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October 22, 2013

David Grinspoon to Discuss Human Chapter in History of Earth, Oct. 31

American astrobiologist David H. Grinspoon will conclude his tenure as inaugural Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology with a lecture on the human chapter in the history of the Earth.

Grinspoon will present "Terra Sapiens: The Human Chapter in the History of Earth" at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 31 in room 119 of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. The lecture is free and open to the public. No tickets are needed.

Grinspoon has spent the past year as a scholar-in-residence at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress, using the Library’s extraordinary holdings to research his forthcoming book on the Anthropocene Era, the name given by some scientists to the current era in the Earth’s history, wherein humans are the key drivers of geological and climatic change on the planet.

Grinspoon’s research examines the Anthropocene Era from an astrobiological perspective. Grinspoon seeks to put the current phase of the planet’s ecological life into a broader context, juxtaposed against previous geological eras in the Earth’s history, in addition to what’s known from studying changes on other planets. The goal is to better understand what can or should be done now and what future choices are available for Earth. Insights from his research will be shared in the Oct. 31 lecture.

"Astrobiologists explore the conditions for life in the universe," Grinspoon said. "In doing so, we bring the tools of science to bear on the philosophical, religious and cultural questions of ‘How does life begin and evolve?’ and ‘What is the future of life on Earth and beyond?’ My research seeks to place human-driven planetary changes against the backdrop of the long history of planetary change, in order to better frame our current situation as part of a larger narrative of planetary evolution. In doing so, we can begin to explore the complex societal, religious, ethical, legal, cultural and other concerns that arise in regard to planetary changes and human evolution, and hopefully develop a blueprint for a wisely managed Earth moving forward."

During his tenure as astrobiology chair, Grinspoon has also spearheaded numerous outreach activities to ensure that astrobiology’s role in culture and society becomes part of the dialogue in the nation’s capital. He has hosted a daylong symposium on the longevity of human civilization, participated in a panel discussion on differing perceptions of the environment, and convened informal meetings of scientists and scholars to discuss issues related to the Anthropocene.

On Nov. 1, science historian Steven J. Dick begins his term as the second Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology. He will be in residence at the Kluge Center for one year. A well-known astronomer and author, Dick was the chair in aerospace history at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum and served as the chief historian for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from 2003 to 2009. Dick will examine the historical background of astrobiology, and will work both individually and with other scholars to analyze humanistic issues surrounding the discovery of life in the universe and optimal approaches to studying the impact of such a discovery.

The Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology is a distinguished senior research position at the Kluge Center. Using the collections and services of the Library of Congress, the chair holder conducts research at the intersection between the science of astrobiology and its humanistic aspects, particularly its societal implications. The chair holder is expected to give at least one public presentation and to organize workshops, symposia, small conferences or other activities that engage the broader academic community and the public.

The chair honors the late Baruch Blumberg, a Nobel Prize-winner in medicine, former member of the Library’s Scholars Council, and the founding director of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute. For more background on the establishment of the chair, see the Library’s original announcement..

The NASA Astrobiology Program supports research into the origins, evolution, distribution and future of life in the universe. The NASA Astrobiology Institute (NAI), an element of that program, is a partnership among NASA, 14 U.S. teams, and 10 international consortia. NAI’s goals are to promote, conduct, and lead interdisciplinary astrobiology research; train a new generation of astrobiology researchers; provide scientific and technical leadership for spaceflight missions; use modern information technologies to connect widely distributed investigators; and share the excitement of astrobiology with learners of all ages.

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 further information on the Kluge Center, visit www.loc.gov/kluge/.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 155 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 award-winning website at www.loc.gov.

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PR 13-182
10/22/13
ISSN 0731-3527

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