Four pioneers of science, who have played major roles in developing key models for the origins of life, will be interviewed in a program at the Library of Congress on March 17. The scientists are Nobel Prize winner Walter Gilbert, W. Ford Doolittle, George Fox and Ray Gesteland.
Nathaniel Comfort, the NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center, will interview the scientists in a presentation titled “The Origins of the RNA World” at 2 p.m. on Thursday, March 17. The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place in room 119 on the first floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. Tickets are not needed. The Kluge Center is sponsoring the event as part of its joint NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Program.
The scientists have conducted research into the RNA world—the world at the dawn of life, before DNA, nearly four billion years ago. Comfort will interview the scholars about their roles in developing key models for the origins of life, on Earth and beyond.
The event will be structured as a witness seminar-style oral history, where several people associated with a particular set of circumstances or events are invited to meet together to discuss, debate, and even disagree about their reminiscences. The format was originally developed by the Institute of Contemporary British History at King’s College and inaugurated by the Wellcome Trust in 1990. Audience questions will be included.
Gilbert is a 1980 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and a University Professor at Harvard University. Doolittle is a professor emeritus at Dalhousie University. Fox is a professor at the University of Houston and Gesteland is a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of Utah.
Comfort is a historian of recent science and a professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University. His books include “The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine” (2012) and “The Tangled Field: Barbara McClintock’s Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control” (2001).
The program is part of the Kluge Center’s ongoing Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Astrobiology Program, which investigates the intersection of astrobiology research with humanistic and societal concerns. A senior scholar position at the Kluge Center, the astrobiology chair was previously held by planetary scientist Dr. David Grinspoon and astronomer Dr. Steven Dick. An appointment for 2017 will be announced soon.
The astrobiology chair is the result of collaboration between the NASA Astrobiology Program and the Library of Congress. Funded by NASA, and executed by the Kluge Center in consultation with the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the program makes it possible for a senior researcher to be in residence at the Kluge Center, to make use of the Library of Congress collections, and to convene programs that ensure the subject of astrobiology’s role in culture and society receives considered treatment each year in Washington, D.C.
Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another, to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources, and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/kluge/.
The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, holds more than 162 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its website at www.loc.gov.