Plenary Lectures

There will be plenary talks on Monday, Thursday, and Friday mornings and Tuesday afternoon.

“Genomics: From Medicine to the Environment”

J. Craig Venter, J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, MD

Monday, February 5, 2007 - 8:30-9:15am

Biography: J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., is regarded as one of leading scientists of the 21st century for his invaluable contributions in genomic research and is one of the country’s most frequently cited scientists. He is Founder, Chairman, and CEO of the J. Craig Venter Institute, a not-for-profit, research and support organization dedicated to human, microbial, plant and environmental genomic research, to the exploration of social and ethical issues in genomics, and to seeking alternative energy solutions through genomics. The J. Craig Venter Institute has two divisions, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), founded by Dr. Venter in 1992; and The Center for the Advancement of Genomics (TCAG).

Dr. Venter began his formal education after a tour of duty as a Navy Corpsman in Danang, Vietnam, from 1967 to 1968. After earning both a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and a Ph.D. in Physiology and Pharmacology from the University of California at San Diego, he was appointed professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute. In 1984, he moved to the National Institutes of Health campus where he pioneered a revolutionary new strategy for rapid gene discovery. At TIGR, he and his team decoded the genome of the first free-living organism, the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae, using his new whole genome shotgun technique. TIGR has sequenced more than 50 genomes to date using Dr. Venter’s techniques.

In 1998, Dr. Venter founded Celera Genomics to sequence the human genome. The successful completion of this research culminated with the February 2001 publication of the human genome in the journal, Science. He and his team at Celera also sequenced the fruit fly, mouse, and rat genomes. Dr. Venter and his team at the Venter Institute continue to blaze new trails in genomics research and have recently published several important papers covering such areas as environmental genomics, synthetic genomics and the sequence and analysis of the dog genome.

Dr. Venter is the author of more than 200 research articles and is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees, public honors, and scientific awards. These include the 2001 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize and the 2002 Gairdner Foundation International Award. Dr. Venter is a member of numerous prestigious scientific organizations including the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Society for Microbiology. In 2004 Dr. Venter was one of the first 38 people to be selected by Desmond Tutu as part of his “Hands that Shape Humanity” world exhibition.

“Plankton as an Inspiration in Art”

David Thomas, University of Wales, Bangor, United Kingdom

Tuesday, February 6, 2007 - 7:30-8:30pm

Presentation: The lecture, which will be part of ASLO’s outreach program, will be designed for a general audience. It will take Poincaré’s (a 19th century mathematician who initiated the study of fractals) stance that there is beauty in nature because of the harmony in its component parts. The lecture will start with a consideration of the beauty and richness of shape, form, and movement in nature, drawing examples from a range of marine forms. It will then pick up the work of Ernst Haeckel, and in particular his influence in architecture and design. This will lead to the recent work by the biologist Christian Hamm on the structural properties of the silica structures surrounding microscopic algae and the architecture of Frei Otto, most famous for his organic structures in the Munich Olympic Stadium. The talk will then move to other groups of plankton and the ways these organisms have excited the imaginations of the wood carver and jeweller – Louise Hibbert and Sarah Parker-Eaton. In its conclusion, the lecture will return to highlighting how scientists and artists need the same skills to appreciate the complexity of the subjects they are trying to interpret by their very different methods of expression.

Biography: David Thomas is Professor in Marine Biogeochemistry at the School of Ocean Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, UK. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Liverpool for the study of salt tolerances in Cladophora. Between 1989 and 1996, he held four research scientist posts in Germany at the University of Bremen, Alfred Wegener Institute, Bremerhaven, University of Oldenburg, and Centre for Marine Tropical Ecology, Bremen. He has become increasingly interested in the public understanding of science, and was awarded a British Association Science and Technology Media Fellowship in 1999. Since 2001, Thomas has been involved in an innovative collaboration with designer-makers Sarah Parker-Eaton and Louise Hibbert in a project called “Plankton Art.”

“Preparing For a Changing World: The Role of the Geoscience Education”

Heather Macdonald, The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA

Thursday, February 8, 2007 - 8:30-9:15am

Presentation: This is a time of great change as science becomes more interdisciplinary: we have new technological capabilities, and we work in an increasingly global community. Developing, recruiting, and retaining top students, scientists, and engineers is one of the main recommendations of the recent report, “Rising Above The Gathering Storm.” What, then, are effective strategies for preparing students for a future of rapid change and supporting scientists in the early stages of their career? Geoscience education can help faculty teach by providing insights from research on learning, deeper understanding of effective teaching strategies, high-quality instructional materials that promote data-rich, inquiry-based learning, and ideas for promoting adaptive learning. Faculty have a critical role to play in preparing their students for professional careers, and the mentoring of students and early-career scientists is important. The professional development program for geoscience faculty, On the Cutting Edge, supports faculty by providing an integrated series of workshops and thematic online resource collections at Other resources, including those about building strong departments, are available through the Science Education Resource Center ( These resources that bring faculty up to date in geoscience content and pedagogy and that provide opportunities for networking can help us work as individuals, as departments, and as a community to better prepare students for a changing world.

Biography: Heather Macdonald is a professor and chair of the Geology Department at The College of William and Mary, and has played a leadership role in the national geoscience education community for many years. She has been president of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, chair of the Geological Society of America’s Geoscience Education Committee, chair of the SEPM K-12 Education Committee, and a member of the AGU Committee on Education and Human Resources. She is one of the leaders of On the Cutting Edge, a professional development program for current and future geoscience faculty ( As a part of On the Cutting Edge, she has focused on resources for geoscientists early in their career such as Teaching, Research, and Managing Your Career for Early Career Faculty and Preparing for an Academic Career: Workshops for Graduate Students and Post-doctoral Fellows. She is also involved in the project, Building Strong Geoscience Departments, which provides resources for geoscience departments to improve their academic programs and presence on campus.

“Tsunamis: A Journey through their Manifestation and Aftermath”

Harindra Joseph Fernando, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

Friday, February 9, 2007 - 8:30-9:15am

Presentation: Tsunamis are giant waves that form when large sections of seafloor undergo abrupt and violent vertical movement due to fault rupture, landslides, or volcanic activity. Their formation, propagation in deep and coastal oceans, landfall, and ensuing deadly devastation are described in this presentation, paying particular attention to the Sumatra Tsunami of the Indian Ocean that occurred on December 26, 2004. Much of the discussion will be centered on observations made in Sri Lanka, where close to 27,000 people lost their lives and another 4,000 remain unaccounted. The tale of the Sumatra Tsunami in Sri Lanka typifies the mighty destructive forces of nature that control large-scale disasters, the unpredictability of natural phenomena driving such disasters, as well as the uncontrollability of their manifestation. Their destructive aftermath, although, could have been mitigated through better alertness and preparedness, education, preservation and reinforcement of natural defenses, sound design of coastal infrastructure, coordinated relief efforts, unselfish corporation across ethnic, social and political fabrics, and scientifically based reconstruction policies. Inadequate scientific knowledge has been a major hindrance in responding to tsunami disasters, and this paper highlights some of the key issues at hand where future research ought to be focused.

Biography: Harindra Joseph Fernando is a professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and director of the Environmental Fluid Dynamics program at Arizona State University. A native of Sri Lanka, Dr. Fernando has an undergraduate degree from the University of Sri Lanka and graduate degrees from Johns Hopkins University. His research involves both theoretical and applied aspects of fluid dynamics in both air and water and involves close interactions between computer models, physical models, and field studies. Most recently he has been involved in forensic analysis of the Indian Ocean tsunami devastation and in design of mitigation efforts to reduce future tsunami impacts.

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