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Seminar: Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 3:30 p.m.

Life's place in the universe
Dr. Steve Freeland
UMBC Department of Biology

One, relatively new interface between biology and physics occurs within astrobiology: the quest to develop a scientific understanding of life's relationship with the physical universe (i.e. its origin(s) and likely distribution.) At present we know only one example of life, and our understanding of its origin remains patchy at best.

However, science often challenges us to extrapolate from incomplete observations of the actual into reasoned inferences of what is possible. For astrobiology, this means developing our understanding of how and why we emerged on this planet. Answers require extensive interdisciplinarity: how typical is our solar system of other star-systems in the galaxy? what properties of Earth are typical or unusual for a planet? How are these properties related to life's emergence here? What can we learn about life's boundaries by examining the biodiversity we encounter today? Once life had evolved, what aspects of our 4 billion year evolutionary history were likely or even inevitable? In this talk I will approach these questions from a biologist's perspective, showing where my own research interests lie within this bigger topic. I hope to illustrate the sorts of questions that we are learning to answer (and the assumptions we still make). I will also encourage you to help me better understand what Physics can contribute to the bigger questions.

Location: Physics Bldg., Room 401