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World's top minds to celebrate 'the birth and life of beginnings'

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- For two weeks in March, some of the greatest names in science and the humanities will come to Tallahassee to take part in public discussions on how fundamental discoveries in science, religion, philosophy, history and the arts have shaped our understanding of life and civilization -- and our grasp of what lies ahead.

Titled "Origins '09: Celebrating the Birth & Life of Beginnings," this one-of-a-kind program was organized by the Office of Research at The Florida State University. It will celebrate 2009 as the Year of Science, a national designation inspired by the 200th birthday of naturalist Charles Darwin earlier this year. "Origins '09" will extend well beyond Darwin and his seminal 1859 work "On the Origin of Species," however, to take a broader look at various advances in science and the humanities and how they have helped shape modern society.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author and world-renowned biologist E.O. Wilson will be among the headliners for the program, which runs from March 17 to March 28. Scholars credit Wilson's groundbreaking research, original thinking and graceful popular writing with having irrevocably changed the way people think of nature and humanity's place in it. Other renowned scholars visiting Tallahassee include world-famous anthropologist Don Johanson, a co-discoverer of "Lucy," the 3.2-million-year-old skeleton that is recognized as the most famous human predecessor ever found.

Visit for a complete schedule of events. All events are free and open to the public except the March 28 tribute to the origins of jazz.

"We're delighted to be promoting a better understanding of science and scholarship," said Kirby Kemper, vice president for Research and Robert O. Lawton Professor of Physics at Florida State. "This outreach effort truly offers something for anyone interested in hearing what some of the world's finest scholars have to say about the history and evolution of ideas in fields ranging from the life sciences to music."

Featured speakers during the two-week-long program include:

  • Peter Harrison, a professor of science and religion at the University of Oxford whose most recent book, "The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science" (2007), has been described as "a serious challenge to those who persist in the view that seventeenth-century science marked the triumph of secular reason over religious sensibility." Harrison will speak on "The Origins of the Conflict Between Science and Religion" on March 17.

  • Gary Mormino, a professor of history at the University of South Florida and a prolific writer of Florida history. Mormino will speak on "The Origins of Modern Florida: From Swamp to Swamped" on March 18.

  • Sean B. Carroll, a professor of molecular biology and genetics and writer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is considered one of the best and most prolific science writers working today. Two of his most recent books -- "The Making of the Fittest" (2006) and "Endless Forms Most Beautiful" (2005) -- will be the basis of a two-hour PBS special produced by WGBH's "Nova" series that will air later this year. Carroll will speak on "Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species" on March 19.

  • Lisa Randall, a theoretical physicist at Harvard University and one of the world's leading experts on particle physics and cosmology. Her work in string theory as the quest to explain the underlying physics of the universe has attracted enormous attention around the world. Randall will speak on "The Origins of the Universe" on March 20.

  • E.O. Wilson, an evolutionary biologist, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and professor emeritus of Harvard University. Wilson has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the world's most distinguished scientists and one of its most important science writers. He also is the world's most outspoken advocate for conservation and the protection of biodiversity, fighting to preserve the wondrous variety of the natural world. Wilson will speak on "Darwin's Four Great Books: The Origins of a Revolution" on March 23.

  • Ron Numbers, a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has widely been described as the world's leading expert on the origins and beliefs underlying creationism, the theological concept that rejects evolution as the fundamental theory of life. Numbers will speak on "The Evolution of Creationism in America" on March 26.

  • Don Johanson, a professor of anthropology at Arizona State University and one of the most widely recognized names in his field the world over. Johanson is perhaps best known for his co-discovery in 1974 of "Lucy," a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton that has prompted major revisions in our understanding of humanity's evolutionary past. He will speak on "The Origins of Human Development" on March 27.

  • Scotty Barnhart, an assistant professor of jazz trumpet at The Florida State University who has drawn widespread acclaim through his collaborations with jazz luminaries such as the Count Basie Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis and the Marcus Roberts Quintet. In a two-hour concert and lecture titled "The Origin & Evolution of Jazz: A Tribute to American's Own Musical Art Form," Barnhart will be joined by a talented group of musicians and performs in exploring more than 100 years of jazz history in word and performance. The event is scheduled for March 28, and tickets can be purchased by calling (850) 644-6500 or by visiting

Other special events scheduled during "Origins '09" include the following:

  • MARCH 20: National Public Radio's Ira Flatow, host of the popular science program "Science Friday," will broadcast live from the Florida State campus before a studio audience.

  • MARCH 21: The Florida State University will host a daylong Science & Arts Fair in downtown Tallahassee featuring scientific exhibits and demonstrations from more than a dozen university departments and programs. Also featured is the Florida Writers' Book Fair, sponsored by the Florida Book Awards Program, which will feature appearances by some of the most popular authors from throughout the state.

  • MARCH 24: The film "Flock of the Dodos," a tongue-in-cheek documentary that examines the ongoing debate between supporters of intelligent design and those of evolution, will have two screenings on the Florida State campus.


Contact: Frank Stephenson
Florida State University

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