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Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins

by Dr. Robert M. Hazen
on Thursday, November 3rd, 2011 at 5:30pm, Franklin Peterson Hall

How did life arise? Is life’s origin a cosmic imperative manifest throughout the cosmos, or is life an improbable accident, restricted to a few planets (or only one)? Scientists seek experimental and theoretical frameworks to deduce the origin of life. In this context the concept of emergent systems provides a unifying approach. Natural systems with many interacting components, such as molecules, cells or organisms, often display complex behavior not associated with their individual components. The origin of life can be modeled as a sequence of emergent events – the synthesis of biomolecules, the selection and organization of those small molecules into functional macromolecules, the emergence of self-replicating molecular systems, and the initiation of molecular natural selection – which transformed the lifeless geochemical world of oceans, atmosphere and rocks into a living planet. This framework guides origin experiments, which can be designed to focus on each emergent step.

Dr. Robert M. Hazen is Senior Research Scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory and the Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University. He 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). He is author of 350 scientific articles and 20 books, including "Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origin". The Past President of the Mineralogical Society of America, Hazen’s recent research focuses on the role of minerals in the origin of life, the co-evolution of the geo- and biospheres, and the development of complex systems.



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