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Mother's Milk: Debunking Myths, Exploring Evolution and Updating Medicine

Katie Hinde

Arizona State University
Hinde Website

Monday, Feb. 10 
7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Did you know mother's milk is older than dinosaurs? Or that the "biological recipe" of milk differs for sons and daughters? Mother's milk is food, medicine, and message that organizes a baby's brain, body, and behavior. What we take for granted in the grocery store dairy aisle has been shaped by hundreds of millions of years of natural selection. As we better unlock the mysteries of milk, we gain essential new tools for human health and well-being.


Algorithms in Nature

Saket Navlakha

Salk Institute and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories
Navlakha Website

Tuesday, Feb. 11 
7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Many biological systems can be viewed as algorithms designed by evolution to solve computational problems critical for survival. I will present two such examples.  First, I will describe how the olfactory circuit in the fruit fly brain uses a variant of a traditional computer science algorithm (called locality-sensitive hashing) to perform efficient similarity searches.  Second, I will describe how plant architectures trade-off between common network design principles — minimizing transport distances vs minimizing costs in building infrastructure — using the theory of Pareto optimality.  I will describe how discovering the strategies biological systems have evolved to solve problems can lead to new algorithms and new insights into biological function.


Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer and Harlow Shapley Visiting Lecturer:

Nicolle Zellner

Albion College
Zellner Website

Astrobiology: Life, the Universe, and Everything*

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

Thursday, Feb. 13
6:45pm, The Citadel, Grimsley Hall 117
Event Flyer (.pdf)

As of early 2020, there are over 4100 planets confirmed to be orbiting stars outside of our solar system. A few dozen of them are located in the habitable zone of their parent star, where the temperature for liquid water, one of the essential ingredients for life as we know it, is “just right”. In this talk, I will describe planets and moons in our own solar system that may be capable of supporting life and NASA’s plans to explore those objects in situ in the very near future. I will also describe a few of the observed “exo”-planets far beyond Earth and what we are learning about planetary formation in general, as a result of these observations. Finally, I will describe ways in which we can estimate the likelihood of life beyond Earth.
* With apologies to Douglas Adams and other hitchhikers

Impacts in the Eath-Moon System: What, When and Why We Should Care?

College of Charleston, Physics Department Seminar
Thursday, Feb. 13
1:45pm, RITA 387
Event Flyer (.pdf)

The Moon provides the most clear and complete history of impact events in the inner solar system since its formation ~4.5 billion years ago. In fact, the Moon’s impact record can be used to gain insights into how Earth has been influenced by impacting events and if these events have affected the origin and evolution of life. The timing of impacts on the Moon, however, even after decades of study, is not well understood.

My research focuses on obtaining geochemical and chronological data on lunar impact glasses, pieces of melted regolith (lunar dirt) created by energetic impacting events on the Moon. These impact glasses possess the composition of the target material and can be dated by the 40Ar/39Ar (argon) method in order to determine their age of formation and thus, the timing of the impacts that formed them. Understanding the ages of impact glasses and interpreting their compositions in the context of lunar geology, allow for a more complete interpretation of the impact history of the Moon than can be obtained from orbital data or dynamical models alone. All of these data sets together allow us to piece together information about the rate of impacts and their effects on biological and geological activities on the early (and not so early) Earth. And, if interpreted correctly, this impact flux can shed light on biological activities that may have occurred on other objects in our solar system.


A Celebration of Forms Most Wonderful

A Special Reception at the Mace Brown Museum of Natural History

Museum Website

Wednesday, Feb. 12 
6:00pm, Mace Brown Museum of Natural History, SSMB
Event Flyer (.pdf)

Tour the museum and join College of Charleston paleontologists for the unveiling of our new prehistoric residents. Show your support and take home some paleo swag at the silent auction! Refreshments available. Free admission!


Breeding Food Security in an Era of Rapid Climate Change

Presented in partnership with The College of Charleston's Center for Sustainable Development 

Wes Jackson

The Land Institute

Thursday, Feb. 13
7:00pm, SSMB Auditorium, CofC
Event flyer (.pdf)

When The Land Institute started in 1976 we were concerned about soil erosion, fossil fuel dependency, chemical contamination of our land and water, and the demise of small farms and rural communities. We soon set ourselves to the task of addressing those problems by solving the ten-thousand-year problem OF agriculture. To that end, we directed our efforts to develop perennial grain polycultures. I will report on the strides we have made in that endeavor. Though we were aware of greenhouse gas emissions back then, we now realize that what the climate experts tell us requires more of our attention—especially when we read even a small list of environmental threats: heat waves, loss of insects, die-off of coral reefs, human migrations on a large scale, permafrost melting, and more. This amplifies our historic need to look to nature as a standard against which to inform our social, political, economic, and scientific endeavors. It becomes one subject as we face the largest turning point in humanity’s 200,000-year history with the big brain.


The Romantic Lives of Dinosaurs

Scott Persons

College of Charleston
Persons Website

Friday, Feb. 14 
4:00pm, SSMB Auditorium
Event flyer (.pdf)

From the meter-long jaws of T. rex to the horns of Triceratops, the extreme adaptations of dinosaurs have long captivated public and scientific curiosity. But their evolutionary arsenal extended beyond weapons and armor, to tools of courtship and seduction. The romantic habits of extinct animals are difficult to deduce from fossil evidence. However, recent studies have shed new light on the love lives of dinosaurs. Sexual selection shaped dinosaur evolution in surprising ways, including the most extreme of all dinosaurian adaptations: flight.