The College of Letters & Science presents
The R. Lowry Dobson Memorial Lecture
A Bridge between Humanities and Sciences
Professor of Geology
The Marian E. & Daniel E. Koshland, Jr. Distinguished Chair for Innovative Teaching and Research
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
(doors open at 4:30 pm)
Sibley Auditorium, Bechtel Engineering Center
Map of campus
For questions, please contact:
College Relations, Letters & Science (510) 642-3353
Walter Alvarez received his Ph.D. in Geology from Princeton and is currently a Professor of the Graduate School in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley. He is a Member of the National Academy of Sciences and a past recipient of the Penrose Medal, the highest award given by the Geological Society of America. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Siena in Italy and the University of Oviedo, in Asturias, the part of Spain where his family originated.
Walter Alvarez and his team made a startling scientific discovery in 1980—that an asteroid smashed into Earth 65 million years ago, setting off a huge tsunami and a sequence of disastrous climatic changes that exterminated the dinosaurs. Alvarez had the first glimmer of that insight when he noticed something odd in a rock outcrop in central Italy. In his bestselling book, T. Rex and the Crater of Doom, Alvarez describes the search for the impact site, which went on for 11 years, finally ending in 1991 with the discovery of the Chicxulub crater below the surface at the north coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Alvarez has traveled much of the world studying geology, including Colombia, Libya, Central Asia, Corsica and Mexico, but much of his research has taken place in Italy. There he worked on archeological geology in Rome, on the tectonics of the geologically complex Mediterranean, and on Earth’s magnetic reversals recorded in deep-water limestones in the Apennines. In 2008, he published The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth. In this book, Alvarez takes the reader on an exploration of the Earth's distant past as he describes the history written in the rocks in Italy. In Alvarez's telling, the major geologic episodes are as dramatic as the great impact that killed the dinosaurs, even when they happened over eons and without huge creatures to witness them.
Dr. Alvarez is currently interested in Big History, the new field that aims to tie everything in our planet's past into a coherent understanding of the grand sweep and character of history. Conventional history generally encompasses only the relatively short timeframe of human existence, but Big History explores the history of Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity, from the very beginnings, with the Big Bang, to the present. As such, Big History brings together multiple disciplines, such as geology, paleontology, biology, astronomy, archaeology, paleoanthropology, history and economics.
Alvarez's most recent contribution to the field of Big History has been the creation of a zoomable, interactive timeline called ChronoZoom, in collaboration with Berkeley researchers Roland Saekow and David Shimabukuro, and in partnership with Microsoft Research and Moscow State University in Russia. ChronoZoom is an online, graphical representation of the past that attempts to organize and display the vast array of information available for the telling of Big History.
The R. Lowry Dobson Memorial Lecture
The R. Lowry Dobson Memorial Lecture was created in 1999 to commemorate the life and passions of Dr. Lowry Dobson, a Berkeley alumnus, faculty member and research scientist. Established by friends and family to honor Dr. Dobson’s deep belief in the interdisciplinary exploration of concepts and ideas, this lecture series brings together scientists of all disciplines to share new insights, ask new questions, and find new answers to the challenges that face our world. Lectures rotate annually among speakers chosen by the deans of biological, physical, and social sciences.
After earning his Ph.D. in Biophysics at UC Berkeley in 1950, Dr. Dobson pursued a long and distinguished career studying the effects of radiation. His work spanned the globe, including appointments at the World Health Organization in Switzerland and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. For Dr. Dobson, the essence of education, and the key to living a full life, was to be immersed in an atmosphere where great ideas were developed, discussed and debated. In this spirit, the R. Lowry Dobson Memorial Lecture provides an opportunity for scholars to ask the big questions that transcend traditional disciplines, and to seek bold new answers.