Advisers | Provocateurs
Advisers | Provocateurs
Provocateur — someone who provokes, stimulates new thinking, raises questions, and sparks debate, taking nothing for granted as we evolve our process toward discovery and innovation.
Christoph Adami is Professor and Faculty Chair at the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences. His TED talk describes how his research focuses on how evolution shapes biological and engineering systems, and how information evolves in these systems. He uses digital life as his Petri dish. Mutating and adapting computer viruses living in a controlled computer environment are a tool through which he investigates basic life science questions. Dr. Adami is a pioneer in artificial life computational research. He was instrumental in developing the Avida Artificial Life system, which creates an environment within any standard computer in which populations of computer programs can live, evolve and adapt. In addition to studying the principles governing evolving systems, he also engages in research concerning quantum information theory, quantum computation, and quantum gravity. Professor Adami earned his PhD in theoretical physics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Prior to Keck Graduate Institute, he was a Faculty Associate at Caltech, a Principal Scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, and recipient of NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal. Projects of his lab include exploring an approach to evolutionary robotics where control structures (“artificial brains”) are hierarchical stochastic logic networks that we evolve to function in complex and dynamic environments and networks are encoded genetically and learn to predict the world in which the robots function. By bridging the timescales between synaptic and genetic (Darwinian) learning, the objective is to create intelligently behaving mobile systems. In the first stage, both robots and control structures are simulated in the computer, but a transition to hardware is expected in the second phase. The lab is also examining Synergistic Information Processing in Neuronal Networks under the premise that a hallmark of intelligent information processing is the capacity to integrate information from different sensory modalities in such a manner that the whole (our impression of an object or a dynamical scene) is more than the sum of its parts. Through Evolutionary Game Theory, and evolutionary experiments with digital organisms, he studies the emergence of cooperation in games where defection, the non-cooperative strategy, appears to be the rational solution.
Tom Barbalet is known as the creator of Noble Ape artificial life simulation, editor of Biota.org and chair of the IGDA Intellectual Property Rights SIG. Originally from Adelaide, South Australia, Barbalet has developed a series of interpreters, compilers, anti-viral programs and the Schmuck Quest series of graphics/text adventure games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Barbalet assembled a collection of his landscape viewing and cognitive simulation demo programs together and created the artificial life development Noble Ape (originally called the Nervana Project). The Noble Ape development was attributed to Barbalet’s travels around Malaysia and observation of wild monkeys living on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur and Penang, response to a challenge to create a true cognitive simulation. In addition to ongoing Noble Ape development, Tom works at Netflix on APPLE TV.
Richard Boyle, Ph.D., is Director of the BioVIS Technology Center at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field. The Center he directs carries out a wide range of visualization and modeling studies. Dr. Boyle is a neuroscientist, intrigued by the parallels that can be drawn between his specialized research field and the applications of neural network principles in other domains. He is science manager for future US/Russian unmanned biology satellite missions. For over 30 years he has participated as a member of committees in numerous national and international societies. The focus of the Center is on visual computing and modeling. Boyle is on the steering committee of the International Symposium in Visual Computing and editorial board of “Advances in Visual Computing” series, Lecture Notes in Computer Science (LNCS), Springer-Verlag GmbH, Berlin-Heidelberg). Current work on robotic explorers using biologically inspired control systems; multi-modality imaging data fusion and segmentation techniques and modeling developed for space applications could have potential translation to sustainability challenges.
The more I examine the universe and study the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe must have known that we were coming. There are some striking examples in the laws of nuclear physics of numerical accidents that seem to conspire to make the universe habitable.
Chris Chafe, born in Bern, Switzerland, is a composer, scientist, and the director of the Stanford University Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Recently he has explored precursors for citizen science crowdsourcing and music, e.g.Seven Airs with Greg Niemeyer. He’s worked at the intersection of neuroscience and music, with source data from epileptic patients. He is Duca Family Professor at Stanford University, Ph.D. in Musical Arts in music composition from Stanford University, with interest in computers and interactive performance. He spent three years at IRCAM, Paris, and the Banff Centre, making music and developing methods for computer sound synthesis. The SoundWIRE project, launched in 2000, involves real-time Internet concertizing with collaborators worldwide. New tools and research into latency factors are evolving. His music is heard in Europe, the Americas and Asia. The five countries “Resonations” concert was hosted by the United Nations in Nov. 2009. CD’s of works are available from Centaur Records. Gallery and museum music installations are continuing into their second decade with biological, medical and environmental “musifications” featured as collaborations with artists, scientists and MD’s. Recent new works include TQ11 “tomato quintet” for the transLife:media Festival at the National Art Museum of China and Phasor for contrabass and electronics. He won a Net Challenge Prize from the IEEE and Association for Computing Machinery in 2000, and a National Science Foundation research award in 1999 and holds US patents on Evaluating Quality of Service of a Digital Network Connection, Simulating Period Synchronous Noise Associated with Air Flows, and Using Pulsed Noise for Simulating the Noise Component of Musical Tones.
Paul Davies, theoretical physicist and cosmologist has established a “cosmic think tank” called BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, anchored in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. BEYOND confronts big questions at the interface of science and philosophy: What are the laws of nature? Why do they seem so peculiarly suited for the emergence of life? Why is nature mathematical? Are we alone in the universe? What is the destiny of humankind? Davies has held previous academic appointments at the University of Cambridge, University of London, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, University of Adelaide and Macquarie University. Davies has worked on the theory of black holes, especially their quantum and thermodynamic properties. Davies has focused on divergences associated with the quantum vacuum, which become much more problematic when the spacetime is curved. Using point-splitting renormalization, he and his colleagues extracted meaningful finite answers for a range of physically interesting problems, described in Quantum Fields in Curved Space (co-authored with his former PhD student Nicholas Birrell). Davies has also worked on the problem of time’s arrow. While in Australia he helped establish the Australian Centre for Astrobiology, was made a member of the Order of Australia, was recognized by an Advance Australia Award and two Eureka Prizes. In the UK he was awarded the 2001 Kelvin Medal and Prize from the Institute of Physics, and the 2002 Faraday Prize from The Royal Society. Davies received the Templeton Prize in 1995. The asteroid 6870 Pauldavies is named after him. His many books include The Cosmic Blueprint (1987),The Mind of God (1992),The Fifth Miracle: The Search for the Origin and Meaning of Life (1998);The Goldilocks Enigma: Why is the Universe is just right for life? (2007),The Eerie Silence (2010). For a more complete list of his books. For journal publication.
David Deamer, Research Professor of Biomolecular Engineering at the University of California (Santa Cruz) is Director of a newly-established Astrobiology Center, a collaboration of NASA Ames and University of California researchers. He has recently published two new books. First Life: Discovering the Connections between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began (University of California Press, 2011). Deamer also co-edited Origins of Life with Jack Szostak, published by Cold Spring Harbor Press, 2010. Deamer’s research focuses on how linear macromolecules traverse nanoscopic channels. Single-stranded nucleic acid molecules can be driven electrophoretically through a nanoscopic channel embedded in a lipid-bilayer membrane, and the presence of the polynucleotide in the channel affects the ionic conductance in a manner related to chain length, concentration and base sequence. This observation has considerable potential for characterizing DNA and RNA in microscopic volumes of nucleic acid solutions. A second line of research concerns molecular self-assembly processes related to the structure and function of biological membranes, and particularly the origin and evolution of membrane structure. One example of such research was reported by Dworkin et al. (2001), which showed that photochemical reactions simulating those occurring in the interstellar medium give rise to amphiphilic molecules that can self-assemble into membrane structures. Apel et al. (2001) and Monnard et al., (2002) went on to show that membranes can self-assemble from simple amphiphiles such as fatty acids and alcohols, and that such processes are markedly affected by ionic content of the environment. These results help us to understand how primitive forms of cellular life appeared on the early Earth and were able to capture nutrients from the surrounding medium and incorporate them in intracellular growth processes.
Zann Gill, Founding Director of the Microbes Mind Forum (M|M), received her M. Arch. from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Early in her career, she worked for Buckminster Fuller, whose concepts of design science and World Game for environmental sustainability led her to recognize need for a new discipline of collaborative intelligence. Her entry to the international competition, Kawasaki: Information City of the 21st Century, sponsored by the Japan Association for Planning Administration and Mainichi News, with cooperation of ten ministries and three agencies of the Japanese government, tied with Panasonic (then Matsushita Corp.) for first place and won the Award of the Mayor of Kawasaki. She proposed sixteen diverse interlinked initiatives comprising an Innovation Network, designed to evolve as a collaborative ecosystem. Before starting M|M Forum, as a Research Scientist for RIACS (Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science) at NASA Ames Research Center, Gill proposed a series of NASA collaboratories, both as technology platforms and as cross-disciplinary, self-improving ecosystems, harnessing principles of self-organization and collaborative intelligence found in living systems. Later at NASA, she developed program plans for an Institute for Advanced Space Concepts (IASC), a collaboratory BEACON (Bio-Evolutionary Advanced Concepts) and an astrobiology program for NASA University. Through DESYN Lab she consults on projects ranging from the Smart Systems–Eco-Cities initiative of Australia’s ICT Center of Excellence to World Class Execution and decision support for sustainable remediation. Her book, If Microbes begat Mind, proposes the A-PR Hypothesis (Autonomy and Pattern Recognition) as the basic unit of creative cognition. A sequel, What Daedalus told Darwin, argues that Darwin has been misinterpreted, drawing evidence from his writing and current debate. Focusing on self-organizing systems, she correlates recent findings about mechanisms of evolution to define the new field of collaborative intelligence and develop applications for earthDECKS, harnessing next generation collaborative computing.
William F. Gilly, marine biologist at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Biological Laboratory, is a world authority on the jumbo (or Humboldt) squid, examining that deep-sea creature from the perspective of collective intelligence (swarming behavior), adaptation to climate change, and the health of our oceanic and coastal ecosystems. He suggests that the explosion and range expansion of Humboldt squid can be linked to ongoing climate change in the eastern Pacific, including sea-surface warming, changes in sub-surface currents, decreasing oxygen and expansion of naturally occurring oxygen minimum zones. This fierce predator restructures ecosystems that it invades, can tolerate environmental extremes, and can teach us important lessons about adaptability to changing climate. Humboldt squid have large brains and may communicate with each other via flashing changes of skin color. Professor Gilly’s lab studies hypoxia tolerance and control of chromatophores, the color-changing organs in the skin. His lab was the first to track the daily, vertical movements of squid using electronic tagging methods. They also use acoustic methods to track vertical and horizontal movements and to estimate biomass. Oceanographic measurements are used to characterize temperature and oxygen levels in relation to vertical movements. Gilly received a BSE (Electrical Engineering) from Princeton and a Ph.D. (Physiology and Biophysics) from Washington University, with additional training at Yale University, University of Pennsylvania and the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole. His research has contributed to our basic understanding of electrical excitability in nerve and muscle cells in a wide range of organisms, ranging from brittle-stars to mammals. Much of this work employed the giant axon system of the squid as an experimental model system for molecular and biophysical approaches. Additional studies with living squid revealed unexpected complexities in how the giant axon system controls escape responses, and how mechanisms governing that control are modified during development and by environmental factors. He advocates bringing science and the humanities together, that every problem in biology today (and arguably all science) involves humans, society and the environment in some way. Dr. Gilly was nominated by Stanford University to be one of the USA Science and Engineering Festival‘s Nifty Fifty Speakers (October 2010)
Deborah M. Gordon is a Professor in the Department of Biology at Stanford where she was awarded the Walter J. Gores award for teaching excellence. She has spent the last twenty-five years deciphering the chemical, genetic and behavioral codes of ant colonies. She will discuss colony life-cycles, how interaction networks determine colony behavior, and surprising discoveries about the evolution of complex systems. Her research on the collective organization of ant colonies includes studies of the long-term demography and behavior of harvester ant colonies in Arizona, factors that determine the spread of the invasive Argentine ant in northern California, and the ecology of ant-plant mutualisms in tropical forests in Central America. She is the author of two books, Ants at Work (2000) and Ant Encounters: Interaction Networks and Colony Behavior (2010). She has been awarded fellowships from Guggenheim and the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. She is interested in analogies between ant colonies and other distributed networks, and has given talks at TED 2003, Xerox Park, Google Tech Talk, Dagstuhl seminar on distributed algorithms, and at robotics and artificial intelligence conferences
David Dunkley Gyimah started in Applied Chemistry before translating his scientific interests to explore synthesis in new emergent media. Winner of a Knight Batten Award (US) and Global Video Journalism Award (Berlin), he’s been described by APPLE as a “one-man hurricane,” breaking boundaries between art and journalism, production and post-production, present and future. On the cutting edge of new technology, redefining the possible, David became part of the Channel One team defining video-journalism in the mid-nineties. He had previously worked for BBC’s flagship news analysis programme Newsnight, and the innovative cult youth current affairs show BBC Reportage (on-screen), and as a presenter/producer on BBC’s radio show, BBC GLR, where he interviewed a range of thought leaders. In 1992 he relocated to South Africa, freelancing as a radio journalist for the BBC World Service, ABC News, as an Associate Producer and BBC Radio 4 documentaries, where he made First Time Voters, tracking four youngsters voting in their first election. The documentary was repeated on the BBC World Service, bought by South Africa Broadcasting and aired one day before the election. He later worked for Channel 4 News, WTN and dotcoms (he’s been on the net since 1995). He also worked as a Television Producer/Director for local indies and ABC News, making “Through the Eyes of a Child.” At the other extreme, he produced a video report on South African Dirk Coetzee, leader of a secret death squad, and made a number of reports from trouble-spot townships, such as Katlehong, designated then the “murder capital of the world.” Dunkley Gyimah set broadcast precedent, co-producing/directing a joint venture of African broadcasters, which led to meeting Nelson Mandela. Based in London, but often overseas, he produces the award-winning online magazine viewmagazine.tv and teaches digital journalism at a range of universities, from London to China and Egypt. He is an Artist in Residence at London’s cultural hub, The Southbank Centre, a director of the UK’s governing body linking universities and broadcast institutions, and has been a member of London’s foreign policy think tank, Chatham House, since 1994. Dunkley Gyimah, a juror for the UK equivalent of the EMMY’s, the RTS, is pioneering the new methods we’ll use in the future when everyone’s video hyperlinks to a knowledge network, redefining the microbes-mind metaphor. Dunkley Gyimah is developing his concept of the Outernet, an experiment in defining the future of media networks and our networked “collaborative intelligence,” which new technologies will enable.
Robert M. Hazen, research scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory and Clarence Robinson Professor of Earth Science at George Mason University, is Principal Investigator of the Deep Carbon Observatory, a 10-year international effort to advance knowledge of the chemical and biological roles of carbon in Earth’s interior. His book Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins describes the role of minerals in the origin of life, e.g. mineral-catalyzed organic synthesis and selective adsorption of organic molecules on mineral surfaces. His new approach to mineralogy – mineral evolution – explores the co-evolution of the geo- and biospheres. Hazen served on the Committee on Public Understanding of Science of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and on Advisory Boards for NOVA (WGBH Boston), Earth & Sky, Encyclopedia Americana, and the Carnegie Council. He appears frequently on radio and television programs on science, and developed two popular video courses: The Joy of Science and The Origins of Life, both produced by The Teaching Company. He received his B.S. and S.M. in geology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ph.D. at Harvard University in earth science, working as a NATO Postdoctoral Fellow at Cambridge University in England. Hazen is author of more than 350 articles and 20 books on science, history, and music. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he received the Mineralogical Society of America Award (1982), American Chemical Society Ipatieff Prize (1986), ASCAP Deems Taylor Award (1989), Educational Press Association Award (1992), Elizabeth Wood Science Writing Award (1998), and the Distinguished Public Service Medal of the Mineralogical Society of America (2009). He has presented numerous named lectures at universities, and is currently Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer (2008-2010). He served as Distinguished Lecturer for the Mineralogical Society of America, and is a Past President of the Society. Also a professional trumpeter, he’s performed with the Metropolitan, New York City, Boston, and Washington Operas, the Royal, Bolshoi, Joffrey, and Kirov Ballets, Boston Symphony, National Symphony, and Orchestre de Paris and is a member of the National Philharmonic, Washington Bach Consort, and National Gallery Orchestra.
Patricia M. Jones is the Associate Director for Research at the Beckman Institute of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she develops and manages research programs, overseeing the Beckman Institute’s centralized research facilities: the Biomedical Imaging Center, the Illinois Simulator Laboratory, and the Imaging Technology Group’s Microscopy Suite and Visualization Laboratory. Previously, at NASA Ames, Jones co-led a research portfolio of approximately 700 researchers and a $100 M annual budget in four major technical areas: intelligent systems, entry systems, supercomputing, and human factors. She has focused her research on Collaborative Knowledge Management, Social Networks, Organizational Learning, and competence in decision-making. As Deputy Director of the Exploration Technology Directorate at NASA Ames Research Center, leading over 700 people performing applied research and development in a diverse range of technology areas designed to enable NASA’s Exploration Vision and missions, Dr. Jones focused on fostering close partnerships with NASA Centers, the private sector, academic institutions, and other government agencies. Previously, she was the acting Chief of the Human Systems Integration Division at NASA Ames from 2003-2010. She received the B.S. in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the M. S. and PhD in industrial and systems engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Before joining NASA, she was an Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to complex management tasks, she has published more than sixty papers in the areas of human-machine interaction and computer-supported cooperative work.
Stuart Kauffman is a theoretical biologist and complex systems researcher who studies the origin of life on Earth, known for arguing that the complexity of biological systems and organisms might result as much from self-organization and far-from-equilibrium dynamics as from Darwinian natural selection, as well as for applying models of Boolean networks to simplified genetic circuits. Kauffman was awarded degrees by Dartmouth College, Oxford University (Marshall Scholar), and the University of California. Early in his career he worked on developmental genetics of the fruitfly. He held positions first at the University of Chicago and later at the University of Pennsylvania , where he served as professor of biochemistry and biophysics from 1975 to 1995 and was external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. Kauffman held a MacArthur Fellowship, 1987–1992. He was Director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics, and Professor at the University of Calgary until 2009. Kauffman won the Borden Prize for Research (1968), the Weiner Gold Medal of the American Cybernetic Society (1971), Gold Medal of the Academia Lincea Rome and The Herbert A. Simon Award (2000). Though originally a medical doctor, Dr. Kauffman’s primary work has been as a theoretical biologist studying the origin of life and molecular organization. Thirty-five years ago, he developed the Kauffman models – random networks exhibiting a kind of self-organization that he terms “order for free.” Dr. Kauffman was the founding general partner and chief scientific officer of The Bios Group, a company (acquired in 2003 by NuTech Solutions), which applies the science of complexity to business management problems. Kauffman is the author of The Origins of Order: Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution (1993, Oxford University Press); At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization (1995, Oxford), Investigations(2000, Oxford), and Beyond Reductionism: Reinventing the Sacred (2008. Basic Books). Kauffman holds founding broad biotechnology patents in combinatorial chemistry and applied molecular evolution. In January 2010, he joined the faculty of the University of Vermont’s Complex Systems Center and is also Distinguished Professor at Tampere University of Technology in Finland. During the past year Stuart Kauffman has been one of five distinguished contributors on Cosmos and Culture for National Public Radio.
Christopher P. McKay received his Ph.D. in Astro-Geophysics from the University of Colorado and is a research scientist with the NASA Ames Research Center studying planetary atmospheres, astrobiology, and terraforming and terrestrial analogs as vehicles to understand ecosystem sustainability. McKay has done extensive research on planetary atmospheres, particularly the atmospheres of Titan and Mars, and on the origin and evolution of life. He is a co-investigator on the Huygens probe, the Mars Phoenix lander, and the Mars Science Laboratory. He has also performed field research on extremophiles, in such locations as Death Valley, the Atacama Desert, Axel Heiberg Island, and ice-covered lakes in Antarctica. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Planetary Society and also works with the Mars Society and has written and spoken extensively on space exploration and terraforming. Chris McKay’s current research focuses on the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He’s also actively involved in planning for future Mars missions, including human settlements, and has conducted polar research since 1980, traveling to the Antarctic dry valleys and more recently to the Siberian and Canadian Arctic to conduct research in these Mars-like environments. He won a 2004 NASA Exceptional Leadership Medal, a 2004 NASA Group Achievement Award for the ARES project, a 2005 NASA Ames Honor Award, was named in 2005 a Fellow of the International Society for the Study of the Origin Life, and in 2006 named a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. As a world authority on terraforming Mars, Chris views this thought–simulation experiment as an ideal intellectual challenge in the synthesis of complex systems — a chance to learn about the intricacy of our co-dependent Earth ecosystems via this Mars analog and to recognize that shipping Earth civilization off to space will be, well, . . . not so easy.
Andrew Pohorille received Ph.D. in theoretical physics (with specialty in biophysics) from University of Warsaw. He did his postdoctoral work at the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique in Paris. Since 1992 he has been Professor of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the University of California San Francisco. In 1996 he joined the staff of NASA Ames Research Center, where he directs the NASA Center for Computational Astrobiology. He also leads the NASA Astrobiology Institute Origin of Life Focus Group. In 2002 he was awarded Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal and in 2010 he received H. Julian Allen award. He was the 2005 Distinguished Lecturer at the Centre for Mathematical Modeling and the National Space Research Centre in the U.K. and the 2008 Maxwell Colloquium speaker at University of Edinburgh. In 2000 and 2009 he received NASA Group Awards for his contributions to astrobiology. His main interests have been focused on modeling the origins of life, computer simulations of biomolecular systems, modeling genetic and metabolic networks, and statistical mechanics of condensed phases. Most recently, he has been working on developing concepts and designing instruments for microbiology experiments on small satellites and in the lunar environment. In a project sponsored by Google he has recently developed a new way of organizing and searching scientific information. His other research interests are rather eclectic – in recent years he published papers in diverse areas, ranging from the structure of comets to the mechanism of anesthetic action and risky decision-making. He has authored or co-authored nearly 100 peer-reviewed publications.
Stephen J. Smith is Professor of Molecular & Cellular Physiology at Stanford University, a member of Bio-X, and Stanford’s Cancer Center. Prof. Smith’s laboratory explores the development, structure, function and disorders of the brain’s neural circuitry. The lab’s experimental approach has typically begun with the invention of a new optical imaging method, followed by applications of that method to attack important but previous untractable experimental challenges. Early on, Smith invented a novel fiber-optic spectrometer for calcium sensing that enabled the first detection and measurement of calcium transients in vertebrate neurons, the first quantitative measurements of presynaptic Ca transients, and the extraordinarily significant discovery of Ca influx through NMDA receptor channels. Later Smith lab imaging inventions led to numerous significant neuroscience discoveries, including retrograde actin flow within neuronal growth cones, intracellular Ca waves in astrocytes, the active role of dendritic filopodia in synaptogenesis, and the packeted delivery of synaptic protein components during synaptogenesis, and to the first optical measurements of single synaptic vesicle release, the first in vivo imaging of synaptotropic dendrite growth, and the first in vivo functional imaging measurements of visual receptive field development in a vertebrate animal. Most recently, they have invented a unique high-resolution proteomic imaging method called “array tomography” and are now working to apply this novel method to explore the molecular architecture of cortical microcircuits in mouse and human. This work studies synaptic plasticity, and the differential vulnerability of proteomically distinct synapse subpopulations to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disease processes, and is currently focused on efforts to identify the circuit loci of the specific changes in synaptic connectivity associated with specific memory traces, i.e. the physical “engrams” of experience. For background, see Stephen Smith’s talk on Synaptic Diversity at the 2010 Allen Institute for Brain Science Symposium.
Jonathan Trent received his Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography studying marine microbiology, then studied biochemistry and molecular biology at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Germany, the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and the University of Paris at Orsay in France. He worked at the Boyer Center for Molecular Medicine at Yale Medical School before establishing a biotechnology group at Argonne National Laboratory. In 1998 he moved to NASA Ames Research Center where he has conducted research on the molecular adaptations that allow microbes to live in habitats that seem inhospitably extreme to us (extremophiles), focusing on understanding the role of a specific class of proteins known as heat shock or stress proteins, which are abundant in organisms living in hot sulfuric acid (85°C/pH 2). The stress proteins in extremophiles proved to be closely related to a class of human proteins of unknown function (Trent et al. Nature vol. 354: 490-493), which Trent’s group is now studying in both extremophiles and humans to determine their critical function. In 1999 Dr. Trent proposed that the self-assembly properties of biomolecules, combined with genetic engineering, could produce significant ‘tools’ in nanotechnology and his research group demonstrated that genetically modified proteins from extremophiles that self–assemble into two dimensional arrays could be used as templates to organize conducting and semiconducting nanoparticles with nanometer resolution. Continuing to explore the extremes of biology and how biomolecules interface with nanotechnology, Trent led the Google-funded NASA GREEN (Global Research into Energy and the Environment at NASA) initiative and has conducted pioneering research on biofuels toward developing an algae bioreactor, organizing an international conference in Denmark entitled Wind, Sea, and Algae. Jonathan Trent’s TEDx talk about OMEGA Project.
J. Scott Turner has contributed to the theory of collective intelligence through his fieldwork on the South African species of termite Macrotermes michaelseni, suggesting the architectural complexity and sophistication of their mounds as an instance of his theory of the extended organism and showing the emergence of super-organismal structure. The mound functions as an external lung for respiratory gas exchange for the colony as a whole. His prior work on the thermal capacity of incubated birds’ eggs showed that an egg with an embryo and an incubating parent function not as two separate organisms but as a coupled physiological unit. Building upon this empirical work, Turner has argued that the principle of homeostasis is a fundamental property of living systems that accounts for the phenomenon of biological design. Turner is the author of two acclaimed books: The Extended Organism: the Physiology of Animal-Built Structures (2000) and The Tinkerer’s Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself (2007), both published by Harvard University Press and reviewed in a range of journals, including Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, the New York Times Book Review, EMBO Reports, American Scientist, and Nature. With this argument, Turner counters both Intelligent Design and strong Darwinism, showing how natural selection (Darwinism) is complemented by other factors. Turner proposes that modern evolutionary theory over-emphasizes genetic natural selection, with its tendency to separate information from catalysis at the molecular level. By connecting information and catalysis, epigenesis, coupled with homeostasis, exemplifies the internal, directive capacities of the organism, linking information and behavior. Turner cites termite mounds as an instance of collective intelligence, a form of swarm cognition that is a model for the emergence of cognitive systems in a variety of contexts, including, but not limited to, self-contained nervous systems. The extended organism principle also justifies the Gaia Hypothesis, suggesting what we can translate from micro to macro, and that principles governing termites offer a perspective on mind. Turner is Professor of Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) in Syracuse, New York. Under a grant from the Templeton Foundation, he has been a visiting scholar at Cambridge University, writing his third book on “Biology’s Second Law,” which builds the case that evolution operates through the complementary principles of Darwinian natural selection (biology’s “First Law”) coupled to homeostasis (biology’s “Second Law”).
Peter Douglas Ward, a paleontologist and professor of Biology and of Earth and Space Sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle, also a scientist with the NASA Astrobiology Institute, has written a series of “big ideas” books presenting provocative hypotheses to be explored in the Microbes Mind Forum. Ward’s field research specializes in the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction event, mass extinctions generally, and what the fossil record indicates about biodiversity and a potential future mass extinction event, which he characterizes as The Medea Hypothesis, which was named one of the 100 most important ideas of 2009 by the New York Times. He contends that multicellular life, understood as a superorganism, is suicidal. According to Ward’s 2007 book, Under a Green Sky, all but one of the major extinction events in history have been brought on by climate change — the same global warming that occurs today. The author argues that events in the past can give valuable information about the future of our planet. Reviewer Doug Brown goes further, stating “this is how the world ends.” Scientists at the Universities of York and Leeds also warn that the fossil record supports evidence of impending mass extinction. Ward’s best-selling book on the origin of life, Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe (co-authored with Donald Brownlee, 2000) characterizes the unique attributes that make Earth a habitable planet and remains the most widely read astrobiology book ever written. It was featured in an episode of ABC Nightline and named by Discover Magazine one of the ten most important science books of 2001. While astronomers searching for habitable extra-solar planets (super-Earths) contest the Rare Earth Hypothesis, Ward and Brownlee put forth a compelling argument for treating Earth as rare and exceptional until proven otherwise. Ward’s latest book, The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps (2010) examines the future implications of global climate change. In 2008 he was the main speaker at TED; in 2010 he was named Faculty Lecturer at the University of Washington, the University’s highest annual academic honor.
Steven F. Zornetzer, formerly a neurobiologist and professor of neuroscience focusing on the problem of how the brain processes information, has evolved from academic to a creative and dynamic leader and senior executive at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, serving in a range of roles, including Director of Research and Director of Information Sciences and Technology. He was lead author of the influential book, Introduction to Neural and Electronic Networks. Recognized for his leadership in revolutionary information technology-based approaches to aerospace and space exploration missions, his interests range from cognitive, perceptual, and neural sciences to integrative and synthetic biology, biological information processing, molecular biology, genetic engineering, and biomedical science. Zornetzer also serves as principal advisor and consultant to senior management officials at Ames Research Center, other NASA Centers, and other Government agencies on supercomputing, optical systems, networks, and intelligent systems, and he currently plans, directs, and coordinates the technology, science, development, and operational activities for research and information technology development. Before joining NASA in 1997, he headed the Life Sciences Directorate for the Office of Naval Research (ONR) where he was recognized for his leadership and vision, receiving a Presidential Meritorious Rank in 1991 and again in 2001. In 2008 he received the Presidential Distinguished Executive Award and in 2010 NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal. Recognizing that, on average, buildings are responsible for 40% of our energy consumption, while in California 50% of the energy we use goes into transport, he has focused on climate change and built environment, bringing his background in neuroscience and intelligent networks to that challenge. He has driven NASA Ames’ leadership in environmental sustainability, launched Greenspace, and led the design and construction of the highest performing, net energy positive Federal Government building. Beyond designing an intelligent adaptive building control system that can optimize dynamically the building’s energy performance and working environment based upon the real-time demands of its occupants, while learning from its own past performance to improve over time, Zornetzer’s long term vision is that we need to develop better methods to optimize the complex, interdependent, energy-consuming networks of human built environments within the larger natural ecosystem on which we depend.
Eshel Ben-Jacob was a theoretical and experimental physicist at Tel Aviv University, holder of the Maguy-Glass Chair in Physics of Complex Systems, and Fellow of the Center for Theoretical Biological Physics (CTBP) at the University of California San Diego. In the field of Systems Neuroscience he has focused first on investigations of living neural networks outside the brain and later on analysis of actual brain activity. In 2007, Scientific American selected Ben-Jacob’s invention, the first hybrid NeuroMemory Chip, as one of the 50 most important achievements in all fields of science and technology for that year. The NeuroMemory Chip entails imprinting multiple memories, based upon development of a novel, system-level analysis of neural network activity (developed from concepts in statistical physics and quantum mechanics), ideas about distributed information processing (developed from his research on collective behaviors of bacteria) and new experimental methods based on nanotechnology (carbon nanotubes). During the 1980s he became an international leader in the theory of self-organization and pattern formation in open systems, later extended this to adaptive complex systems and biocomplexity. His specialization in self organization of complex systems yielded the breakthrough of solving the long standing (since Kepler) snowflake problem. In the late 1980s, he turned to study of bacterial self-organization, believing that bacteria hold the key to understanding larger biological systems. He developed new pattern forming bacteria species, became a pioneer in the study of social behaviors of bacteria, and has been influential in establishing the now rapidly evolving Physics of Life (Biological Physics and Physical Biology) disciplines. He maintains that the essence of cognition is rooted in the ability of bacteria to gather, measure, and process information, and to adapt in response. Prof. Ben-Jacob received his PhD in physics (1982) at Tel Aviv University, Israel, served as Vice President of the Israel Physical Society (1999-2002), then as President of the Israel Physical Society (2002-2005), initiating the online magazine PhysicaPlus, the only Hebrew-English bilingual science magazine.