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"Life in fresh water, the sea and on land" annual Hefner Lecture by Geerat Vermeij Oct. 25

10/17/2012

Evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Geerat Vermeij, Hefner Lecturer
Evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Geerat Vermeij, Hefner Lecturer
Evolutionary biologist and paleontologist Geerat Vermeij will present "Moving Among Realms: Life in Fresh Water, the Sea and On Land" at 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, in 102 Benton Hall. His talk, suitable for the general public, is the 38th annual Hefner Lecture presented by Miami University's Robert Hefner Museum of Natural History.

Vermeij, born with glaucoma and blind since the age of three, is Distinguished Professor of Geology at the University of California, Davis. He won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1992 and in 2000 was awarded the Daniel Giraud Elliot Medal from the National Academy of Sciences.

He is perhaps best known for his work chronicling the “arms race” among long-extinct molluscs and their predators.

“By using his fingers to feel both the damage on shells as well as the girth and power of the claws and jaws that attack them, this professor at the University of California at Davis has found evidence of an ancient arms race. According to the histories recorded on these broken and mended fortresses, mollusks appear to have evolved ever more rugged armor to protect their delicate flesh just as their predators developed more vicious weaponry.” (From: The New York Times, Feb. 7, 1995 “Scientist at Work: Geerat Vermeijl Getting the Feel of a Long Ago Arms Race," by Carol Kaesuk Yoon)

Researchers describe his ability to see with his hands as "phenomenal" and say that it is what makes Vermeij's view of evolution as “convincing as it is unique.” The use of his hands and other senses has allowed him to draw connections between predator-prey interactions and their effect on morphology, ecology and evolution in ways that other scientists have not.

Vermeij’s work has focused on these ecological interactions rather than environmental factors, like climate, as the drivers of change among species.

He has served as editor of the journal Evolution and has published nearly a hundred scientific papers and numerous books, including Evolution and Escalation: An Ecological History of Life (1993); A Natural History of Shells (1993), an autobiography, Privileged Hands: A Scientific Life (1997); Nature: An Economic History (2006) and The Evolutionary World: How Adaptation Explains Everything from Seashells to Civilization (2010).

Vermeij has a world-class collection of shells, and is described as "an intrepid field naturalist and explorer of the coasts of nearly every continent."

The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow in the Hefner Museum of Natural History, 100 Upham Hall.

The Hefner Lecture is sponsored by the Robert Hefner Museum of Natural History with support from many other campus organizations.

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