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New Public Lecture Series to Boost Excitement About Science

New Public Lecture Series at UC Riverside Aims to Boost Wonder and Excitement About Science

Talk on how biological evolution works kicks off series on April 2

(March 16, 2009)

Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, will give a lecture titled “The Dance of Genes: How Biological Evolution Works” at 7 p.m., April 2, at UC Riverside.Enlarge

Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, will give a lecture titled “The Dance of Genes: How Biological Evolution Works” at 7 p.m., April 2, at UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Evolution, commonly associated with Charles Darwin’s ideas on natural selection, has a broader, more modern definition: “the process of change in a certain direction.”

This definition of evolution is the theme for the first “Science Lecture Series” at UC Riverside. Given by UCR scientists, the lectures, whose topics cover botany, biology, Earth sciences and astronomy, aim to boost the public’s awareness and understanding of how science works.

The annual Science Lecture Series is hosted by the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and the Science Circle, a group of university and community members committed to advancing science at UCR and in Inland Southern California. Free of charge and open to the public, the lectures are funded through gifts from the Science Circle.

“Our world is formed, shaped and affected in many ways by science,” said Thomas Baldwin, the dean of the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, who initiated the lecture series. “Understanding the scientific process, understanding how science works, what science can – and cannot – bring to our society are important topics for us all. Through these lectures, we hope to engage the public in the joy and excitement of science.”

Titled “The Science of Evolution: Life, the Earth, and the Universe,” the first series of five lectures will discuss evolution and medicine, the evolution of evolution, the history of life on Earth, and the first billion years in the history of the universe.

Norman Ellstrand, a professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, will give the first lecture on April 2 in the University Theatre on campus. The hour-long lecture and discussion, titled “The Dance of Genes: How Biological Evolution Works,” begins at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. Seating is open.

In his lecture, Ellstrand will explain how mutation, selection, migration and chance affect genetic change in populations. Currently, he is researching the consequences of gene flow from domesticated plants to their wild relatives, including the escape of engineered genes.

The College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences chose evolution as the theme for this year’s set of lectures because 2009 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the first scientist to articulate that species evolve over time from common ancestors. Moreover, evolution as a description of activity is a component of every scientific discipline – from biology to the history of the universe. Further, evolution continues to interest the general public, with human evolution by natural selection finding little acceptance outside the scientific world.

“The science that underpins the public discussion on evolution is somewhat lacking,” Baldwin said. “By hosting this series we hope to shed some scientific light in that discussion.”

The Science Lecture Series aims also to break down some of the misunderstandings about what scientists do.

“The process of interrogation of nature and extraction of understanding of how the real world functions is central to what scientists do,” Baldwin said. “What we learn is vital to policy makers, legislators, and to the lay public. We need to be sure that, to the extent possible, the decisions that are achieved by policy makers and the writers of law are well informed in terms of basic scientific understanding. The better informed we are as a people about science, the better choices we can make.”

The College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, home to 13 academic departments and 14 centers and institutes, is already planning next year’s round of lectures. Themes under consideration include genetically modified foods and climate change.

Teachers interested in receiving professional development credit for attending the lecture series must make arrangements in advance with University Extension.

More information about the lecture series can be obtained by visiting, calling (951) 827-6555 or emailing Carol Lerner.

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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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