Mason Professor Heads National Science Foundation Origin of Life Research Exhibit

Posted: January 17, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Dave Andrews

Viewer looking at origin of life display
The origin of life display has already been shown in various locations in New Mexico.

It was the egg that came before the chicken. Or was it the chicken before the egg? For thousands of years, theories on the origin of life on earth have varied, and there still appears to be no definite conclusion.

But thanks to a substantial grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Mason, along with a team of other universities and research institutes, organized a research consortium that has led to new views of life’s origin.

From Feb. 12 to Feb. 28, the collaborative research of scientists from Mason, the Santa Fe Institute, the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the University of Colorado-Boulder and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will be on display in the atrium of the headquarters of the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Va.

The display was created by graduate students at New Mexico Highlands University as part of a media arts class. It consists of wall panels, video kiosks and interactive elements.

Harold Morowitz
Harold Morowitz
Creative Services photo

As the project’s principal investigator, Harold Morowitz, Robinson Professor of Biology and Natural Philosophy, organized the group of institutions to collaborate on the project. Morowitz, who is also affiliated with Mason’s Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, says that Krasnow and the Santa Fe Institute have worked well together in the past as “sister institutions,” and that this was a great opportunity to join forces once again.

“NSF has certain outreach goals for all of its projects, including raising the public’s awareness of science and getting underserved minorities involved,” Morowitz says. “This museum project fulfilled both of these goals.”

NSF origin of life display
The origin of life display will be at National Science Foundation headquarters in Arlington, Va., Feb. 12-28.

The display has already appeared in various locations throughout New Mexico, drawing the attention of many local area schools. Participants learned of theories on biological evolution, geochemistry and genetics developed through the universities’ collaborative research. The display also details ideas on what is in store for the future, such as global climate change, cures for diseases and life on other planets.

“The students [who designed the display] faced the challenge of taking an intimidating amount of research and presenting it graphically so that it was interesting and comprehensible,” says Mimi Roberts, director for media projects for the state of New Mexico’s Department of Cultural Affairs. “This group of scientists they worked with showed an exceptional level of commitment to help the designers and participants grasp their findings.”

Morowitz, along with representatives from the Santa Fe Institute, will speak at the display’s opening presentation on Feb. 12. NSF headquarters is located at 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. The exhibit will be open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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