Carl Zimmer in Tulsa

Okay, if any of you ever get the opportunity to see Carl Zimmer speak, GO!

Last night in Tulsa, Carl gave the John Wesley Powell Memorial Lecture on the topic of ‘What is Life?’

I was geared up and ready for a fight, honestly. Virologists have been getting into fights with people about ‘what is life?’ for ages. And we are used to getting riled up about childish, scientifically outdated ‘arguments’. I didnt know whether Carl was savvy or not… But he was. Yay!

As an audience member, I found his presentation fun and educational (I even learned new stuff). He told a story with science, and it was an interesting story 🙂 As a scientist, I was relieved that while Carls science was appropriate for laymen, it was still accurate. It was basically how I present science– you leave out a LOT of details, but if people ask a question in the Q&A that required a missing detail to answer, you can slip it in. More information without it being overwhelming for the audience.

Oh, also, bonus points for mentioning Hershey and Chase.

BIG thank you to Michael Mason, a Tulsa area science writer, for taking this pic of Vic, me, and Carl. Thanks Michael!



  1. #1 BaldApe
    March 30, 2009

    Slightly OT, but can you post or link to the “ten reasons” in that article you linked to? I don’t have university access anymore, and can only see the abstract.

  2. #2 Blake Stacey
    March 30, 2009

    I got to see Carl Zimmer when his Microcosm book tour brought him through Boston, and I’m quite happy I did.

  3. #3 Mobius
    March 30, 2009

    Yes, it was I great lecture. I learned a few things, too. That is always an excellent bonus.

    The Q&A session was great. One guy asked if prions and viruses were alive. Carl bounced the question to Abbie, who (of course) gave a thoughtful answer.

    It was good to see you there Abbie. Nice talking to you.

  4. #4 Uncephalized
    March 30, 2009

    Abbie, could you give a very brief statement of what you think life is (or link me to a good definition)? I’m curious. I personally tend to think of life as any self-organizing, self-replicating (or perhaps more specifically self-reproducing) entity composed of organic molecules and responding in a coordinated fashion to its environment. But I am no biologist, just an interested amateur.

  5. #5 Tommykey
    March 30, 2009

    could you give a very brief statement of what you think life is

    Using best Arnold Schwarzenegger accent: “If it can be killed, it’s alive.”

  6. #6 clinteas
    March 30, 2009

    Adding to comment No 5:

    “If it bleeds,it can be killed”

  7. #7 BaldApe
    March 30, 2009

    “If it can be killed, it’s alive.”

    Sorry, but that’s circular (or at least susceptible to circularity). If it’s not alive, it can’t be killed.

    The professor who taught the first evolution course I took said that anything that evolves by natural selection is alive, but does that include things like memes, which can be argued to evolve?

  8. #8 Tommykey
    March 30, 2009

    BaldApe, it was just meant in humor.

  9. #9 Jim Thomerson
    March 31, 2009

    I don’t think life should be used as a noun. It is not real, but a metaphisical concept or some such. There is only living, an adjective, as in living things.

  10. #10 BaldApe
    March 31, 2009

    Tommykey, I’m understand that, but there are plenty of people who would take such an argument seriously.

    Jim Thomerson, what part of speech would you like “life” to be? “Ghost” is a noun even though they’re not real.

    At least we finally have a president who knows that “loan” is a noun, even if the press still gets it wrong.

  11. #11 JBlilie
    April 2, 2009

    What is life? Is a prion life? Is a virus life? To my way of thinking, any self-replicating entity that uses energy external to itself to increase its complexity can be considered alive.

    In our world, any self-replicating DNA with access to living cell machinery should be considered alive. This would make viruses life (and junk DNA and “outlaw” DNA.)

    What about prions? They don’t use DNA; but they seem to replicate using protein patterns.

    I think life is most emphatically a noun. It is some thing that is not dead. It is rare and amazing and due celebration.

  12. #12 Sili
    April 5, 2009

    Aren’t you supposed to be seven feet tall?

    Are you planning on beating Bragg for youngest Nobel laureate ever?

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