[SIDE CONVERSATION] SPEAKER 1: Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. We're about to begin momentarily.
SPEAKER 2: Ladies and gentlemen, if you can please silence your mobile devices, our program is now beginning. Thank you.
LANCE COLLINS: Good morning, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good morning.
LANCE COLLINS: It's my distinct honor and privilege to welcome you to the Alice Statler auditorium, where today we have gathered to celebrate the 90th birthday and the academic career of President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes.
So let me begin by first wishing everyone a happy Frank Rhodes day. You might not have seen this on your calendar, but in 1996, then Ithaca mayor Alan Cohen signed an official proclamation naming October 29 officially the Frank H.T. Rhodes day in the city of Ithaca, New York. Now, since this falls on a Saturday this year, I want you all to officially tell your bosses and professors that you won't be in on Monday because it's a holiday weekend.
So my name is Lance Collins and I'm the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering. And it turns out the College of Engineering has been the academic home for Frank Rhodes for a number of years. Frank, as you know, is the ninth president and he's a professor emeritus of geological sciences in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. And what better way to celebrate the true scholar that Frank is but with an enlightening symposium that will examine some of the fields that Frank has had a tremendous influence-- for example, paleontology, evolution, and, of course, sustainability in the context of what it means to be a resident and a steward of our planet.
We're going to hear a lot today about Frank's academic career and contributions as a researcher. But as an academic leader, it is my privilege to say a few words and give you some of my perspective on the tremendous leadership he has brought to the university in his role as an administrator. Frank was inaugurated as Cornell's president in 1977, and by the time he retired in 1995, had become the longest-serving Ivy League president of that time.
In that time, Frank established many initiatives that continue to shape the university today. In some sense, he paved the way for Cornell's modern era of research in areas such as supercomputing, biotechnology, and nano fabrication sciences. He strengthened the university's international presence and created new research alliances with industry. Research funding more than tripled, more than tripled, over that period of time.
Frank oversaw a $1.5 billion campaign that supported financial aid, educational programs, and some of the buildings and facilities that you see across the campus. This includes the Carl A. Kroch library, and, of course, the Cornell theory center, which bears his name. Frank increased diversity among students and faculty in his time. Minority student enrollment grew from 8% at the beginning of his term to 28% at the end of his term.
The number of women and minority faculty more than doubled-- more than doubled-- over that time. And Frank strongly advocated for what I would consider to be one of Cornell's hallmark characteristics, namely the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the campus. He established places where faculty and students from different areas and disciplines could come together, including the Center for the Environment, the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research, and the Peace Studies Program.
In his book, The Creation of the Future, The Role of the American University, Frank preached the benefits of learning as a community. He warned us about what he called the lone learner, studying in isolation, vulnerable to narrowness and untested assumptions. And let me tell you, that is not Cornell. Ironically, Rhodes Hall is being renovated even as I speak with new collaborative workspaces for students and faculty to encourage and exchange ideas. We see these types of spaces, in fact, growing all over the entire campus.
And so here we are today celebrating Frank's 90th birthday. We have scholars from various Cornell departments, from Yale University, from Harvard University. We have students from all different backgrounds, staff members, and citizens of the greater Ithaca community here to celebrate Frank. So Frank, thank you for giving us a reason to come together and thank you for being such an incredible inspiration to us all. Happy birthday, Frank.
So now it's my privilege to introduce Professor Warren Allmon, who is going to give us a little more about Frank and how this entire event has come together. Warren is the director of the Paleontological Research Institution here in Ithaca and is the Hunter R. Rawlings professor of paleontology in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. He was instrumental in planning and fundraising for PRI's Museum of the Earth-- and if you haven't been there, I encourage you to go-- and help secure a formal agreement of affiliation between the PRI and Cornell University. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming to the stage professor Warren Allmon.
WARREN ALLMON: Now I'm on. Thank you very much, Dean Collins. And thank you all very much for joining us for this very special event. When discussions of this idea started a number of months ago, we were faced by two substantial challenges-- figuring out how to celebrate such an accomplished life in any reasonable amount of time and convincing Frank to let us do it. We tackled the second problem very quickly by consulting with Frank's amazing assistant, Joy Wagner, who told us after discussing it with Frank that she had finally told him they're going to do it anyway, you might as well get on board.
The first challenge was not so easily addressed. How could one possibly celebrate all of the aspects or contributions of Frank Rhodes' incredibly multifaceted career? In the end, we decided to focus on three aspects that we thought many of the people here this morning might know the least about. As Lance has so wonderfully summarized, most people here likely know Frank Rhodes for his extraordinary 18-year tenure as Cornell's ninth president.
Perhaps some of you may also know about his national leadership roles in science and education beyond Cornell, just some of which have included chair of the National Science Board, which oversees the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, member of the US president's educational policy advisory committee, and chairman of the governing boards of the American Council on Education, the Association of American Universities, and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
We finally settled on three aspects that might be less familiar to you. First, Frank Rhodes the paleontologist. As a paleontologist myself, I'm always surprised and a little thrilled that people don't know that this was Frank's first academic career. He was a widely respected expert on a group of tiny but surprisingly useful fossils known as conodonts, as well as a widely-read author of both scholarly and popular books in paleontology and historical geology. And I should mention that that was at a time when not every academic wrote such books. He was one of the first in our field.
And I'm pretty sure that Frank is one of the only people in the world with the following sentence in his official biography. Quote, "He has also edited several books and monographs, including Conodont Paleozoology and Successful Fundraising for Higher Education." Frank's latest book, Origins, just published this month, is a complete revision of his classic 1962 book, The Evolution of Life. So paleontology clearly continues to be very close to his heart.
Second, Frank the Darwin scholar. For several summers while Frank was Cornell president, he would travel to Britain to do research in the Darwin collection at the Cambridge University Library. This was not the work of a dabbler. This was not a hobby. The result of this work was a series of papers still cited today that made substantial contributions to our understanding of Charles Darwin as a geologist and evolutionary theorizer.
Third, Frank the listener to students. During his presidency, most weeks when he was in town-- I don't know how many that was, but very frequently-- Frank had a simple breakfast with any Cornell student who wanted to come by to chat. I would so love to have been a fly on the scones in those breakfasts. But I think some sense of them might be gained from the following story.
A number of years ago, my wife and I were at dinner with Frank and Rosa and two other faculty couples. And as so often happens when you get more than two college faculty together, the talk turns to the quality and behavior of our students. After a few minutes of listening to our colorful stories, Frank listened and then said, well, your stories not withstanding, you know, I had breakfast with a group of Cornell students every week for 18 years. And you know, they really are an outstanding group of young people. And that pretty much ended that discussion.
To celebrate these three areas of Frank's career, we have a three part program this morning. We've invited two leaders in the fields of invertebrate paleontology and Darwin studies to speak. And we've asked a group of four outstanding Cornell undergraduates to read and discuss one of Frank's recent books. There will be a 15 minute break between the two speakers and the student discussion.
Before we begin, I just have a number of people to thank. Today's celebration is sponsored by Cornell's department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, which, as Lance has mentioned, is Frank's home department, and also by the Paleontological Research Institution here in Ithaca and Cornell's department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I want to express special thanks to Professor Amy McCune, who is chair of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and professor Nelson Hairston, who is the Frank Rhodes Professor of Environmental Science, for their roles as co-conspirators in all of this planning.
We are very grateful for the assistance and support of Cornell's Office of Alumni Affairs and development, Christy Blake, Brenda Rodriguez, and Catherine Holmes are responsible for everything that works really well today. So let me now introduce our two speakers. We will have a Q&A period after both speakers and then we'll have a brief break.
Derek Briggs is the G. Evelyn Hutchinson Professor of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, former director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, and presently curator of invertebrate paleontology at the museum. He is one of the leading invertebrate paleontologists in the world, especially well-known for his work on the reinterpretation of the extraordinarily well-preserved 505 million year old fossils of the Burgess Shale in Canada, which subsequently became one of the most celebrated paleontological stories of the late 20th century because of the insights that it offers into the origin of animal diversity.
Derek received his undergraduate degree from Trinity College Dublin and his doctorate from the University of Cambridge, where, in a coincidence that I only learned about in planning this event, he was the student of the great British paleontologist Harry Whittington, who, exactly 25 years before, had had a graduate student named Frank Rhodes. Derek is a fellow of the Royal Society, former president of the Paleontological Society, and recipient of that society's medal, which is the highest honor in American paleontology.
Our second speaker is Janet Browne, who is the Aramont Professor in the History of Science and chair of the Department of History Science at Harvard University. She coincidentally also received her undergraduate degree, and in the same year as Derek Briggs, from Trinity College Dublin, and her PhD from Imperial College London. After working as associate editor at the University of Cambridge library project to collect, edit, and publish the correspondence of Charles Darwin-- a project that was, for many years, partnered with Cornell-- she wrote a amazing two-volume biography published in 1995 and 2002 of Charles Darwin, which has become the definitive work of this generation, in a very crowded field.
This biography was recognized with several prizes, some of which are the History of Science Societies Pfizer Prize, the James Tate Black Memorial Prize for biography from the University of Edinburgh, which is one of Britain's oldest literary prizes, and the Heinemann Prize from the Royal Literary Society. Please welcome Derek Briggs.
DEREK BRIGGS: OK, folks. I need a password to get into this. Can we do something with the lights? Splendid. So thank you, Warren, for your kind remarks. This is my first trip to Cornell. I apologize for that. I'm sure it won't be the last. And I should congratulate Warren on all he's achieved at the Paleontological Research Institute, which is really an amazing testament to his energy and insight.
So I confess, as I say good morning to Big Red and to the Rhodes family, to some apprehension standing here because my talking about Frank Rhodes' science is a bit like Janet Browne talking about Darwin with Darwin in the audience.
I first met Frank, metaphorically speaking, as an undergraduate. This was my sort of handy guide to the fossil record, which as you can see, he authored back in the 1960s. So I feel I've known him for a long time, even though I only met him for the first time last evening. And as Warren said, we shared a supervisor. This is Harry Whittington, who supervised Frank. He started Frank's PhD while Harry was at Birmingham, and then disappeared to Harvard a year afterward. In a sense, he was a role model in many ways because he was a trans-Atlantic paleontologist, very much in the way that it turned out Frank would be.
So here is the volume dedicated to Whittington on his retirement in 1983, which, of course, lists some of his research students-- I think all of his research students. This was Sir James Stubblefield who wrote the piece, being particularly cautious in case he left somebody out. But you can see Frank was Harry's sole Birmingham research student. And you'll see here that Sir James wrote that before leaving Birmingham, Harry had inspired his research student to dissolve samples of a Welsh lower paleozoic limestone in search of conodonts.
Well, conodonts, as we'll see, are tiny micro fossils. And they were well-known in the United States at this stage, but really rather poorly known in Britain. Harry knew very little, if anything, about them. And Frank, as he confessed to me last night, had never heard of them. So this was in the sense the equivalent of giving what would turn out, if he were a less able student, a sort of hospital pass, in academic terms, in as much as this was an extraordinarily difficult thing to tackle with no background in your advisor and no background in your student. This is rather alarming.
OK, I can see them here. So if you'd all like to come down here and stand in--
There's a man somewhere. Can he come and help? It's good news it hasn't happened to you, Janet. Maybe he's gone for coffee. Any ideas? Oh, he's working on it up there. Oh, that's nice to know. This never happened when Janet and I were undergraduates at Trinity College Dublin because they used carousels of slides in those days.
Mischief suggests I should say it never happens at Yale, but believe me, it does.
Somebody more able than I could continue this without the slides, but believe me, it's rather visual, so I don't think it would work terribly well.
You can see anything you like. Come and join me.
AUDIENCE: I'm just from the audience.
DEREK BRIGGS: You think I've done something weird?
AUDIENCE: There's a blackout button.
DEREK BRIGGS: No, because I can see them here.
AUDIENCE: This projector-- there's usually a--
DEREK BRIGGS: Right.
AUDIENCE: Oh well. No luck.
DEREK BRIGGS: Thank you.
DEREK BRIGGS: The good news, folks, is I can't see anything here anymore now.
AUDIENCE: We'll talk about our days--
DEREK BRIGGS: So if I give you an update from the flight deck, apparently we're rebooting the projector.
So now, unfortunately, I have to demonstrate that this was worth waiting for.
We'll do our best. So our conodonts, as Warren briefly said, are these tiny micro fossils. They're mostly less than a couple of millimeters, many of them very much smaller, that come out of limestones when you dissolve them in acid. So most of you are sitting there thinking, why on earth would you bother? And the answer is very straightforward. When Frank started working on these things, they were extraordinarily useful-- and, indeed, still are-- for working out the relative ages of paleozoic rocks. So if you wanted to find out where you where in the geological column, this was one go-to group.
And as far as most conodont-ologists in those days were concerned, these were just like nuts and bolts or nails. You didn't need to know what they were biologically as long as you could apply them to working out where you where in the stratigraphy of your sequence. So Frank's early paper included masses of these things, illustrated here, in a paper published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. And each of these little objects acquired a taxonomy. It was given a species name and people classified them in terms of genera and species as individual objects. And there were, perhaps, 4,000 of these species of conodont.
There are a variety of different types. I'm not going to bore you with the details. But suffice to say, there are conical shaped ones. There are ones that shape rather like combs, in a way. There are little ones that look like blades. There are examples that look like flattened platforms. But all of them are characterized with structures that look as if they might have been used for grinding or common using food. So it would be reasonable to think of them as something akin to teeth.
So in the 1930s, two scientists, a man called Hermann Schmidt in Germany and Harold Scott here in Illinois, published examples of these conodonts where you didn't get simply isolated specimens that you dissolved out of the rock, but you got groups of them on bedding planes. So this was a more time-honored method of collecting fossils. You would split the rock and see what you revealed.
And it became clear that a number of examples of these individual so-called species happened to be gathered together in a way that suggested they might belong to a single animal. So that presented a little bit of a problem because you might have several species in a single individual. This was Schmidt's reconstruction. And the examples recovered by Harold Scott in Montana, as it so happens, look rather similar, but were slightly less well-organized, to the extent that people really-- indeed, like Scott himself-- couldn't quite make out what was going on here.
So when Frank moved from Birmingham to Illinois as a postdoc-- and I should say, in spite of the fact that he was given this very difficult project, he managed to do a PhD in about two years, which is pretty impressive by any measure-- he got straight into these objects. So this is a quotation by a very nice book which I can recommend to anybody who wants to learn more about Frank's conodontology, Simon Knell, who devoted a whole book to the great fossil enigma.
And you can see here he describes Frank as a precocious young postdoctoral student who was skeptical of conodont assemblages-- in other words, these groups of these fossils-- but was a great evangelist for them when he moved to the United States. And as you can see here, in the early 1950s, Rhodes published a flurry of papers reviewing many aspects of conodonts. While most paleontologists only made excursions into conodonts, Rhodes was the first high-flying paleontologist to give them focused attention.
So here are some of these assemblages from subsequently discovered examples. And you can see they have a certain order and arrangement, which made Frank wonder, were they, perhaps, assemblages from a single organism, some kind of feeding apparatus? So here's his paper, his classic paper on conodont assemblages, published in 1952. And you can see he's into this business with a number of very nice examples. And he published reconstructions of several of these in the same paper.
And here he gives them new names. Now, you might not think that particularly significant. But you can see here, new genus, new species, new genus, new species. And he was throwing out all this earlier taxonomy based on individual elements and recognizing that when you group them together, they make some biological sense as the feeding apparatus of an organism. You can get this kind of information out in various ways.
Sometimes when you dissolve limestones, the individual conodont elements don't just scatter, but they remain fused together, as if they were part of an original organism. And here you see a couple of examples. And here's one published by Frank with one of his students, which shows a fused cluster from the Avon gorge near Bristol, which represents several different kinds of conodonts-- or by then we might call them conodont elements-- forming some kind of jaw apparatus in a creature.
And nowadays we recognize that there are several different types in the same individual. And we give them an annotation somewhat like this. So this is the sort of code that conodontologists use to designate these different elements. The origin of conodonts was a major puzzle. So in 1981, the German paleontologist Klaus Muller wrote that the origin of conodonts is considered by many paleontologists to be one of the most fundamental unanswered questions in systematic paleontology.
And here you see the problem. All the boxes represent places they've been put by different authors, from vertebrates up here through the whole range of different invertebrate groups, including mollusks, for example, and other sorts of less familiar organisms. And even, in some cases, people argued they might be the remains of plants. So this was clearly a puzzle.
Steve Gould, not a man who was short for an eloquent phrase, decided he would borrow from Churchill's description of the Russians in describing conodonts as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. One of our conodont workers, Walt Sweet, was rather more prosaic. He said, "those fascinating little whatzits."
So here's one early attempt to make sense of the animal. This was Moritz Lindstrom in Scandinavia-- or Germany, I should say. And it's unfair to lampoon him at this stage. But I can't resist it. It looks like a toilet roll with some sort of spiky arrangement on the outside. It just illustrates how problematic this was in terms of knowing what goes on. Harold Scott, with whom Frank worked in Illinois, discovered this extraordinary animal in the Burgess-- in the Bear Gulch Limestone, I beg your pardon-- with his colleague Melton. And this turned out to have conodonts in a soft-bodied animal.
And here you see it here in a later drawing. And he announced this as the conodont Alamo at a famous conference in 1969 in Chicago. Frank actually edited the volume in which this paper was published. And he wasn't quite convinced. But he's a very gentle individual and he very subtly alluded to this in his preface to the volume. And you can see all he's prepared to say is, "provides a major clue to the nature of the elusive conodont animal."
And it turns out, as my peer Simon Conway Morris showed in 1990, that this animal from Bear Gulch isn't the conodont animal. The conodont elements, in this case, are in its stomach. And it had eaten the conodont animal. So the hunt went on. Simon himself published an animal from the Burgess Shale called Odontogriphus, which has a strange arrangement in the jaw area, which has little Kong-shaped objects that he thought looked like conodonts. But it's become clear based on more recent specimens that this is actually the jaw of some kind of mollusk. So neither is this the conodont animal.
So I was fortunate enough to be involved in the early 1980s in the discovery of the first soft tissue remains of the conodont animal. And you see one of the specimens here. We found it in a museum collection in the collections of the Geological Survey of Great Britain in Edinburgh where it had languished since the 1920s. And it's a wonderful example of the utility of museum collections, why we hold onto material against the possibility that we'll have new ideas in the future. So here you see the anterior end of this thing, the head end. And lo and behold, it has conodont elements in it.
And we also had the counterpart, so when you split this specimen, part of it's on one side of the rock, part's on the other. Here's the counterpart. And we were able to put this together to give some indication of what the arrangement of conodont elements would look like. We named this thing [INAUDIBLE]. It came from the carboniferous near Edinburgh. And of course, we have another link here because it turns out that Frank had actually described the original elements with two of his students. So in a sense, he'd already made his acquaintance with the animal that turned out to reveal what this thing actually looks like.
Here's the counterpart. And here's the tail, so you can see that it has little fin rays in it. And this is how we compared our apparatus in the front end of our soft bodied animal with Frank's reconstructions from his early 1950 paper. The problem was, his reconstruction just happened to be the other way around. So we had this element at the back and he has it at the front. And we only had one specimen.
So some of the conodont workers who really weren't very happy with us barging in on their territory said, well, hey, how do you know this isn't, again, something that's eaten a conodont? The arrangement of the elements is the wrong way around. So if you've stuffed the head first into something's mouth, that would resolve the problem. And this happens. Here's a very nice specimen from the Green River Shale which shows just this kind of thing, one fish that has died, unhappily, during lunch.
And that led people to speculate whether it could be one of two different groups of organisms, whether it might be some kind of fish-like vertebrate, or whether it might be a member of this group, the arrow worms, or chaetognaths, which also have hook-like structures in the head. And the problem with having a single specimen is you can't be sure whether it's preserved on the rock dorso-ventrally-- top down, if you like, as it would have to be to be a chaetognath, or laterally as it would have to be to be a conodont. Here's a chaetognath head, just to show you the arrangement of grasping spines so you have a sense of what I'm talking about.
So as long as we had just one animal, we had problems. But of course, Frank was ahead of us again because our conclusion that this might be a swimming worm or a vertebrate echoed precisely what he'd said in 1954, 30 years earlier. You can see here. "The present state of knowledge does not justify a final conclusion. They appear to represent an extinct group of either worm-like creatures or primitive vertebrates." So again, he was way ahead of the game. We eventually found more specimens at the locality in Edinburgh and they had some puzzling attributes in that conodonts, for some reason, were always just outside the head region.
Here you see them here, the elements-- this is the head itself here. And there were some structures that we couldn't interpret in the trunk. Here is a couple of linear features. These represent the gut. Or they might be some kind of stiffening rod or notochord, which would, of course, indicate that these might be some kind of vertebrate. And what about these v-shaped structures? Are they scales on the surface of something, or do they represent muscles? And here are those two lines just to illustrate this point for you.
So as one of my postdocs years ago, I did some decay experiments on about the nearest thing to a living conodont, which is a little animal which sort of sits on the transition between invertebrates and vertebrates. It's called Branchiostoma or amphioxus, and it lives in shell gravels in shallow water around the world. And this is what it looks like. It has the seri for feeding and it has very nice muscle blocks, you can see here, just like a piece of salmon on a plate.
But of course, fossils degrade or decay a little bit, even when they're spectacularly preserved. And we did some simple decay experiments. And we were able to show that the muscles shrink into little v-shaped structures, just like the ones we see on the fossil. And when those are distorted in some way, they produce some of the features we see. And in addition, the notochord is clearly preserved-- you can see it here-- whereas the gut does not survive.
So with our decay experiments, we were able to illuminate the nature of the soft part of this animal and reconstruct it this way. This particular version looks, I always think, as if it's been living in an aquarium and has accidentally swum very strongly into the side of the tank. Here are later reconstructions which probably show the animal more accurately. And you can see the teeth in the anterior end and the eyes here, these large structures at the front.
There were still puzzles in interpreting these bedding plane assemblages. Here's the animal and here are the elements of one kind. So our hunch is that these are some kind of grasping apparatus for holding onto prey. And these ones back here are for processing it as it moves down the gut. Colleagues found large, spectacular examples in South Africa. Ironically, these were first interpreted, again, as plants, extraordinary though it may seem.
And they were able to build models of some of the specimens, which show how these things might look in three dimensions. And then if you take pictures of these models in different orientations, you can replicate the configuration on the surface of the rock. So this effectively shows you how you might get different looking assemblages based on different orientations as the specimen settles to the sediment surface.
Here's one from its dorsal view, just showing the apparatus and its model. So people are now reasonably convinced that the conodonts biologically have this kind of apparatus for feeding on and sit right at the base. This is the stem versus the crown. And these are, in a sense, the vertebrates. So if we continued this diagram, we would end up somewhere up here. So it turns out that all those years ago, Frank was working on his own ancestors, even though he didn't realize it at the time.
And here's a reconstruction from Simon Knell's book which shows you how we might interpret the animal at the present time. So conodonts persist through most of the paleozoic. And when Frank started working on them, they weren't known from younger rocks. We now know they persist into the Triassic, into the beginning of the Mesozoic. And I could talk about various other aspects of Frank's paleontological work, but time does not permit.
But another thing he touched in a very important way was this major extinction at the end of the Permian, what defines the end of the paleozoic era. And several books have been written about this end Permian extinction. And this expresses it very nicely. This is my former Bristol colleague, Michael Benton, who wrote a book called When Life Nearly Died. And the End Permian was one of these intervals when virtually everything went extinct-- clearly not everything, because we wouldn't be here if they all had.
And you can see that Mike writes in 2003 that in 1967 Frank Rhodes gave the best explanation of the End Permian event. This was one of the first attempts to really look at it seriously where he says it's been caused by the multiple interactions of a wide variety of physical and biological factors. Now, you might say that's a kind of copout because it covers a multiple of possible causes. But as we'll see, as ever, he was absolutely on the money.
In those days, our knowledge of the Permian extinction was somewhat diffuse. More recently, very detailed work on geological sections around the world have tied it down to a very precise age of 251 million years ago. And there are type sections around the world, including this one in China, which has a volcanic horizon just about where the boundary is and allows it to be dated very precisely. And we can show that animals disappear coming to the boundary. And then new forms reappear in the Triassic above it. So this was, indeed, a very major event, the most serious one in the history of life.
Ironically, it's dated on the basis of conodonts. So this is the conodont that appears at the base of the Triassic. I can't attribute this to Frank, much as I would like to. But he was working on the same kinds of problems way back in the 1950s. Here are those Siberian flood basalts which coincide almost exactly in time and have been largely attributed now as the major cause of the Permian extinction. But if you look at the sort of diagrams that people put up to explain this extinction, you'll see that Frank was precisely right-- multiple causes.
So eruptions of the Siberian Traps may have been the proximal cause. But then you have a whole variety of different processes that contribute to major extinctions, both terrestrially, on land, and also in the seas of the world. So to close I might say, perhaps a little flippantly, that if I go back to my own moderatorship examination-- and Janet will identify with this because she, too, was an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin-- in 1972, one of the questions, as you can perhaps see, is comment on the evolution of the conodont-bearing animal.
So in 1972, as a final year undergraduate, you'll notice that I've crossed out four other questions. So quite clearly I did not attempt this one. Ironically, perhaps, nowadays, thanks to Frank's work and some of the serendipitous discoveries that I made subsequently, we'd be better equipped to address this particular problem. And finally, I almost forgot.
So now it's my great pleasure to vacate the stage for Janet. No, I'm not-- absolutely trying not to jinx you. I was trying to get it to present to view-- yeah. So--
JANET BROWNE: Thank you.
DEREK BRIGGS: I can't see the next slide. I can only see the--
Maybe that-- no--
JANET BROWNE: No. There isn't a presenter view.
DEREK BRIGGS: I don't know what it's doing.
JANET BROWNE: I don't know what it's doing.
DEREK BRIGGS: So I had to do it by memory.
JANET BROWNE: Oh my.
DEREK BRIGGS: Can you manage.
JANET BROWNE: No. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. It's a wonderful pleasure to be here and a thrill for me to be able to honor Frank, and also to, of course, include Rosa in these celebrations. So it's just a real pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Frank's done a great deal for the history of science as well as in science itself, and particularly for Darwin scholarship, which I'll be talking about today. He himself has contributed to the historical understanding of Darwin. And I will be mentioning that in a moment. But he has also had a tremendous role behind the scenes, as we've already heard. This is one preferred way of Frank's workings. Behind the scenes he's been enormously helpful in helping to support historical scholarship in the general scheme of things, but also particularly to help support and foster the work that is going on in Cambridge in England to publish the whole of Charles Darwin's correspondence, both the letters in and out from Darwin, an enormous project that began in 1974.
The first published products of that came out in 1985. The correspondence has been published annually ever since, and in big, substantial scholarly volumes, and is also now on the web. And this could not have got off the ground without Frank's support for the initiating editor called Frederick Burkhardt. So I'm here actually from Harvard, but also, as it were, from Cambridge, England, where I used to live and work. And I'm particularly bringing greetings and congratulations from Frank's friends on the Darwin correspondence project. So--
So here is Darwin, as an older person. And we have had through the last 20 years, and in fact, through the publication of the correspondence of Darwin, which hasn't really been brought to the public in quite such a complete way previously. We've had over the last 20 years a very remarkable opportunity to reassess Darwin's contributions to science and to think about why we might want to call that moment a Darwinian revolution.
Now, we perhaps do always feel that there's a well known aspect to the Darwinian revolution, that Darwin was one of the earliest-- not the first, but one of the earliest-- to propose that humans certainly evolved from apes. He had, of course, a much larger scheme. But the elements that are most widely circulated are these thoughts that we have ape ancestry. And there's many other aspects to Darwin's life and work that I'm going to dwell on today.
I think one of the things that thinking about the origins of humans as part of the controversy that still exists over Darwin's proposals, to concentrate on the human elements of his work perhaps undermine some of the very amazing other scientific work that he put forward, much of which is expressed in his Origin of Species. I want to today bring two lines of thought to you. I want to address-- both of which Frank has had some impact on-- I want to address the way that the last 20 years we have been able to reassess the role of hands-on practical experimental science in Darwin's achievement.
Of course, he was an amazing thinker. But his real naturalistic engagement with the world is the powerhouse on which he based his ideas. We've also been able to reassess Darwin's engagement with science through the scientific societies of his day, his friendships with scientists, the development of his views with extensive empirical support that he derived from other scientists, either by observation, experiment, his library research, and active participation and correspondence with his colleagues.
And the second line of thought that I wish to bring to you is the new Darwin that emerges from his correspondence. So I want to begin by taking you back-- here is Darwin as an individual at the same age when his Origin of Species was published. I want to take you back just a moment to think about the Beagle voyage in which Frank had much to contribute on Darwin's geological thinking. We tend not to think of this as a voyage which engaged Darwin geologically. Here is his captain, Captain FitzRoy. Here is the ship on which they sailed for five years around the world, principally surveying in the southern waters of Latin America, South America, Argentina, Chile, and on through Peru and across the Pacific Ocean.
Darwin himself, there's hardly any known images of Darwin on the Beagle voyage. This is one that came up very recently in the auction rooms in Sotheby's in New York just earlier in the year that shows Darwin-- or, as we think, purports to show Darwin-- as the gentleman in the middle with the top hat in the morning dress. It seems rather incongruous. But the artist, perhaps, in making a caricature of this scene, wished to emphasize Darwin's civilian status on the ship. And here are some of the sailors and young officers on the Beagle voyage bringing Darwin specimens, some of which are geological, you can see down at the bottom there, some of which are botanical, and many of which are also zoological.
Darwin traveled very extensively through the southern hemisphere. And this simply lovely illustration, this watercolor by Conrad Martens, gives you a sense of the magnificence of the scenery and the potential for geological fieldwork that he must have felt, because much of Darwin's life on the Beagle voyage-- as Frank and others have made clear-- rested on the examination of the natural history, the geology, and his opportunity to geologize and collect all kinds of specimens of earth and life sciences as he both came in and out from the Beagle voyage to ports of call or took longer expeditions inland.
Some of these thoughts were recorded in his notebooks. Here we have a few. There are many, many more. But you might like to think of these being tucked into Darwin's pocket as he went out for a four-day excursion with a couple of guides and writing his notes as he went along. We've learned a great deal over the years about what Darwin's thoughts might have been on this voyage. He took with him Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, a book that was only just published when his ship sailed. In fact, the second volume and the third volume were sent out to him as he was traveling the globe.
The first volume he had. A second volume was sent to him in Montevideo. It was eye opening experience. And we have a wonderful paper by Frank published in 1991 that talks very much about the impact of Charles Lyell. This volume-- Darwin didn't know Lyell. He learned about Lyell through his printed words. Frank tells us how strong that impact was, not just in taking from Lyell examples of paleontology and stratigraphy and how to think about such things, but in giving Darwin a method. And it's that method of uniformitarianism or the sense that everything in geology can only be understood by using what we know about today's geology to apply today's geological processes and time frame into the past.
And Darwin took this from Lyell in a way that perhaps not even Lyell had quite understood. It could be applied to everything. It's the foundation of Darwin's work in South America, and during the Beagle voyage, and through his intellectual life thereafter. So Darwin thought of himself as a geologist. On the Beagle voyage, he considered himself to be a geologist.
This is his geological map. There are a number of them in the Cambridge University Library. You'll see it's a printed map that Darwin has colored with wash himself to indicate the rocks and strata that he was finding. The large blue swathes for him represented very modern sedimentary strata. And up along the left, when this was done, he hadn't yet gone further on up through Chile.
His sense of things, that South America was a geological structure of fairly recent origin and that the eastern coastline, the east all through the Pampas and Argentina, had risen up out of the seabed. And Frank's interesting work on Darwin's thoughts about the origin of the Andes, the Cordillera chain along the Western side of South America, explains the message behind this map is that Darwin felt that the mountain ranges on the west had risen up by up thrust from below, very incremental, gradualistic up thrusts from below, interspersed by a volcano or two and an earthquake or two, and that the rest of the landmass tilted to rise up at the same time.
So it's a very, very unusual scheme for the time that it was published. In fact, so unusual that Darwin was only 13, 14, or 15 years after the very first map in which colored strata were painted onto a topographical map. Geologists were only just working out what this could be doing for them intellectually at the time that Darwin was out on the Beagle voyage. Here is one of Darwin's old manuscript colored cross sections. It's not actually from the Andes, but I thought you'd like to see one enlarged to see how a naturalist in the 1830s was writing across land masses, landforms, and mapping them as he went.
And here is a published version. And this is where I wish to pause and say a word or two about Frank's analysis of the geology of South America. Frank wrote a very important paper in 1991 in which he showed exactly how Darwin came to think about the Andes and how unusual Darwin was in suggesting that the mountain building processes were linked, intrinsically linked, to the volcanoes and the earthquakes and the elevation of the land and the elevation of the coastlines that were recorded at the time. Darwin himself experienced an earthquake and saw a volcano and measured the elevation of the land after the earthquake that he had experienced.
Frank mentions these. He is always very good at bringing in the manuscript and the letter, correspondence basis for Darwin's views. But his article expanded very much on the depth of insight that Darwin was bringing to this geological field site and the unusual and innovative nature that he was suggesting here. So I did want to acknowledge that, not only in paleontology, but also in history of science, our colleague Frank Rhodes has had quite a substantial place. Thank you.
I want to turn briefly now to the moments after Darwin returned from the Beagle voyage. Of course, we all remember that this was the time in which he began thinking about evolutionary theory. Geology has very rarely got a place in those assessments of how Darwin came to think about evolutionary theory. It was mostly Darwin's thoughts about ornithology that tipped him over the brink.
But I want to suggest to you that the methodology that he derived from Charles Lyell and which Frank explored so magnificently in his 1991 paper, the idea that many things are all interconnected but also that many small things adding up over a very large period of time can make extremely substantial changes. It's the essence of Darwin's principle of evolution by natural selection.
So when he came back from the Beagle voyage, he married. And here is a picture of himself and his wife, very early in their marriage. It's actually their marriage portraits. He married and began to think about evolutionary theory. Here's a very well-known image of his first evolutionary thoughts as they might relate to organic species, not geological phenomena here.
The point I'm hoping to make about this movement of Darwin's back to Britain, the excitement of the travel had-- he never traveled again after that point. But the excitement of the travel continued, as it were, in the excitement of making sense of his travels and putting it all together into the new evolutionary scheme that he had come up with in those early years of his marriage. How did he go about this? We know that he wrote a great deal about evolutionary theory, both in those notebooks that we saw and in manuscript form.
But particularly, what we've been finding over a number of decades now is that Darwin used his correspondence in order to gather the information he needed in order to test his ideas with very trusted colleagues. And as time went by, in order to think about how he might write up his ideas, how he might publish them, and what kind of a response he might be anticipating. Here we just have a little visual reminder that letters were a very prominent part of the Victorian way of life.
To think about his correspondence reveals a new kind of Darwin-- always in touch, even though he lived in a very beautiful house in the rural England, he was always in touch through his correspondence. Here is Darwin's study in the center of that house, from which he wrote his letters. It's like it is the cabin on the Beagle. It was his space in the home from which he contacted individuals. We're very lucky that he did this through correspondence and that so much correspondence has survived.
In preparation for publishing On the Origin of Species, he certainly wrote his geological books. And we've already seen an image from one of those geological books, Geological Observations on South America. He also turned to thinking very deeply about experimenting in his own home. We might almost say that his home became a laboratory for him. And certainly, he worked on thinking about the breeds of pigeons. He crossbred a number of established modern breeds in order to try and break the modern breed so that he could get back to some aboriginal kind, which he thought he had managed to do.
He bred pigeons. He worked for many years on barnacles. I wouldn't wish to draw a parallel between the barnacles and the conodonts. But really, there's something about working with these small things systematically over a long period of time and over the living and the fossil forms that gave Darwin a tremendous access into understanding variation and persistence of variations in time. He worked on barnacles. He worked a great deal on plants.
And he also, of course, was a social person. And I've put this in because I wish very much to just allude to the private lives of scientists and prominent figures. Here we have Darwin. It's perhaps a document that several of you know. I daresay Frank knows it pretty well. It's Darwin working out whether he wished to get married or not. And like a scientist, he assessed the advantages and the disadvantages. And on the left, we have the disadvantages. I'm sorry, on the right we have the disadvantages and on the left we have advantages.
And you'll find his writings pretty tricky, something that Frank managed to get over through his visits to Cambridge in England. I remember we used to have lots of tea breaks where we would discuss what is this word, not necessarily on this document. This document is actually not too bad to read. There are a number of things that were disadvantages to getting married that Darwin felt in middle years, early years of the 19th century.
He felt that he would lose a great deal of time, that he would not be able to go out to the academic clubs that he used to go to. He would miss the conversation of clever men. He wouldn't have very much money to buy the books that he wanted. Perhaps his wife would not like London. There's one item in that left hand side where he says that he would also have to bend in every trifle and perhaps have to visit relatives.
The advantages of marriage became, on the left-hand side he did write very warmly about the advantages of marriage, in which, of course, there was books. And down here at the bottom, think of the advantages of a nice, soft wife on a sofa with good food, books, perhaps a little music. Compare this with the dingy reality of his life in great Marlborough street in central London. And right at the bottom, he does say, marry, marry, marry. QED.
But I want to draw your attention to one remark right at the top. It's interlineated in between the main lines of writing. There's an insertion. He's been talking about being loved and cared for, the advantages of having a companion go with one through to old age. And then he undercuts that by putting the interlineation says, better than a dog anyhow.
It gives us terrific insight, doesn't it, to the mind-- it's just a wonderful document into the mind of a great thinker like Darwin that they're also personal people. It's something like this that attracts scholars to Darwin. I daresay it's something that's going to continue to attract scholars to Darwin. The archive is so large and it covers so many different aspects of his life that one feels a particular intimacy with this man as a historical figure.
He had children, of course. Here is a small example. These are poor photographs because they were daguerreotypes, which don't reproduce very well. Here's Darwin on the left with his oldest son. And here is Emma Darwin with one of the younger boys. Some of his work spilled over into his own personal life. So that we know he treated his garden as a laboratory, but here we have evidence that his own home was like a lab, as well.
And he observed his children. These are not his own children on the left. These are photographs because they captured the expression he wanted. But he certainly observed his own children and compared them with apes, in order to show that the emotions are much the same, the expressions are much the same. Humans are much the same as apes. We're just differentiated by degree, not by kind.
And through the later years of his life, the other things that we're coming to find much more thoroughly exposed to us through thinking about the archive of the letters, the correspondence at Cambridge, gives us greater purchase on the different levels of the controversies that surrounded Darwin after he published On the Origin of Species. Of course, there was a great deal of controversy about the ape issues, this being one of them. There were very many cartoons and caricatures that suggest somehow that within certain circles, at least, the question of ape ancestry was a matter for humor as well as for anxiety.
We have a wide spectrum of responses that emerge through the archival record that modifies to some degree the sense that there was a complete crisis of faith and absolute horrified response to Darwin. Some people-- obviously these were meant to be amusing-- but some people could see the ape ancestry as a matter of public dissemination and education, I would think we could say.
And here is Darwin again in his old age. And I wanted to bring this full circle by saying that Darwin's last published work was on earthworms, a return to his early interests, again, that were generated by having read a geological book. Charles Lyell had not discussed earthworms, but he had given Darwin the intellectual interest in tracing through the repeated small movements in the geological record that would lead to large effects, such as the earthquakes in the cordillera were linked to much smaller incremental up thrusts of molten rock over many, many periods of time. The very small, if added incrementally, could lead to very large effects.
And Darwin wished to show this in relation to earthworms at the end of his life, that worms bring up earth to the top of the surface. And, in fact, the Earth, the first 10 feet of the whole of the Earth's surface is being recycled by earthworms-- a very wonderful book that's hardly ever read nowadays. But it was developed from his geological work on the Beagle. Little and often, I think perhaps we might say.
And I'd like to end with a recognition of that, that very few scholars in the 1980s and the 1990s recognized the impact of that mantra of little and often to Darwin's work. I believe Frank did it. I believe we're much more aware of that now from Frank's work on the geology. He, as a Darwinian scholar, has been exemplary in integrating manuscript research with the written works, with the fieldwork, with Darwin's biographical recollections, and by bringing his own deep practical insight into the actual scientific questions that Darwin tried to answer. So I want to say bravo, Frank, and many congratulations.
WARREN ALLMON: So now's the time when we-- can we bring up the lights? Now's the time when we can have some Q & A with both of our speakers. So if anybody has any questions, we've got some microphones to move around the room. Let's go for it.
JANET BROWNE: Do we want to sit in these chairs?
WARREN ALLMON: Yes. Why don't you come sit in comfy chairs and then-- because they didn't say anything interesting, right?
AUDIENCE: My question is on conodonts.
DEREK BRIGGS: Oh my.
AUDIENCE: As a practitioner in the oil and gas business, conodonts were one of the means by which we determine thermal history. And I really don't know anything about conodonts per se. I learned about 10 times more than I ever knew at this lecture, so thank you for that. But I'd like you to maybe offer some comments on the understanding of conodonts as thermal indicators.
DEREK BRIGGS: So this is something I didn't talk about. Conodonts inevitably, like any sort of organic remains, contain small quantities of organic matter. And as that organic matter is heated over time by being buried to greater depths in the rock column, it matures. So they start off with a very light pale amber color. And as they're more and more metamorphosed, as geologists would say, they become progressively blacker. And eventually, in very severely metamorphosed terrains, the organics are driven out of the element entirely. And they become white.
And as you properly say, this thermal maturation series has been tied very closely, both experimentally and on observations in specific rocks, to maturation, and therefore to the likelihood of finding oil and/or gas in terms of the oil or gas windows in the specific rocks. So you're quite right. Not only do they allow you to work out the age of your paleozoic sequence, but also its thermal history, and in some indirect way, the likelihood that you might find oil or gas there.
AUDIENCE: I have a question for Dr. Browne with regard to Darwin. It took an extraordinarily long time for Darwin-- between Darwin's initial observations and the time that he published. I'm wondering if you'd comment on the intellectual processes that seemed to be going on in Darwin's mind over, I believe, it was 20 years that took him to organize and publish his data.
JANET BROWNE: I'm sorry. I'm having trouble hearing.
AUDIENCE: I was commenting on the length of time that it took for Darwin to publish.
JANET BROWNE: Sure, yes.
AUDIENCE: The length of time between his initial observations and its final publication. And I wondered if you'd comment on what was going-- what was in his mind, what happened to these ideas as they percolated through the years.
JANET BROWNE: Thank you. So our friend has hit upon-- put his finger on what is both a hot topic in Darwin studies. We like to discuss this over beers. But it's also a very interesting aspect of Darwin's life was that he first thought of evolutionary theory very soon after he arrived back from the Beagle voyage, possibly even in the last months of the Beagle voyage, and explored those ideas very intensively for two or three years before he found a mechanism that he thought might actually make this a real scientific theory.
And at that point-- that was 1837, 1838-- he began to think about it very carefully and wrote up two essays on evolutionary theory, as we now know it, in 1842 and 1844. The question being, my colleague asks, so that's not 1859. There's a 13-year gap. What was Darwin doing? Was he anxious? Was he doing more work? Was he worrying about undermining the religious principles of the day?
And I think we can confidently say it was all of those things, that it's not just one factor. Whether we even call this a delay is an interesting historical question. But you're absolutely right. A number of scholars have suggested that the death of Darwin's daughter in 1851 was a severe pushback for him that he felt he could not carry on for a while. He began working on barnacles. That took him eight years when he had expected three months.
So he was busy. But these may well have been delaying factors.
AUDIENCE: I guess I have one follow through that's very contemporary. How was he supported in this period? Contemporary scientists had to publish or perish. How did he manage to get along all those years?
JANET BROWNE: Ah, you saw that lovely house, didn't you? Yes. He had private income from his father. And his own grandfather and his own mother belonged to the Wedgwood family, which was a very prosperous China manufacturing company, gained most of its wealth in the British Industrial Revolution, but by then had become landowners and members of parliament and were rather wealthy individuals. So it's from both his father's medical practice and from his Wedgwood inheritance. He had no job. He had no need to have a job.
AUDIENCE: This is for Dr. Browne. You mentioned that the reception of his publication was somewhat mixed. Do you have any sense of what Darwin's personal reaction was to some of those cartoons and so forth that came out in Punch magazine and others at that time?
JANET BROWNE: Yes, we do. Thank you for that question. Darwin's response to the caricatures that included him was to collect them so his family and his friend, to him, are all-- they would ask him, have you seen yourself in The Hornet, for instance? And so most of all knowledge about them, or my knowledge about them, comes from his own collection that is still held in Cambridge University Library in England.
Of course, you can go much more widely than that. What are they telling us about science in the late Victorian period? They're showing us that science was probably more widely distributed in the public mind than it is today, even, that these were really-- the journals in which the caricatures were being published were for the public, for the middle class public. Perhaps it's not even like the New Yorker. I can't think of a parallel. But were very widely distributed and, I believe, help the British public to accept evolutionary theory as something that they need to address. They don't have to believe it, but there it is in front of them in the public press that is something that is happening in science that they need to address.
AUDIENCE: Also for Dr. Browne, sorry.
JANET BROWNE: We can do conodonts in the public press.
DEREK BRIGGS: That will take a long time.
AUDIENCE: Was the epistolary exchange of information that was so important for Darwin characteristic of scientific investigation more broadly? Did he pursue it more aggressively than other scientists of his period or other students of natural history or natural philosophy? Or is it something that, as I say, characterized all scientific investigation of the era?
JANET BROWNE: Thank you. What an interesting question, and I think absolutely yes, that other scientists also used this medium of exchange. We can also see, if we follow through the work, let's say, of John Tyndall, the physicist, that he was-- Darwin, too-- was trying out ideas before you go public with them. So some of the letters are almost like pre-prints, pre-publications.
And because we're now so engaged with emails, we can actually look back and see the value of this constant interchange. Except they do it by paper and ink. And there's been a long period in between when I believe people didn't communicate quite so well. But certainly today, we can understand Darwin's zest for keeping in touch because we're all doing it every day ourselves.
AUDIENCE: And if I might just, a brief follow-up, was the circulation of such ideas therefore maintained as file copies, preliminary research papers? Or were such things routinely committed to the fireplace?
JANET BROWNE: Unfortunately, some of the things we'd really like to have probably were committed to the fireplace. In Darwin's case, there's more than 16,000 items that have been retained. And Darwin cut them up, tore them apart to keep the bits that he needed. So some of the historical work that goes on is actually trying to match this bit with that bit or finding a date by looking at the published works. And Darwin himself had spikes-- remember the old sort of editorial spikes of which people put things-- so he could pull his embryology spike towards him when he wanted to write on that aspect. So--
AUDIENCE: Yes, thank you.
JANET BROWNE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: So my question is not on Darwin.
JANET BROWNE: It's not on Dar-- oh, it's you.
AUDIENCE: It's not exactly on conodonts, but related to that. So you talked about what happened at the end of the Permian period and it caused a near fatal extinction. Do you see parallels from that near fatal extinction to some of the things going on with climate today?
DEREK BRIGGS: Yes, the glib answer is absolutely. I think we-- I mean, the Permian extinction is a rather complicated event, as I briefly illustrated, in that its proximal cause, which were these major volcanic eruptions in Siberia, led to all sorts of knock on effects in terms of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, for example, which created global warming. But I think the wider message here is that we can actually learn quite valuable lessons from the fossil record, not necessarily from that specific extinction, but perhaps from more recent ones, about the damage that we're currently doing to the planet and what the consequences might be. So I think the fossil record in that regard has important information for us that we'd be well advised to take notice of.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
WARREN ALLMON: Last question.
AUDIENCE: Question for Dr. Browne. Dr. Browne, I'm just curious, given the what must be thousands and thousands of islands that are in the Pacific, the Atlantic, et cetera, how in the world did Darwin ever arrive at the Galapagos Islands, which became such a key part of his research?
JANET BROWNE: So the Galapagos Islands were on the itinerary given to the ship by the British admiralty. And also, almost a routine stopping off place for ships that were going to go across the Pacific had they come up the Chilean coastline, this South American coastline, because it's 500 miles out into the ocean-- the oceanic islands are not connected by a continental ridge-- and had freshwater, although it was pretty tricky to find. The archipelago had harbors.
You could stay three weeks there, re-water your ship. There were two or three settlements which would sell you some goats to take with you for food on the ship. And what is very regrettable is that the giant tortoises were also taken as foodstuff. Very tasty meat in a tortoise and also tortoise soup. So they would-- they're neatly packaged. The tortoises were taken over a period of 250 years to the point almost of extinction.
So there was a reason to go to the Galapagos. There was no scientific reason in the itinerary. Darwin made it into a scientific place of discovery when he went there.
WARREN ALLMON: Thank you for the questions and to our speakers.
We're going to take a brief break, 10 or 15 minutes. Please come back because our student conversationalists are going to be here talking about one of Frank's other recent books. So let's take a break and then come back in about 10 or 15 minutes.
SPEAKER 1: Good morning, everyone. We're about to begin the second half of our program, if you could please find your seats.
WARREN ALLMON: You can sit wherever you want. Is that yours?
RICK ALLMENDINGER: Good morning, everyone. Could I have you take your seats, please?
Good morning, everyone. Please take your seats.
OK, let's get started with the last part of our program here this morning. My name is Rick Allmendinger. I'm the chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, which, as has already been said, has been Frank Rhodes' academic home at Cornell since his arrival at the University. And so I'd like to say without a shred of bias whatsoever that we firmly believe that the science of the earth, of our home planet, is nothing less than the most important science of the 21st century.
If you think about it, climate change, energy, freshwater, soils, resources, hazards, these are some of the most pressing issues facing humans in the 21st century. And they are the core domain of earth and atmospheric science. In addition, as we've just heard, because the earth has a memory in the form of stratigraphy and fossils and isotopes, it enables us to put these critical issues into the context of the formation and evolution of our planet.
So humans' relationship to our home planet has been masterfully woven together with the history of the earth in President Rhodes book, Earth, A Tenant's Manual. As Warren explained in his opening remarks, we decided to explore this aspect of his career using a device he so successfully employed while he was president of the university-- that is, a conversation with current Cornell students about sustainability. And what better catalyst than Frank's book itself?
Now, one of the great privileges of being a Cornell professor is that it brings us into daily contact with many extraordinary students who attend this university. And I'd like to introduce four of them to you now. And we're going alphabetically. Anand [INAUDIBLE] is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. You can stand up.
Majoring in science of Earth systems in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. And he is also a Hunter R. Rawlings the third Cornell Presidential Research Scholar. He is the seismology lead for the Cornell Earthquake Engineering Research Institute project team and on the leadership committee for the Science of Earth Systems Student Association. He has carried out research with three different Cornell professors and is the co-author of two published papers, one in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature.
Hannah Lang-- Hannah--
--is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, also majoring in the Science of Earth Systems, with a minor in fine arts. And she is especially passionate and interested about printmaking. She is the Secretary of the Science of Earth Systems Student Association. She's currently working on a research project in Northwest British Columbia and spent last summer in Nepal where she carried out a research project to create landslide hazard maps in the [INAUDIBLE] lake watershed.
Our third panelist is Nicole [INAUDIBLE]. She is a senior in the College of Agriculture--
Nicole is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, majoring in environmental and sustainability science through the Department of Natural Resources. She's a Cornell University sustainable design team member, looking at land use options for the construction of a school to be built in Ghana, and has collaborated with the Voices of African Mothers. Nicole has carried out research with two different Cornell professors and has been a teaching assistant in three different courses. Her research passions are forest ecology and molecular biology.
Our final panelist, Miranda [INAUDIBLE]--
--is also a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, concentrating in marine biology in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She's currently pursuing research in marine biology and has carried out research internships with the CORALS program at Cornell and the Shannon Point Marine Center of the Western Washington University. She's a certified open water diver, a winner of a prestigious New York state scholarship for academic excellence, and in her spare time has also been a teaching assistant for three different courses.
To moderate the panel, it's my pleasure to introduce my colleague, John Thompson.
John is the Wold Family Professor in Environmental Balance for Human Sustainability at Cornell. And John has spent his career spanning academia and industry, leading the mineral deposits research unit at the University of British Columbia and is Vice President of Technology and Development for Tech, Canada's largest diversified resources company. In addition to his position at Cornell, John is Vice Chair of Genome BC. He's a member of the Global Futures Council for Advanced Materials with the World Economic Forum, and chair of the Resources for the Future Generations 2018 Conference. He holds various board and advisory positions with companies and other organizations. So with that, I'll turn it over to John to kick off the discussion.
JOHN THOMPSON: All right. Thank you very much, Rick. I trust we're live here. So it's a great pleasure to be here to take part in this symposium and to moderate this panel. Frank Rhodes has influenced many people, and I suspect that his conversations with John Wold about the earth and about resources may have had something to do with the decision by the Wold family to fund what is now my position. So I'm extremely grateful to the Wold family and I'm extremely grateful to you, Frank.
So Rick Allmendinger there gave a lovely introduction to our accomplished students here. And what I'd like to do to start, just so you get to know a little bit better the people on the stage in front of you, I'm going to ask them just to say a few more words, some more personal words, about what excites them, whether in their work, research, or some other aspect of your life. And we'll go in reverse order this time, so we'll start with Miranda over to my left.
MIRANDA: So hi. What really excites me, I'm very interested in marine invertebrates and marine biodiversity. I have studied in Washington a lot and I really love the Pacific Northwest. And I've done a lot of intertidal work out there. In my free time when I'm not studying or doing marine biology research, I really enjoy skiing, hiking, and just being outside.
JOHN THOMPSON: Love it. Thanks very much. Nicole?
NICOLE: First of all, thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to sit in front of you today and share with you. It really is an honor to be in a room with so many amazing people. And really, this is the sort of thing that excites me, is to be in a room with such great minds of diverse backgrounds. We have evolutionary biologists, art scientists. I myself come from the field of forest ecology. We have a practitioner from the oil and gas industry. It's all really cool to be able to share and learn with you. And I think that's one of the best parts about science, is to get this reciprocal exchange of knowledge.
And not only through conversation, but what excites me is to be able to be involved in other people's work. I've loved getting the chance to be a field hand in a diversity of field research projects, from working on oysters to trees to birds, and that has been really rewarding and exciting. Thank you.
JOHN THOMPSON: I'd like to say that we, of course, the older generation, like learning from you, the younger generation, as well. Hannah?
HANNAH LANG: So as it was said my introduction, I have a background both in geology, but I'm also studying fine arts. And so I think what really excites me is when I'm able to find a way to combine them both. Recently, I finished a set of prints that were inspired by calcite crystals in the Snee Rock Museum. And so for me, that was really exciting to be able to take what I was learning in the classroom and the printmaking techniques that I'm learning in art classes and combine them.
JOHN THOMPSON: Fantastic. Anand?
ANAND: So my broad interests lie in essentially studying [INAUDIBLE] process from a more quantitative standpoint. Specifically, I'm really interested in seismology as a tool to probe the Earth's interior, especially because it offers this really incredible resolution. And that's what I'm interested in.
JOHN THOMPSON: Fantastic. OK, so what we're going to do now is we're going to have a few questions and get our panel to discuss some aspects of this book that's already been mentioned, Earth, A Tenant's Manual. And like all good manuals, I have a copy here on the stage in case anything goes wrong so we can refer to it.
So in that book, which was published, actually, just the year before I arrived here at Cornell in 2012, Frank laid out some of the remarkable things about our planet, some of the reasons that we exist on it and why we prosper on it. So what I want to ask the panel to discuss, I want you to say, based on the book, what are your own perspectives? What are some of the amazing characteristics of the Earth that you see and understand? So Hannah, I'll ask you to start.
HANNAH LANG: So I think what the book does a really great job of explaining in the beginning is the history that our Earth has gone through. And I think that that in itself is really spectacular. We live in just a blink of the whole history of what the Earth has been through. And in the book it explains the ice ages that it has been through, the mass extinctions, and the fact that we are changing the earth today, but that our changes don't have even a slight impact on the grand history of the Earth is really important for us to understand.
It kind of makes me think of when you see a bumper sticker on a car that says that we need to save the planet and save the earth. What it's really saying is that we need to preserve it as it is today so that humans can continue to live on it. But what the history of the earth tells us is that, in the end, we don't really have a say over that because the earth is going to continue to change on its own. And so I think the book gives you a good perspective on how our impacts are going to change the earth, but also how they don't have that much power to change the earth.
JOHN THOMPSON: Interesting perspective. Nicole, what's your response to that?
NICOLE: I really appreciated how the book recognized the diversity of life that there is, not only in a matter of space and time, but also in scale. It's really interesting to think about the diversity that we have within our own bodies, within our very genomes, and then how that, perhaps, helps us interact with each other, how species interact with each other and their landscape, and all these diverse interconnectedness gives rise to the world that we live in. And that is a very amazing thing to try to understand.
JOHN THOMPSON: So Anand, we'll just change it a little bit now. So from your perspective, what are some of the characteristics on the planet and around our planet that have really benefited human existence? And then conversely, perhaps, what are some of the things that really challenge human existence?
ANAND: Well, let's see. Some of the benefits to human existence probably evolve around the spectacular potential that we've been able to appreciate in terms of resource extraction, minerals, metals. And I would say challenge probably would revolve around the fact that the earth is inherently very hazardous place. We have volcanoes. We have earthquakes. And we've seen these hazards employed many times in the past because we've had incredible mass extinctions and we've lost so much biodiversity.
JOHN THOMPSON: The world is a bit of a dangerous place in some respects.
ANAND: Oh, definitely.
JOHN THOMPSON: Yeah. Miranda, would you like to follow up on that?
MIRANDA: Yeah, so to build off of some of the challenges that Anand was mentioning, I think one of the biggest challenges maybe that we're facing now with the Earth is that it has, as the book very aptly describes, a carrying capacity, not even in terms of perhaps wildlife and ecosystems, but in terms of the resources. So I think a lot of the conversation now is revolving around the fact that we are, in some aspects, kind of seeing an end to the resources that we need to survive. Or I guess the end is in sight, so just the finite aspect of earth to them.
JOHN THOMPSON: So let's pursue that a little further. Let's keep going on that trend and say from just now from a human centric, a human perspective, what are the big challenges that we humans are going to face, or are facing right now? Nicole, do you want to enlarge on that?
NICOLE: I think that one of the biggest challenges that we face now are, perhaps, the institutions that we maybe have created for ourselves that inhibit us from really looking at the world as a whole and being able to communicate and address all these different issues of sustainability holistically. Because of the great diversity that we have on this planet, we have different demands.
And because of these institutions, I think that we have created issues for ourselves that affect different people in different ways. But that also gives me hope that perhaps we'll be able to work together and exchange the ideas and come up with ways that we can-- well, I guess it will be a question in the future, but both mitigate our impacts on the climate and also be able to adapt to the changes that we've created already.
JOHN THOMPSON: Terrific. Miranda, we also live in a very technological world. Technology is advancing very quickly. Is technology going to solve all our problems, do you think?
MIRANDA: I really don't think it's going to necessarily solve all of our problems. I definitely think it does have a key part in solving some of the problems that we're facing. But I really think that in addition to technological advancement, there really needs to be a behavioral change. You know, we need to make these sort of sustainable patterns part of our existence.
JOHN THOMPSON: So Anand, what do you think? Can humans change their behavior? Can we do it collectively to tackle some of these challenges that are in front of us?
ANAND: I think humans definitely have the potential to change. Humans can do incredible things. And when we're faced with the fact that-- I mean, at the present time, I think reports estimate that it'll take about 1% of the total GDP as a mediation measure. And as time goes on that's only going to get larger. And so humans will be forced to do make changes. And they will be able to do so in time.
JOHN THOMPSON: Yeah, terrific. Hannah, do you want to comment on that?
HANNAH LANG: Yeah, I wanted to add to that, too, because I also think that humans have a capability to change their behavior, even though sometimes it doesn't seem as if we can. And I think that humans have a tendency to like to find a trend. We like to look at what we've done in the past and then see how, if we continue at that path, how it's going to be in the future. But I think what's also important to realize, which is a quote from Franks book, is that he says that a trend is not destiny.
And so I think understanding that we have the capability to see what would happen if we continue what we're doing at the time, but also that we can take that and learn on what we need to do to change it, and that we can make these changes so that we don't necessarily see the outcomes that we think are going to happen based on our trends is a really important idea in changing human behavior.
JOHN THOMPSON: Excellent. So another theme that comes through in the book is the idea of whether we can meet these challenges by adapting or by facing them head on and mitigating them. So would any of you like to comment on that balance between mitigation and adaptation? What do you think? Miranda, would you like to--
MIRANDA: Sure. I mean, I think sort of going back to the idea of technology versus behavioral change, I think it's really the same with adaptation versus mitigation. You know, we really kind of have to confront the problem on both ends. I think we do have to adapt because in some of my classes, some of my marine science classes, I've learned about how even if we cut carbon emissions right now and went carbon neutral everywhere, the ocean still holds a lot of carbon dioxide. So there would be a lot of time for it to equilibriate with the atmosphere. So even if we change our behaviors right now, there would still be a lot of warming that we would have to adapt to. So I think that we kind of have to do both thing we do.
JOHN THOMPSON: We do. And fortunately, humans are an adaptable species and we have been to date overall. So there's some room for optimism. And I should warn you all, I'm a veteran optimist. Let's try something else here. So in his book, Frank describes humans as tenants. And that's an interesting concept. Anand, does that resonate with you? Do you feel like a tenant on the planet?
ANAND: I have to say that when you look at what a tenant's role is, you have to first think about all those agreements that you sign when you rent a house. And somewhere in there that's going to be clause-- or ideally, there would be a clause-- that says a tenant has a responsibility to keep his room clean, or something to that effect. And I think that implies that tenants have a custodial role. And that's something that I think we don't necessarily appreciate. But that would be something that I would ideally feel is implied in our role as tenants.
JOHN THOMPSON: Hannah, does it agree with you, this concept?
HANNAH LANG: I really like that the word tenant kind of gives us an obligation as humans. But I also would challenge it in a way, because I think when you look at the difference between preservation and conservation, being a tenant is kind of saying that we have to preserve the earth as it is because, for example, I don't think my landlord would be very happy if I broke down one of the walls to make the living room bigger or something.
JOHN THOMPSON: Probably not.
HANNAH LANG: So I think the word tenant does, in some ways, limit what we can do. And President Rhodes does address this. He does say we have to actually be more than a tenant. We have to be custodians, as Anand was saying, and caretakers. But I think we also have to realize that as humans we are changing the earth. There's nothing we can do about it right now. We've increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from 280 in pre-industry times to 400 parts per million now. And so we either have to kind of admit that we're not going to be great care takers and great tenants on earth, or we have to kind of take on the responsibility of conservation and say that it's OK for us to make these changes, as long as we're going to do it in a sustainable way. And so that's kind of what I would add to the idea of a tenant.
JOHN THOMPSON: A tenant plus.
HANNAH LANG: Right, more than a tenant.
JOHN THOMPSON: Exactly. So Nicole, do you think people outside this university, in other parts of the world, do you think this concept resonates with people in general?
NICOLE: I think they do, especially in communities that are very closely tied to the resources that they're surrounded by. I think that there's less of a buffer between climate change and their direct impacts on you. For example, I think that here in this university, we study these things, so we're aware of it. But really, with a few degrees of warming, I think that my job, my food source will be secure because we live in this first world society, but as opposed to a place where my family comes, which is from Burma in Southeast Asia, people are more resource-dependent. And so it is important whether or not the river meets the mouth of the ocean in order to fish. So I think that people are aware of them, not because they, perhaps, study these changes, but because they're experiencing them day to day and year to year, increasingly so.
JOHN THOMPSON: Yeah, that's a different problem in different parts of the world. So Miranda, you get the tough question. So if you're downtown in the commons and you bump into some people, what would you tell them about this? Do you think you could explain the concept of being a tenant to them?
MIRANDA: I think I could definitely do so. I think the really great thing about this sort of analogy of us as tenants of the earth is that it's such a, I guess, easy to understand, very colloquial use of the word. So everybody kind of understands the basic agreement that you would have when you're a tenant. You know, you have to-- like Anand and Hannah were saying, you have to make sure you take care of the space that you're given. So I think that in that way, it would be very easy to, I guess, impress upon another person the idea of being a tenant of the earth.
JOHN THOMPSON: Yeah, terrific. OK, we'll try another theme now. So in the latter part of the book-- and for those of you who haven't read it, it's something you must do. But another part of the book, Frank identifies the major areas of concern that we face on the planet. In fact, he boldly goes beyond that and suggests the policies that we need in order to manage the various aspects of the Earth, where it be water, energy, and so on, such as a lofty goal. So we'll start here now with Miranda. We'll go back to you. When you look at these complex areas, do you think we need diverse collaborative teams and groups of people to address them? Or are key individuals going to make the biggest difference in meeting these challenges and understanding the Earth? Or some combination?
MIRANDA: Yeah. I mean, I think, of course, some combination. But I think it's really important to interact with a really diverse group of people who doesn't necessarily think the same way as you or have the same views as you. And that's something that I've really appreciated about my time here at Cornell is that every day I get to interact with people who I maybe would never have met otherwise or who come from very different backgrounds and have very different perspectives from me. So I think that certainly having a group of people with very diverse backgrounds is really important.
DEREK BRIGGS: Fantastic. And Anand, do you personally like to take on a challenge yourself? Or are you more comfortable working in a team? Or do you do some of both?
ANAND: I'd say that it's definitely easy to take on a challenge yourself in that you define-- you take your own roles and you define what you're going to do. But in terms of really achieving outcomes that are helpful and that achieve your initial goals, you're going to want to have a dedicated team around you because if you can't support your final outcome with, ideally, from work centric standpoint, different data sets or different even different methods of approaching a problem, then it's not going to be much help. And so you really want to have it-- I guess that's definite;y touching on the team Dean Collins mentioned earlier about a collaboration in science at Cornell.
JOHN THOMPSON: Yeah. Hannah, do you have a peer group here at Cornell that you relate to that you can give them your latest crazy idea and they'll tell you whether it's crazy or not?
HANNAH LANG: Yeah. I think that I find that my opinions are most similar to those people in my major, probably. And there's a lot of opportunity in our major to kind of have group projects and talk about these ideas together. But I actually think that someone who challenges my ideas actually is a more beneficial experience for me in terms of really deciding how I feel because when someone brings a challenging opinion, it kind of resonates with you. Even if you don't agree with them, it makes you strengthen your argument and really think about what it is that you feel so that you can try and convince someone else.
And I think that those experiences are, in some ways, more beneficial than experiences that are with people that disagree with me.
JOHN THOMPSON: That's terrific. And Nicole, what about you? We all talk about diversity as a good thing. But it's hard sometimes to go seek that different opinion. Do you find that a challenge? And can you find-- have you found tactics to do it?
NICOLE: Yes. It certainly is a challenge, but I have found it really rewarding because it has challenged me to be able to share my ideas in a way that everyone can understand. And I've heard the saying that a true expert can explain anything to anyone. And I think that if you really do want people to be able to receive your ideas, it's important to be able to share them in a way that someone else can understand from a totally different perspective, but also have the humility to take their perspective and incorporate that into your ideas and recognize that, oh, ideas I have do have flaws and I need to be able to recognize that and then address them and change them and improve.
JOHN THOMPSON: Fantastic. OK, so we'll move on to the last kind of key question I wanted to discuss and now we're going to probe a little deeply here. So I'll start with you, Hannah. So your time here at Cornell, has it helped you think about and address some of these complex issues that we're sort of discussing here on the stage?
HANNAH LANG: Yeah, it's definitely helped me a lot. I think Cornell has allowed me to-- it's given me an opportunity to explore the world outside of Cornell. For example, our major requires that you have at least three credits in a field project. And so that's what kind of allowed me to go to Nepal. And definitely that was a really beneficial experience in seeing how other countries are dealing with the same issues as us. But I've also found that some of my courses at Cornell have really helped me with these issues.
I'm currently in a course called energy and mineral resources, where we've actually discussed a lot of these topics. And what I really like about this class is it's dealing with some controversial issues, for sure. It looks at kind of our past use of resources and energy and how we can look at it in the future and what the future is going to hold for that. And so it's a course that could really be negative in a lot of ways. But what I love about it is it's a completely optimistic course.
And it's actually given me a lot of hope about the future. And I think what I've learned from this course is the importance of positivity and that if you believe that there's a solution to something, then you'll be able to find one. And if we look at the past and the history and we say that there's nothing we can do, well then, we're not going to find a solution. But if we can look and say there is something out there, it may not be what we think it is, then we'll be able to come up with solutions for the future. And it's really made me a lot more hopeful about the future and excited to see what we come up with.
JOHN THOMPSON: Well, I'm completely biased, so this suits my optimistic frame of thinking entirely. Nicole, so if you've been here in Cornell and Cornell becomes very all-consuming. But then you also get chances to go out in the world and do other things. And has your experience, actually, here helped you get more out of those external challenges and external things you do in your life?
NICOLE: Absolutely. I think that my time at Cornell, given the nature of the work that I do, involves a lot of different types of field activities. And it's been quite a roller coaster going through all that. I had an experience in Washington D.C. where I was preparing a policy brief on the incorporation of ecosystem services into federal decision making processes. And this is something that we talk about a lot here. And I go to DC all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to have these discussions with policymakers and lawmakers. And I go there and I start asking questions. And a lot of them are actually unaware of what an ecosystem service is, which is-- one example could be that a forest provides us with resources, but it can also be a way to sequester carbon. So that's one example.
And going there was a little bit of a disillusioning experience because I felt discouraged that all these things that I've been studying people are actually unaware of. But at the same time, it motivated me to come back and think about what can I do to break down these barriers between science and policy and where will I fit in that world? And in addition to that, just a lot of my fieldwork has been physically demanding a lot of times, like cold, hot weather, a lot of that. But it really humbles me underneath just the grand power that nature has over us, and reminds me that we are really in the constraints of the world that we live in.
There was one time I was banding Canadian geese. And so birds, bird brain, you know, we're humans, piece of cake. So I'm chasing these birds for a while. I finally get one. Trying to band it. And then it punches me in the face, runs away honking, almost like it's laughing at me. And I'm sitting there with a bloody lip. And I'm like, wow, this is hard. But really--
But really, it's humbling to think that this animal can fly hundreds of thousands of miles. And just to be able to be in the presence of that is really amazing.
JOHN THOMPSON: Fantastic. An impactful moment, for sure.
MIRANDA: Very impactful.
JOHN THOMPSON: Miranda, what about you of some external experiences? Have you benefited from them as much as your internal ones here?
MIRANDA: Yes. So I was really, really fortunate last spring to partake in the Cornell Ocean Research Apprenticeship for Lynch Scholars Program, which is held at Friday Harbor Labs in Washington state. And I think probably some of the best experiences I had were going out and doing fieldwork and just seeing how excited people were. A lot of times, I was doing research with, or doing fieldwork, looking at sea stars and eelgrass.
And so we'd be down on the beach picking up sea stars or measuring them or pulling up eel grass blades and laying down transects and kind of walking along and surveying. And people would kind of come down from their houses. And they would say, oh, you know, what are you doing? And they would really be very passionate about their marine environment. And they would really care about what we were doing. And they would ask us a lot of questions about, oh, what is, for instance, eel grass wasting disease, which is what I was studying. And that was really awesome to see, just people getting really excited about their environments.
And I think that that is some of the most useful experience that I've had.
JOHN THOMPSON: Terrific. Anand, have you had any exotic experiences that you'd like to tell us about that have influenced the way you think and developed your thinking on these issues?
ANAND: Sure, yeah. I'd say that overall, they've had maybe a twofold impact, and one of which, essentially, is really developing this idea that humans are very much a [INAUDIBLE] component of interactions with the Earth system, and also properly and appreciating the scale of the problems that we now are dealing with. And so I've basically been involved or had experience with Cornell's work relating to induced seismicity. I've had to travel to Oklahoma. And Oklahoma, our experience is more fixed in California. And so when you think of that, you realize that these are problems that are very real in scale, which [INAUDIBLE] potentially [INAUDIBLE].
And when we look more into detail in this problem, when we look more into detail at the evidence that's being used to analyze it, we see that there is not often a single story that's being told. And to really get to the bottom of it, you need to approach a complex problem from a range of different perspectives. And that, I would say, would be the biggest change that Cornell has kind of forced upon me, in that you can't really appreciate anything with a one dimensional viewpoint as you might have before.
JOHN THOMPSON: No, that's great. So I'm going to stick with you and ask you this last little tricky question here. So in the context of all we've been talking about today, has there been any particular moments, special moments, impactful moments, Eureka moments, or perhaps duh moments when suddenly things have fallen into place? Or has it been a long, gradual process?
ANAND: It's funny you talk about long, gradual process because I would say, I mean, when we study-- first of all, the moments that have most affected my knowledge have almost surely been in the classes that I've taken at Cornell. And I've taken some really-- I've had the fortune to have some really incredible professors teach these classes. And I would say that overall it's been-- learning about the Earth history has probably been one of the most eye-opening experiences I've ever had because it really is, we really learn a lot about the fact that you have a range of process operating at a range of time scales. And I would say that's really more eye opening experiences in this [INAUDIBLE] probably than realizing the fact that things like mass extinctions are huge in scale. And we see things like the costs incurred from biodiversity. We really learn to appreciate that.
JOHN THOMPSON: Yeah. Complex, very complex. Hannah, what about you? An impactful moment, or lots of gradual learning?
HANNAH LANG: Yeah, I really like the analogy that Anand was referring to, kind of with the history of the earth. And the earth has been through transitional periods where it kind of-- things fall into place slowly. But then there's also impactful moments where things happen really quickly, like the Cambrian explosion. And I think that at Cornell I've had a kind of similar experience that each class that I take gives me a different perspective. And sometimes it's kind of each lecture I'm framing my ideas a little bit differently.
But then there's moments such as when I went to Nepal and the class I explained where all of a sudden I feel like I've broken through and it's been a really intense learning experience. So I think it's a combination of the both. And I think the life of the earth is a good analogy for that.
JOHN THOMPSON: Punctuated equilibrium.
HANNAH LANG: Right.
JOHN THOMPSON: Nicole, what about you? Have you had a-- other than the being hit by the goose, is there--
NICOLE: I've had a lot of those moments. But there was one moment in particular. It was last spring on a really-- it was the first wet and warm night we had last spring. And that is usually the first night that the salamanders up by North Campus will migrate from the forest where they spend their lives to the ponds by the golf courses where they will meet to reproduce and then go back and live out the rest of their lives happily in the forest.
And I'm sitting there and it really just is a beautiful, warm night. And you look and you see hundreds of salamanders just going together in the same direction to do the thing that they know that they have to do. And so that kind of helped me break down that dichotomy between humans and nature and recognize that we are part of this world. And even though we paved the golf course over there, well, they still go on. And so the decisions that we have to make have to be in the best interest of our future generations and recognize all the things that the generations before us have done to allow us to be here and have the luxuries that we're able to enjoy today.
JOHN THOMPSON: Terrific. Miranda, the last word. An impactful moment?
MIRANDA: So I think for me, as well, it's really been a more gradual change. You know, I've gotten to take a lot of different classes while I've been at Cornell. And I think some of the, I guess, most profound experiences or most profound aha moments, as you mentioned, have really been when I've been learning about the biology of different organisms. So as I mentioned before, I'm really interested in marine invertebrates. And I think that something that really amazes me every time I learn about something new or go out into the environment and, for instance, just look into a tide pool is how incredible each specific organism is and how perfectly adapted it is to that environment.
And I think-- and even with climate change and all the changes going on now, just thinking about how resilient and adaptable these organisms are and how they might adapt in the future, I think, is really amazing for me.
JOHN THOMPSON: Fantastic. Well, I think you've heard from these four students here on the panel a view which, to my ears, at least, is a little optimistic. And it gives me great hope for the future. I think our future is in good hands. And I'd like to--
Thanks very much.
RICK ALLMENDINGER: So we're extremely grateful to our panelists. And as I would reiterate John's remark that the future is in very good hands. This concludes the Rhodes symposium. In closing, I would like to, again, reiterate the thanks that Warren gave at the beginning to all of the people who made this symposium come together. We're especially grateful to all of you attendees who've taken time out of your Saturday morning to hear these spectacular talks and listen to these extraordinary students.
We're especially grateful and appreciative to the Rhodes family for sharing Frank with us on this special day. And a very special thanks to Rosa Rhodes for all that she has done for Cornell University over these many years.
And now I think it's only appropriate that we give the final word to President Emeritus Frank H.T. Rhodes.
FRANK RHODES: Thank you very much. Thank you. Do please sit down. You know, the origin of this word emeritus may interest. E means you're out and meritus means you deserve to be. So I'm really very attached at your kind reception. Let me thank Warren and Rick, who have so masterfully put this presentation together. The way they have balanced that and designed that is something that I am very grateful for.
I'm very grateful to all of you for coming. And I'm grateful especially to Janet and Derek for the special contributions that they've made. I used to sit across the library table in the manuscript room from Janet when she was working on her two magnificent Darwin volumes, Voyaging and the Power of Place. And I wanted to salute her and thank her for the continuing work that she's done.
Fred Burkhardt, I think, was an inspiration to all of us there. And we remember him with gratitude. And then to Derek for the wonderful work he's done on discovering this elusive conodont animal and presenting it so beautifully today, and so much more. He's been a powerful force. He holds the Lyell medal from the Geological Society and is a fellow of the Royal Society. And I'm very grateful to both of you for having come today and having made this such a special occasion.
I have to say, too, that I'm grateful, too, for the fact that I've been welcomed back to the geological community. I took a leave of absence of 27 years from active geology doing other things as Dean of Science at the University of Wales, as a Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts at the University of Michigan, which is bigger in total than Cornell is in total enrollment of students. And then as a Vice President for Academic Affairs and provost at Michigan.
And then for 18 years as in the job at Cornell. And all of them I enjoyed, but in none of them did I do any geology. So it's wonderful to be welcomed back to the fold. I'm also so grateful that so many of our family were able to join us today. And we're delighted to have the opportunity to celebrate the day with them. I should add that they're still coming in, but we have a variety of Cornellians with us. Two of our daughters are Cornellians, one from the medical school with an M.D. degree, Deborah, who's now at the Mayo Clinic. And two of our granddaughters are Cornellians, both from the College of Arts and Sciences.
And one of our other granddaughters is a PhD from Cornell. And we have a new granddaughter, Deborah's daughter, who is now a freshman at Cornell. So that is really very--
A very strong and continuing relationship. I want to thank one other person who is sitting at the back of the room who, for many years, for those years has been the mainstay of my life, who's been my confidant, my best friend, my advisor, my mentor, my inspiration. Rosa, bless you, and thank you.
And if you will indulge a very elderly man in having forgotten John, I want to thank you and this marvelous student panel for the contribution you've made. I salute you and thank you. The world is in good hands. Thank you very much.
AUDIENCE: (SINGING) Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Frank, happy birthday to you.
RICK ALLMENDINGER: And please now join us in the atrium just over here for refreshments.
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On the occasion of President Emeritus Frank H. T. Rhodes's 90th birthday, Cornell celebrated the intellectual cornerstones of his academic career. Darwin scholar Janet Browne and paleontologist Derek Briggs addressed Rhodes's contributions to paleontology and Darwin studies and the relevance of these topics today. The event ended with a student panel discussion of modern attitudes toward sustainability, based on Rhodes's book, Earth: A Tenant’s Manual.