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Lecture Series Probes Extraterrestrial Life

Lecture Series Brings to UCR Pioneers in the Search for the Life in the Universe

Presentations Part of Freshman Seminar Course Taught by Chancellor France A. Córdova

(January 26, 2005)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Three pioneering scientists in the field of astrobiology, the study of the origin of the building blocks of life, will give free public lectures at the University of California, Riverside on Feb. 4, Feb. 18, and March 4 as part of the freshman seminar course “Life Beyond Earth?” taught by Chancellor France A. Córdova.

The presentations will feature Leslie Orgel, senior fellow and research professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; Carolyn Porco, the imaging team leader for the Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons; and Frank Drake, senior scientist at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and professor emeritus at UC Santa Cruz.

All the lectures are scheduled for 4 p.m. in the International Lounge at the University Commons. Parking for the lectures will be available on campus in Lot 19 for $2 per vehicle, payable to the parking attendant on duty. For details, call Kathy Barton at (951) 827-5304.

The lecture series, titled “The Search for Life in the Universe: Science Pioneers,” is part of the freshman seminar course taught this quarter by Córdova, a nationally recognized astrophysicist who served as a professor and vice chancellor for research at UC Santa Barbara and as chief scientist at NASA before arriving at UCR in 2002. Her course “Life Beyond Earth?” explores the multidisciplinary approaches that scientists are taking to address one of humankind’s most fundamental questions.

The course is one of 16 “freshman discovery seminars” being offered this quarter which are designed to engage freshmen in a highly interactive classroom experience led by senior faculty, expose students to new fields of study, and enable students to get to know professors who may become future research mentors.

The lecture series schedule is as follows:

  • Friday, Feb. 4, International Lounge: Leslie Orgel will speak on “The RNA World.” Orgel studies evolution and how life began on Earth more than 4 billion years ago, with a focus on discovering the chemical reactions that might have occurred giving rise to life. A current interest is searching for a precursor to RNA, the molecule responsible for much of the genetic information processing within cells, leading to the manufacture of proteins, which are essential to life. Orgel was among the founding faculty at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, one of the world’s leading biological science research centers.

  • Friday, Feb. 18, International Lounge: Carolyn Porco will give a lecture titled “In Orbit! The Voyage of Cassini to Saturn and its Moons.” Porco, of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., leads the imaging team for the Cassini spacecraft, which carried the Huygens probe, which landed on Jan. 14 on the largest of Saturn’s 31 moons, Titan, an icy body that is the only moon in the solar system with planet-like clouds and a thick atmosphere, composed mainly of nitrogen. Scientists associated with the European Space Agency, which is leading the mission, and NASA are currently analyzing data transmitted back to Earth from Huygens.

  • Friday, March 4, International Lounge: Frank Drake will speak on “The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life.” Drake serves on the Board of Trustees of the SETI Institute, which employs more than 100 scientists, educators and support staff to explore, understand and explain the origin, nature and prevalence of life in the universe. In 1960, he conducted the first radio search for extraterrestrial intelligence as part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Later, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and served as dean of natural sciences at UC Santa Cruz.

Students enrolled in Córdova’s course will introduce the speakers and moderate a question-and-answer session to follow each presentation.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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