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Water under X-ray Vision - A New Look at Life's Mysterious Elixir

Uwe Bergmann

Stanford PULSE Institute
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Bergmann Website

Monday, Feb. 5 
4:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Reception afterwards
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Every life form on earth requires liquid water to function. Yet, we still don’t know precisely how the water molecules are arranged in the liquid. We also don’t know how exactly plants and algae split the water molecules to form molecular oxygen during photosynthesis. This over three billion-year-old process has created essentially all of the oxygen in our atmosphere and therefore enabled the evolution of all lifeforms relying on respiration. Understanding this mechanism can also help us to create new fuels based on sunlight.

Powerful new synchrotron based X-ray sources have enabled detailed atomic level investigation of the structure of water and the photosynthetic water splitting. We will first describe these amazing X-ray sources and the various techniques that have been used to carry out these studies. We will then review our current understanding and the most recent progress of solving these two compelling mysteries, which have critically shaped the existence of life on earth.



Movie Night!

Hosted by the CofC Biology Club

Tuesday, Feb. 6
7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium



How Did Life Begin?

Jon Perry

Stated Clearly

Wednesday, Feb. 7
4:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Reception afterwards
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Darwin discovered that life on Earth diversified through a process of descent with modification, acted upon by selection. What, though, might the very first life forms have been like, and how did they come into existence? While this riddle has not yet been fully solved, chemists have come a long way since Darwin's time, shedding great light on this fascinating question.

Jon Perry is a science communicator and the founder of Stated Clearly, an animation group that simplifies complex scientific topics and presents to the public in the form of animations. You can see his work at



Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecture:

Climate, Land-Use Change and Wetlands

Beth Middleton

United States Geological Survey
Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Middleton Website

Thursday, Feb. 8
4:00pm, RSS 235, CofC
Reception afterwards
Event Flyer (.pdf)

6:30pm, Grimsley Hall, Room 117, The Citadel
Event Flyer (.pdf)

The nature of climate and land-use change will dictate approaches to successful wetland conservation. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that future wetlands may have increased episodes of drought and flooding, extreme temperatures and high CO2. Along sinking coasts, especially freshwater wetland species may be impacted by increased salinity intrusion, flooding, and hurricane activity. These days, increasing human demand for freshwater is having a major impact on both inland and coastal wetlands. The focal issue of this talk is on freshwater tree death on the coast of Texas where drought, over-extraction of water, and other causes has led to an inadequate supply of freshwater to wetlands. Trees also died along the Pocomoke River in Maryland because of saltwater intrusion during Hurricane Sandy. Research has examined minimum flows of water necessary to maintain the function of riverine wetlands in situations where water extraction has reduced freshwater flow. My recent work is on the role of mega-flooding events (e.g., Hurricane Harvey and Irma) to freshen groundwater along the Gulf Coast of the United States. Emerging research along the Mississippi (US) and Murray Rivers (Australia) suggest that even short periods of freshwater flow improve the health of freshwater trees in salt-water intruded estuaries, so that precipitation may produce the same health improvement. Another threat to these forests is a lack of regeneration, and relict forests are emerging in the southeastern US. More research directed toward solutions to climate-induced problems may help managers develop approaches to vegetation stress in future restored and natural wetlands. Another idea that may need reconsideration is that of the reestablishment of presettlement conditions, which may be an unattainable target for restoration in future environments. Management problems can only be resolved through the dialogue of members of the public and professions skilled in multidisciplinary team-work. Overall, the essential fix is the fostering of a strong land-people connection.



Good Thing, Bad Thing: Rapid Evolution of Native Salt Marshes and an Invasive Seaweed in South Carolina

Erik Sotka

College of Charleston
Dept. of Biology
Sotka Website

Friday, Feb. 9
4:00pm, SSMB Auditorium, CofC
Reception afterwards
Event Flyer (.pdf)

All around us, microbes, animals, and plants are adapting to our rapidly changing planet. Such rapid evolution is most familiar to us when it is a “bad” thing. Microbes evolve resistance to our antibiotics and medicines which lowers human health outcomes, or insect pests and weedy plants evolve resistance to pesticides and herbicides and thus increase our economic costs. Rapid evolution can be a “good” thing when a species critical to human societies adapts to a changing environment. In this Darwin week talk, I present rapid evolution as “good” and “bad” using examples from South Carolina estuaries: local adaptation of the native salt marsh plant Spartina alterniflora and rapid evolution of an introduced Asian red seaweed Gracilaria vermiculophylla.  



SSM Evolution Symposium

Monday, Feb. 12 
4:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Aerodynamic efficiency in the European honey bee
Jason Vance

Flight in honey bees is metabolically-expensive. Their high-frequency and short-amplitude wing-stroke kinematics are not optimized for aerodynamic efficiency. However, thermoregulatory constraints on these kinematics may have facilitated range expansion into higher latitudes without morphological compensation –and may impact bees' ability to respond to climate change.

Egg size and the evolution of larval form in Great Barrier Reef brittlestars
Bob Podolsky

For most marine invertebrates, larvae serve as feeding devices for turning small eggs into larger juveniles.  As maternal investment in eggs increases, changes in larval form reflect the loss of the need and ultimately the ability for larvae to feed.  A group of brittlestars in the genus  Macrophiothrix gives us a rare glimpse into how this evolutionary process unfolds.

Artificial life with gene regulatory networks
Garrett Mitchener

An artificial life simulation is a virtual world inhabited by simple organisms called agents that perform actions and reproduce. In my simulation, an agent's genome specifies how abstract genes regulate each other and perform computations. I'll demonstrate some of the interesting phenomena that can evolve.

Invasion of horny toads: the biology of introduced populations of Texas horned lizards in South Carolina
Eric McElroy

Texas horned lizards are native to the western United States, but were introduced to several locations in the southeastern United States. We studied three populations in South Carolina and compared them to the West.  We show that a few closely related individuals founded the South Carolina populations and this resulted in decreased genetic diversity. Additionally, South Carolina populations diverged in diet and morphology from Western populations. 

Biomimicry: 3.8 billion years of sustainable solutions
Deb Bidwell

Biomimicry is an emerging, entrepreneurial, sustainable discipline based on the premise that human challenges can best be met by utilizing the inherent wisdom of 3.8 billion years of time-tested, natural, adaptive solutions. What innovative solutions can nature’s genius teach modern humans about how to fit in sustainably here on earth?

Darwin's Birthday Bash

Monday, Feb. 12 
SSMB Atrium

Please join us to celebrate Charles Darwin's 209th birthday and cap off SSM Darwin Week 2018!