Evolution of Life, Life In Outer Space

On this week’s edition of Exploration, Dr. Carl Zimmer and Dr. Robert Hagen discuss evolution of life on earth as well as life in outer space.

About the guests:

Carl Zimmer is a columnist at the New York Times, where his column “Matter” appears each Thursday. In his books, essays, articles, and blog posts, Zimmer reports from the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life. He is a popular speaker at universities, medical schools, museums, and festivals, and he is also a guest on radio programs such as Radiolab and This American Life.

Zimmer is the author of twelve books about science. Soul Made Flesh, a history of neuroscience, was named one of the top 100 books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, and dubbed a “tour-de-force” by The Sunday Telegraph. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea was called “as fine a book as one will find on the subject” by Scientific American. His other books include At the Water’s Edge, a book about major transitions in the history of life; The Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins; and Parasite Rex, which the Los Angeles Times described as “a book capable of changing how we see the world.” Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, was hailed by The Boston Globe as “superb…quietly revolutionary.” It was a finalist for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize. Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and the Huffington Post. In 2011 Zimmer also published A Planet of Viruses, a book of essays about the world’s smallest, most abundant life forms, about which the Washington Post declared, “Science writer Carl Zimmer accomplishes in a mere 100 pages what other authors struggle to do in 500: He reshapes our understanding of the hidden realities at the core of everyday existence.”

In 2009, Zimmer published The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution, the first textbook about evolution intended for non-majors. Edward O. Wilson of Harvard called it “excellent for students, the general public, and even other biologists.” Choice named it an academic title of the year. A second edition is forthcoming in 2013. He also co-authored Evolution: Making Sense of Life a textbook for biology majors, with University Montana biologist Doug Emlen in 2012. “Their text can only be described as an exciting moment for our field,” said Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago.

In addition to writing books, Zimmer has written hundreds of articles for the New York Times and magazines including National Geographic, Time, Scientific American, Science, and Popular Science. Zimmer began his career at Discover, where he served as a senior editor from 1994 to 1998.. Since 2003 he has written a blog called The Loom, which is now hosted by National Geographic In 2012 he co-founded Download the Universe, a review dedicated to science ebooks.

Zimmer is a lecturer at Yale University, where he teaches writing about science and the environment. He was also the first Visiting Scholar at the Science, Health, and Environment Reporting Program at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

Zimmer’s work has been anthologized in both The Best American Science Writing series and The Best American Science and Nature Writing series. He has won fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. He has won the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Journalism Award three times–twice for his work for The New York Times and once for The Loom. His other honors include the Pan-American Health Organization Award for Excellence in International Health Reporting, the American Institute Biological Sciences Media Award, and the Everett Clark Award for science writing. In 2007 he was awarded the National Academies Science Communication Award for “his diverse and consistently interesting coverage of evolution and unexpected biology.” In 2011 he was elected to the board of directors of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

Zimmer lives in Connecticut with his wife Grace and his children, Charlotte and Veronica.

He is, to his knowledge, the only writer after whom a species of tapeworm has been named.


Dr. Robert M. Hazen, research scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory and Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University, received the B.S. and S.M. in geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1971), and the Ph.D. at Harvard University in earth science (1975). After studies as NATO Postdoctoral Fellow at Cambridge University in England, he joined the Carnegie Institution’s research effort.

       Hazen is author of more than 350 articles and 20 books on science, history, and music. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he has received the Mineralogical Society of America Award (1982), the American Chemical Society Ipatieff Prize (1986), the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award (1989), the Educational Press Association Award (1992), the Elizabeth Wood Science Writing Award (1998), and the Distinguished Public Service Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America (2009). He has presented numerous named lectures at universities, and is currently Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer (2008-2010). He served as Distinguished Lecturer for the Mineralogical Society of America, and is a Past President of the Society. Hazen’s recent research focuses on the role of minerals in the origin of life, including such processes as mineral-catalyzed organic synthesis and the selective adsorption of organic molecules on mineral surfaces. He has also developed a new approach to mineralogy, called “mineral evolution,” which explores the co-evolution of the geo- and biospheres.
       In addition to his mineralogical research, he is Principal Investigator of the Deep Carbon Observatory (http://dco.ciw.edu), which is a 10-year international effort to achieve fundamental advances in understanding the chemical and biological roles of carbon in Earth’s interior.
       Hazen’s books have received widespread critical praise. The Music Men, Wealth Inexhaustible, and Keepers of the Flame, all coauthored with his wife, Margaret Hindle Hazen, explore ties between technology and culture. The Breakthrough, The New Alchemists, Why Aren’t Black Holes Black, The Diamond Makers, and Genesis describe the forefront of scientific research. He has also written widely for popular audiences, including articles in Newsweek, Scientific American, Smithsonian Magazine, New Scientist and The New York Times Magazine. His writings have been selected for inclusion in several science writing anthologies, including The Best Science Writing of 2001.
Prof. Hazen is active in presenting science to a general audience. At George Mason University he has developed courses and companion texts on scientific literacy. His books with coauthor James Trefil include the best selling Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy and The Sciences: An Integrated Approach, now in its fourth edition. Hazen also served on the team of writers for the National Science Education Standards. He teaches courses on symmetry in art and science, on images of the scientist in popular culture, and on scientific ethics. Hazen served on the Committee on Public Understanding of Science of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and on Advisory Boards for NOVA (WGBH Boston), Earth & Sky, Encyclopedia Americana, and the Carnegie Council. He appears frequently on radio and television programs on science, and he developed two popular video courses: The Joy of Science and The Origins of Life, both produced by The Teaching Company.
       In addition to his scientific activities, Robert Hazen is a professional trumpeter. He has performed with numerous ensembles including the Metropolitan, New York City, Boston, and Washington Operas, the Royal, Bolshoi, Jeoffrey, and Kirov Ballets, the Boston Symphony, the National Symphony, and the Orchestre de Paris. He is presently a member of the National Philharmonic, the Washington Bach Consort, and the National Gallery Orchestra.
       Robert and Margaret Hazen live in Glen Echo, Maryland.

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