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Molecular Biologist Sean Carroll, Planetary Scientist Susan W. Kieffer, and Evolutionary Geneticist Svante Pääbo to Headline at the AAAS Annual Meeting
How did the "big idea" of evolution—the guiding thread of biology, explaining life as we know it—come to be?
Sean B. Carroll
According to molecular biologist Sean B. Carroll of the University of Wisconsin- Madison, the development of evolutionary theory is a tale of adventures, involving a handful of intrepid scientists whose derring-do, perseverance and intellectual curiosity sparked a revolution that forever changed our view of the living world.
Carroll will describe those heroic tales—taking listeners through the jungles of the Amazon, the African savanna, and the Malay Archipelago in an age when the history of our planet, of life, and of the human species was virtually unknown—during his 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting plenary lecture. The talk on the origins of evolutionary thought, "Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search of the Origin of Species," will take place Friday, 13 February at 4:30 p.m., as part of the 175th AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago.
Equally compelling plenary presentations are promised by two other celebrity speakers who will take part in the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting: planetary scientist Susan W. Kieffer and evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääbo. Their talks will take place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, 14 February, and Sunday, 15 February, respectively.
Susan W. Kieffer
Susan W. Kieffer
Kieffer, the Center for Advanced Study Professor of Geology and Physics, and Walgreen University Chair at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is an internationally renowned authority on the mechanisms of meteorite impact, geyser dynamics, volcanic eruptions, and river floods.
She was the first scientist to describe the physics and chemistry involved in the eruptions on Jupiter's moon Io, the lateral blast associated with the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the dynamics of Old Faithful as seen by a micro-video camera lowered into the geyser between violent eruptions, and the hydraulics of the rapids of the Colorado River.
With colleagues, Kieffer described the dynamics of the Chixculub meteor impact that caused vaporization of limestone, which resulted in massive amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ultimately resulted in a major extinction event 65 million years ago. Her AAAS plenary is entitled "Celebrating the Earth: Its Past, Our Present, a Future?"
Pääbo, director of the Department of Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, will describe "A Neanderthal Perspective on Human Origins."
A biologist specializing in evolutionary genetics, Pääbo is widely described as one of the founders of paleogenetics—a discipline that uses the methods of genetics to study early humans and other ancient populations. He is conducting some of the most exacting work ever attempted on the DNA of human and nonhuman primates. His track record of discoveries began in 1985 when he isolated DNA from a 2,400-year-old Egyptian mummy.
James J. McCarthy
In 2006, after decoding fragments of DNA from the remains of Neanderthal, he announced plans to reconstruct the entire genome. Now, AAAS Annual Meeting attendees will be able to hear an update on Pääbo's effort to sequence the Neanderthal genome.
James J. McCarthy and Al Gore
In addition to the all-star plenary lineup of Carroll, Kieffer, and Pääbo, the 2009 AAAS Meeting will feature a kickoff address by AAAS President James J. McCarthy, the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography at Harvard University, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, 12 February.
Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al Gore
Former U.S. Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore also will provide a special invited address for attendees only on Friday, 13 February, at 6:30 p.m., following Carroll's 4:30 p.m. plenary presentation.
Check the complete Annual Meeting program for any updates, or additional details.
Sean B. Carroll
For his Friday afternoon presentation, Carroll will serve as the guide for a multimedia encounter with giant sloths, gaudy butterflies and the most remarkable creatures of all: the explorers and scientific visionaries Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Henry W. Bates.
"The talk is a celebration of the accomplishments of these amazing people who explored the wild and changed our view of life," said Carroll, a professor of genetics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "I will tell the stories of three pioneers who deserve our admiration, young adventurers who took great risks and made great discoveries."
He noted that his AAAS plenary presentation is scheduled to take place the day after the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth—a milestone related to the theme of the 2009 AAAS Meeting, "Our Planet and Its Life: Origins and Futures." Coincidently, McCarthy has noted, "2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the Drake oil well in Pennsylvania, which was the first commercial oil well, and also the discovery by Sir John Tyndall that carbon dioxide absorbs infrared radiation."
Carroll's research focuses on the way that new animal forms have evolved, and his studies of a wide variety of animal species have dramatically changed the face of evolutionary biology. Major discoveries from his laboratory have been featured in Time, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times, Discover, and Natural History. Carroll is the author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2005), which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and The Making of the Fittest (2006), which won the Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Award. His most recent book, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origin of Species, will be published this year.
How to Register
The AAAS talks by Carroll, Kieffer, Pääbo, and McCarthy are free and open to the public, as well as attendees of both the AAAS Annual Meeting and the simultaneous winter conference of the American Association of Physics Teachers. AAAS attendees must register by following the "Registration" link at http://www.aaas.org/meetings. Badges for AAAS attendees must be picked up on site at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Grand Ballroom Foyer. Credentialed journalists can obtain press badges in the Hyatt Regency, West Tower, Bronze Level, Acapulco Room.
Media Note: Specific details related to AAAS plenaries will remain embargoed until the time of each presentation, or any related press event, whichever comes first. Only general advance information has been provided within this article.
30 January 2009