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What’s Out in the Universe? NASA’s Amber Straughn Will Tell Us in Town Hall Opener



NASA astrophysicist Dr. Amber Straughn will kick off the 87th year of San Joaquin Valley Town Hall on Wednesday with insights about the James Webb Space Telescope. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)
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In July, Netflix began airing  a documentary about the James Webb Space Telescope titled “Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine.”

Now, in a bit of serendipity to kick off its 87th year, the San Joaquin Valley Town Hall lecture series has landed a woman who knows as much about the telescope as anyone.

Dr. Amber Straughn, who is a NASA astrophysicist and deputy project scientist for James Webb Space Telescope Science Communications, will speak at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday at Fresno’s William Saroyan Theatre.

Her topic: “Unfolding the Universe with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.”

About Amber Straughn

Straughn grew up in the small farming town of Bee Branch, Arkansas, where her fascination with astronomy began under beautifully dark, rural skies. She obtained her B.S. in Physics at the University of Arkansas in 2002 and completed her M.S. and Ph.D. in Physics at Arizona State University in 2008.

Straughn has been at  NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center since 2008. Her research focuses on interacting and star-forming galaxies in the context of galaxy assembly, where she uses imaging and infrared spectroscopic data mostly from the Hubble Space Telescope.

GV Wire is a sponsor of Town Hall.

Ticket Information

Information on tickets for Straughn’s lecture and other speakers this season is available at this link. Tickets are $60 each or $170 for the season.

You may also purchase tickets by mailing a check made to SJV Town Hall to: Town Hall, P.O. Box 5149, Fresno, CA 93755-5149.

Town Hall’s 87th Year Lineup

Dr. Cedric Alexander

Nov. 15 — 10:30 a.m.

Topic: “The Future of Public Safety in America”

Speaker: Cedric Alexander, PsyD; community safety commissioner of Minneapolis and former police chief in DeKalb County, Georgia

With 40 years in law enforcement and a doctorate in clinical psychology, Dr. Alexander will share his vision for creating safer cities across the United States.

Jan. 17, 2024 — 10:30 a.m.

Marine biologist Cristina Mittermeier

Cristina Mittermeier

Topic: “Putting a Human Face on Climate Change: A Photographic Journey”

Speaker: Marine biologist and photographer Cristina Mittermeier

“Mitty” was born in Mexico City in 1966 and grew up in nearby Cuernavaca. Hailed as one of the most influential conservation photographers of our time, she is dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans and has inspired millions of people to do the same.

Feb. 21, 2024 — 10:30 a.m.

Christine Baranski

Christine Baranski

Topic: “From Broadway to Hollywood: An Actor’s Journey”

Speaker: Actor Christine Baranski

Although recognized for her versatility across genres and performing media, the Emmy and Tony award-winning Baranski is known for playing sophisticated and highly educated upper-class women. Counters Baranski: “These characters that I play, they think that’s me. They should be in a room alone with me when I watch the Buffalo Bills. It is loud.”

March 20, 2024 — 10:30 a.m.

Ken Duckworth, MD

Dr. Ken Duckworth

Topic: Mental Health: The Human Experience

Speaker: Dr. Ken Duckworth

Dr. Duckworth advocates changing the way we talk about mental illness. Sharing personal and professional experiences depicted in his ground-breaking book “You Are Not Alone,” he will demonstrate how open conversations lead to positive outcomes, as well as offer hope and wisdom on the topic of mental health. Dr. Duckworth is chief medical officer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

April 17, 2024 — 10:30 a.m.

Alton Brown

Alton Brown

Topic: “Alton Brown Spins Philosophy, Food and Culture”

Speaker: Cook, author, filmmaker, and TV Personality Alton Brown

Brown has been on Food Network for nearly 20 years, 14 of which he spent as the writer, host, and showrunner of the cooking/science/history/comedy show “Good Eats.” During that time, he also served as culinary commentator and host of such shows as “Iron Chef America” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” wrote eight books on food and cooking, and toured two live culinary variety shows to sold-out houses around the country.

About Town Hall

The nonprofit San Joaquin Valley Town Hall is run by an all-volunteer board of directors. For 87 seasons, its mission has been to bring nationally and internationally renowned, thought-provoking speakers who inform, educate, and entertain the audience.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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