The UW Astrobiology Program presents
Six Exciting Free Public
Life and the Universe
Our series celebrates Galileo and Darwin and their ideas and takes stock of how these ideas have led to the emerging interdisciplinary science of astrobiology, which asks fundamental questions about the phenomenon of life in a cosmic context. Research today into the origin and evolution of life and the possibilities of extraterrestrial life has been made possible by these giants of science.
Please join us to hear these internationally renowned experts.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Biochemical expert on synthesizing life in the lab.
The Origin of Life, the Universe and the Scientific Method
Everyone thinks that "the scientific method"
based on observation, hypothesis, and experiment offers a reliable path to
truth about the natural world. But how do we apply such methods to the big
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Leading historian of biology, who studies the era when Darwin's seminal work was being debated.
Charles Darwin and Evolution Theory
Charles Darwin's epochal book, On the
Origin of Species, was and is recognized as one of the most important
scientific texts ever written. Darwin struggled for over 20 years to
produce what has come to be considered the foundation stone for modern
evolution theory. Yet, after the book's publication in 1859, its main
argument for species transmutation, as it was then called, represented but
one of a number of ideas of organic change over time. Indeed, Darwin's
ideas ran into so many obstacles that he was forced to offer several
corrections and explanatory revisions in later editions of the book. It
was not until the early twentieth century that a viable 'Darwinian'
version of evolution theory began to emerge and perhaps not until
mid-century that Darwin's version of evolution theory, now
reconceptualized both with natural history observations and genetic
explanations, was g enerally accepted. In this talk, I will explain
Darwin's original development of his ideas, detail the major obstacles he
confronted from 1859 until his death in 1882, and sketch the general
outline of the gradual formation of Darwinian evolution theory in the
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Top NASA astrobiologist who studies extreme life in Antarctica and the Atacama Desert of Chile, and searches for life on Mars.
Searching for Life
One of the main goals of astrobiology is the
search for another type of life in our solar system. The planet Mars,
Jupiter's moon Europa, and Saturn's moon Enceladus are the most likely
targets for this search. Studies of the limits of life and life in extreme
environment on Earth help us develop a search strategy for life on other
worlds. Fossils are not enough, for we will want also to determine if life
elsewhere is the product of a separate genesis from life on Earth. For
this determination we need to access intact alien life, possibly frozen in
the deep old permafrost of Mars or the icy surfaces of Europa and
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Peter D. Ward
UW paleontologist and astrobiologist who studies the history of our planet's life, as well as our long-term future.
Earth Life: Its History and Future
Earth life is still the only known life.
Studying its history and future gives us clues as to what an
extraterrestrial life might be. While Earth life is incredibly variable in
terms of species, ranging from tiny microbes to giant redwood trees, in
fact the basic units of DNA and amino acids are so similar that the unity
of life is perhaps even more striking than its diversity. In this talk I
will speculate on how that happened: Was our life the first out of the
evolutionary gate (and therefore quickly dominated the world), or was it
the product of brutal competitive wars in which today's familiar life
arose through competition rather than speed? I will also look
forward in time, to see that the evolution of life will be
followed by its devolution in an approximately symmetrical
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
UW oceanographer and astrobiologist who studies microbes from Arctic ice under icy-moon and Martian-like conditions.
Ice as an Evolutonary Playground, Here and Beyond
Most of the planetary (and moon) surfaces we
can expect to explore and sample in this century are deeply frozen. Where
life-supporting water exists, it is in the form of ice or as briny (or
more exotic) fluids kept liquid to the extent that salts depress the
freezing point of water. Exploring Earth's coldest saline ice formations
enables us to understand these habitats not simply as extreme settings
that preserve life until conditions become more favorable, but as
evolutionary playgrounds where microscopic life forms can engage in
surprising activities that promote their well-being and the adaptability
of their offspring. What we are learning from Earth's ice, even as we are
losing it to a warming climate, brings optimism to what we may find
elsewhere in the solar system.
As a supporter of innovation in science and education at the University of Washington, you can play an important role in the continuing success of our Graduate Program in Astrobiology.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Astronomer, historian, Jesuit
The New Cosmos of Galileo
During the very last year (1609) of what he
himself described "as the best [eighteen] years of his life" spent at the
University of Padua, Galileo first observed the heavens with a telescope.
We must examine both the intellectual climate in Europe and the critical
intellectual period through which Galileo himself was passing. Through his
studies on the physics of motion Galileo had come to have serious doubts
about Aristotle's concept of nature. He therefore quickly appreciated the
significance of his observations of the moon, of the phases of Venus, of
the moons of Jupiter, and of the Milky Way – the preconceptions of the
Aristotelians were crumbling before his eyes. He remained silent for a
three month period as he contemplated the heavens, but then prominently
published what he had seen and what he thought it meant. In so doing he
would become, with respect to the Establishment, one of the biggest party
poopers of all time. For the first time in over 2,000 years new
significant observational data had been offered to anyone who cared to
think not in abstract preconceptions, but in obedience to what the
universe had to say about itself.