Unless otherwise noted, all seminars are held on Wednesdays in the College of Computing Building (Room 016) at 3 p.m. Refreshments are served at 2:30 p.m. outside Room 016.
Robert Hazen, Carnegie Center
“Chance, Necessity, and the Origins of Life”
Earth’s 4.5 billion year history is a complex tale of deterministic physical and chemical processes, as well as "frozen accidents." This history is preserved most vividly in mineral species, as explored in new approaches called "mineral evolution" and "mineral ecology."
This lecture will explore possible roles of mineral surfaces in life’s origins, including molecular synthesis, protection, selection, concentration, and templating. We find that Earth's changing near-surface mineralogy reflects the co-evolving geosphere and biosphere in a variety of surprising ways that touch on life's origins. Recent research adds two important insights to this discussion. First, chance versus necessity is an inherently false dichotomy when considering the possibility of life on other worlds—a range of probabilities exists for many natural events. Second, given the astonishing combinatorial chemical richness of early Earth, chemical events that are extremely rare may, nevertheless, be deterministic on time scales of a billion years.
Robert M. Hazen, Senior Staff Scientist at the Carnegie Institution’s Geophysical Laboratory and Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Sciences at George Mason University, received the B.S. and S.M. in geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Ph.D. at Harvard University in earth science. He is author of 400 scientific articles and 25 books, including Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origin (National Academy Press, 2005) and The Story of Earth (Viking-Penguin, 2012). A former President of the Mineralogical Society of America and winner of awards for research, science communications, and teaching, Hazen’s recent research focuses on the varied roles of minerals in the origin of life, the co-evolution of the geo- and biospheres, the development of complex systems, and the application of “big data” to understanding mineral diversity and distribution. He is active in national science education policy; with coauthor James Trefil he contributed to the National Science Education Standards and wrote the best-selling Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy (Doubleday, 1991) and The Sciences: An Integrated Approach (Wiley, 1995). He is also Executive Director and Principal Investigator of the Deep Carbon Observatory, a 10-year project to study the chemical and biological roles of carbon in Earth’s interior, sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Carnegie Institution. Hazen is active in presenting science to nonscientists through writing, radio, TV, public lectures, and video courses. In 2016 Hazen retired after a 40-year career as a professional symphonic trumpeter.