowell (UML) Professor Bridget Marshall
Three Mondays: March 13, 20, 27: 10 a.m. – Noon (hybrid)

A volcanic eruption. A man who kept a bear cub as a pet. A 16-year-old girl having an affair with a married man. Sound like a wild plot for a novel? Nope. That’s just some of the real-life stuff that led to the writing of Frankenstein (1818/1831).

In this three-week course we’ll read Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. Our sessions will be a mix of presentations on various aspects of the novel and both small and full-class discussion of key aspects of the text. Please come with the reading completed and ready to talk about the novel. Note: You should read the 1831 edition (the one you’re more likely to find in print), but we’ll talk about the differences between the original and the revision. You can access a free copy of the 1831 Frankenstein here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/42324

  • Week 1: Origin stories: The background of Mary Shelley’s life, the writing of the novel, and its various revisions.
  • Week 2: Key Contexts: Some major scientific, cultural, and social contexts for elements of the novel, including Phrenology, anatomy lessons, and child-rearing debates.
  • Week 3: Popular Culture: A look at how the story has been portrayed and reinterpreted over the years, from political cartoons to stage plays to movies to television shows and other forms of media.

Coordinator: Susan Lemire*

The Politics of the United Kingdom

Presenter: UMass Lowell (UML) Emeritus Professor John Wooding
Four Mondays: March 6, 13, 20, 27: 1–3 p.m. (hybrid)

In these 4 sessions we will discuss and examine the politics, history, and culture in the UK. Sessions will include Brexit and its impact, the changing state of the Labor and Conservative Parties, and the history of the British constitution.  We will also look at the economic development of the UK, its empire, and the prospects for the 21st century.

Coordinator: Suzanne Gamache*

Our Immune System: Chocolate to our Defense

Presenter: Dr. Arnie Kerzner
Two Mondays: April 3 & 10: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)

For 3.4 billion years life on earth has been a constant struggle between germs that help and the germs that do harm. For multi-celled animals like humans our immune system evolved to protect us from the harmful germs. It usually functions so well that we have been able to survive and thrive over the years. However, every now and then, an outside germ overwhelms our immune system, and we may develop disease like COVID-19.

This presentation will address such questions: Where do our immune cells live in our body; How do they protect us; How does an outside germ invade us and cause an infection; Can our immune system change fast enough to defeat an outside germ-or do some germs (viruses) find ways to “outsmart” our defenses; ? And, most important is dark chocolate an essential element in our Immune System? Yes, chocolate will be served!

Coordinator: Peter Sebelius*


Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature

Facilitators: Beverly and Kimball Rudeen*
Four Tuesdays: March 7, 14, 21 and 28: 10 a.m. – Noon (hybrid)

This Spring LIRA classmates will continue our classes on “Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature”. This Great Courses video series features Dr. Thomas A. Shippey, a noted Tolkien scholar.

The literary characters we will investigate this semester are Uncle Tom, Huckleberry Finn, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Winston Smith, James Bond, Fairy-Tale Heroines, and Harry Potter.

We will provide some interesting videos and discussion questions. Come and find out how these “Heroes and Legends” have influenced our lives today. Note* Students do not have had to read the book. The fall semester is not a prerequisite for this second half of the course.

Coordinators: Beverly and Kimball Rudeen*

The US Constitution

Presenter: Bob Stevens*
Four Tuesdays: March 7, 14, 21 and 28: 1-3 p.m. (hybrid)

This four-week series on the US Constitution builds on previous LIRA discussions of the Articles of Confederation and the Federalist Papers. The basis this presentation is a 17-part Constitution 101 course which was created in 2022 by the National Constitution Center. Due to time limitations, we will present 11 parts of the videos over four weeks. The first two weeks focus on the text of the Constitution, the various ways that the words of the Constitution can be interpreted and key parts of the Constitution that are especially relevant today including the Bill of Rights, the Legislative, and Executive branches. The second two weeks focus on four constitutional subjects: the Fourth Amendment which protects unlawful search and seizure, Slavery in America, Voting Rights and the Judicial Branch. The presentations look at the history of each topic and how the Constitution relates to today’s world. At the end of the four weeks, we invite LIRA members to generate a list of changes you would like to see made to the Constitution.

Coordinator: Bob Stevens*

The Peloponnesian War

Presenter: UMass Lowell (UML) Assistant Professor Jane Sancinito
Three Tuesdays: April 4, 11 and 18: 10 a.m. – Noon (hybrid)

Following the Persian Wars, Athens used its wealth and influence to innovate in fields as disparate as philosophy, art, engineering, and politics--and to offer protection to hundreds of smaller city-states, whether they wanted it or not and for a price. Sparta, as the leader of southern Greece, was called on to liberate these “protected” states, sparking the Peloponnesian War, a conflict that lasted almost 30 years and cost Greece its Golden Age of prosperity. The period is filled with big personalities, stunning overthrows, and a real debate about the nature and sustainability of democracy. Our three-week course will follow the war from its lead up to its messy end, discussing how plague, populism, warfare, and greed really brought the ancient world to the brink of total destruction.

Coordinator: Susan Lemire*

A Greek Odyssey: Athens, Delphi, Crete and a Fulbright Fellow

Presenters: Bruce Magnuson* and Laura Kate Magnuson
One Tuesday: April 25: 10 a.m. – Noon (Zoom Only)

Greece is the "cradle of democracy" and its influence on Western Civilization is vast. LIRA member Bruce Magnuson's daughter Laura Kate Magnuson is currently on a 10-month Fulbright Fellowship in Athens. For the first half of the program Bruce will provide some historical and current context around the complicated history of Greece as well as discussing two recent trips to Greece. And of course, some photographs.

For the second half of the program, Laura Kate Magnuson will join live from Athens (gods and Wi-Fi willing) to talk about her experiences living and working there as well as traveling throughout Greece and Europe (and is RyanAir that bad?).

Coordinator: Bruce Magnuson*

The What, Why and How of EVs

Presenter: Tom Amiro
One Tuesday: April 18: 1-3 p.m. (Zoom Only)

This presentation will explain what an electric vehicle is, and how it differs from hybrids. It will also cover the many benefits associated with electric vehicles. We will go through the various brands available, what to consider when buying an EV, and resources for assistance in selecting an EV. The many rules for rebates and incentives are also presented and clarified, along with specifics of charging an electric vehicle and the various programs and legislation encouraging adoption of EVs.

Coordinator: James Rutter*


View the Wednesday Program Schedule.


Great Decisions

Presenters: various
Eight Thursdays; March 9, 16, 23, 30, April 6, 13, 20, 27: 10 a.m. - noon (Zoom Only)

Great Decisions is America’s largest discussions program on world affairs. The discussion group reads the Briefing Book and meets to discuss the most critical global issues facing America today.

You can order a Briefing Book by sending a $25 check payable to “LIRA Inc.” to Steve Buccieri, 63 Abbot Street, Andover, MA 01810. He will mail you a copy of the book or you can bring your check to the LIRA Town Meeting March 1 and get your book.

Energy Geopolitics - Access to oil and gas has long held an influence over the politics of individual nations and their relations with others. But as more countries move toward sustainable energy, and supply chain shortages affect the availability of oil and gas, how will this change the way in which the United States interacts with the outside world?

Discussion leader: LIRA member Steve Cerand March 9, 16

War Crimes - Russia's invasion of Ukraine has resulted in widespread charges of war crimes and calls for justice. But what exactly are war crimes? Opinions of what constitutes a war crime have evolved, as have ways to identify and punish the perpetrators. How will the war crimes committed in Ukraine be dealt with?

Discussion leader: Lira member Neal Berenson March 23, 30

China and the U. S. - For the past ten years, the United States and China have been locked in a competition for who has the greatest global influence. One major point of contention is the status of Taiwanese sovereignty, which has become even more relevant recently with the possibility that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may prompt China to take similar action regarding Taiwan. How will the United States engage a China which is increasingly seeking to expand its sphere of influence?

Discussion leader: Lira member Richard Grove April 6, 13

Economic Warfare - Waging economic warfare consists of a variety of measures from implementing sanctions to fomenting labor strikes. Such tools are utilized by states to hinder their enemies, and in the case of the United States have been used as far back as the early 19th century. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, economic warfare has been the main means for the west to challenge Russia. How effective will these sanctions be at convincing Russia to cease its war?

Discussion leader: Lira member Richard Grove, April 20, 27

Coordinator: Richard Grove*

Critical Issues in K-12 Public Schools

Presenter: David Troughton*
Two Thursdays; March 23, 30: 1–3 p.m. (hybrid)

Our public schools represent one of the fundamental institutions of a democratic society. Indeed, the education of all children serves the general good and economic welfare of the nation and society. At the same time, public schools are complex organizations serving multiple roles, diverse populations, and ever-changing societal needs. What are the “big” issues facing public schools today? The list seems endless: rights of students and parents, curriculum, school accountability measures, school funding, school prayer, diversity, and school safety. In these two sessions, we will examine the broad issues of what is taught in our public schools (curriculum & instruction) and school accountability.

  • March 23, 2023 - Session 1 (Curriculum & Instruction: What is taught in our schools). This presentation will look at a variety of issues including the Common Core Curriculum, State Curriculum Frameworks, graduation requirements, how curriculum decisions are made and the role that parents play, teaching controversial topics, complaints about library books and instruction, and academic freedom We will attempt to answer the question – Why has the school’s curriculum become such a political flashpoint?
  • March 30, 2023 - Session 2 (Measuring Public Schools): Our public schools represent a significant financial investment in the success of all students. In this session, we will examine ways to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of our public schools. We will look at national models of school effectiveness, “School Report Cards,” and data on the publics’ attitudes about our public schools. We will attempt to answer the question – Are our public schools successful or failing?

Coordinator: James Rutter*

What if There IS Someplace like Home? Searching Exoplanetary Atmospheres for Clues

Presenter: UML Professor Emeritus Bob Gamache
One Thursday; April 20: 1 – 3 p.m. (hybrid)

In this presentation Prof. Emeritus Bob Gamache will discuss what extrasolar planets are, the techniques being used to discover them, the satellites and ground-based telescope systems searching for exoplanets, the current inventory of exoplanets, and ways scientists search for signs of life. He will discuss two exoplanet projects he is working on---one with colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and another with colleagues at NASA Ames Research Center.

Coordinator: Suzanne Gamache*