Athens, Ga. – Robert Hazen, an award-winning researcher whose knack for conveying technical scientific information in everyday language has made him a best-selling author and popular speaker, will deliver the University of Georgia Charter Lecture March 18.
Hazen, author of 20 books and more than 330 articles dealing with science, history and music, will speak at 4 p.m. in the UGA Chapel. His lecture is titled “Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins,” also the title of his 2005 book that explores the role that minerals and chemical evolution played in the creation of life billions of years ago. The lecture is open free to the public.
Hazen is a research scientist at the Carnegie Institution of Washington’s Geophysical Laboratory and is also the Clarence Robinson Professor of earth sciences at George Mason University. A Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is a past president of the Mineralogical Society of America, received the society’s top research award and was a Distinguished Lecturer for the society.
Known for his ability to translate complex scientific concepts and information into language non-scientists can understand, Hazen has been praised by book reviewers for his use of vivid, lucid language and engaging, narrative-style prose. Critics described his book on the origin of life as “clear and entertaining,” “direct, friendly and occasionally…poetical,” and “a beautiful, interesting account of this research field, full of discoveries and tragedies.”
Mark Farmer, head of UGA’s department of cellular biology, said Hazen is “one of the leading experts in the origins-of-life field, which remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of modern science. Dr. Hazen has a knack for making this complex and technical field of research understandable to the average person.”
Hazen has focused on the origin-of-life question since 1996. He contends life started as a result of geochemical processes that resulted from interactions of oceans, atmosphere and rocks and minerals. He believes these processes occurred in environments with moderately high temperatures (as high as 300 degrees centigrade) and atmospheric pressure.
Much of his research centers on processes involving minerals, such as the absorption of organic molecules on mineral surfaces, and how minerals catalyze organic synthesis. His work resulted in the naming of the phosphate biomineral “hazenite” in his honor last year.
Hazen’s other books cover a broad range of scientific and popular subjects. Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy, written with physicist James Trefil, is a call for reforming science education that sold more than 200,000 copies and has been published in a dozen languages. The Breakthrough: The Race for the Superconductor, recounts the competition to discover superconductors that work at practical temperatures. Both books made the Washington Post’s top-10 nonfiction list.
The Diamond Makers, a historical review of efforts to synthesize diamonds, was a Library of Science alternate selection. Other books include a history of fire in early America, a history of mining and a collection of geological poetry.
Hazen has appeared on ABC, CBS, NBC and BBC television and radio and written articles for Newsweek, Scientific American, Smithsonian Magazine and The New York Times Magazine. He is on the advisory boards for the PBS program NOVA and the Encyclopedia Americana. He has spoken at scores of colleges, universities and national laboratories in the U.S. and abroad and is currently the Distinguished Lecturer for the Sigma Xi national science society.
He received the Elizabeth Wood Science Writing Award in 1998 and the Educational Press Association Award in 1992. His work has been selected for several science writing anthologies including The Best Science Writing of 2001.
Hazen is also a professional trumpet player and has performed with leading orchestras including the Metropolitan, New York City, Boston and Washington operas; the Royal, Bolshoi, Jeoffrey and Kirov ballets; and the Boston Symphony and National Symphony. He is a member of the National Philharmonic and National Gallery orchestras. He wrote an illustrated history of American brass bands that won a top award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
UGA’s Charter Lecture Series was established in 1988 to honor the high ideals expressed in the 1785 charter that created UGA as the first chartered state university in America. The series brings to campus speakers who can engage the university community and the larger public with ideas of general importance for a free society.