National Medal of Science Winner
By Louise Williams
Dr. Jared Diamond, professor, department of physiology, University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, will give the NIH Director's Cultural Lecture in Masur Auditorium, Bldg. 10, on Sept. 18 at 3 p.m.
This special Monday lecture is part of the NIH Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lecture series, and is sponsored by NHLBI and the cell biology interest group.
Diamond's topic is, "Why Did Human History Unfold Differently on Different Continents for the Last 13,000 Years?" It's a topic he researched to write his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1998 book, Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. In the book, he argues that the answers to the question have to do with diverse environments, rather than peoples' IQs. In particular, he points to the easy spread of agriculture through Eurasia and the availability of large mammals to be domesticated. He traces the historical consequences of the environmental differences, which led to the decimation of peoples in the Americas by European colonizers. Within a few centuries of contact, he notes, about 95 percent of the native populations of North and South America had vanished, mostly by infection from germs brought by the invaders.
Diamond's career has spanned more fields than there are continents. Though his formal training was in physiology and membrane biophysics, he has also pursued interests in evolutionary biology, ecology and history. His career has taken him from investigations of biological membranes to studies of speciation among birds in a New Guinea rainforest to the creation of practical measures to protect biodiversity.
Key scientific contributions have included: an elucidation of how water transport across epithelial cell layers is coupled to active solute transport; a formulation of the differences between tight and leaky epithelia; discernment of the physical principles by which biological membranes discriminate among related nonelectrolytes and related ions; identification of how intestinal nutrient transporters are regulated by dietary substrate levels and intake rates; insights into how human physiological capacities are shaped by natural selection; the discovery of the long-lost Golden-fronted Bowerbird; identification of factors that make some animal populations more vulnerable to extinction than others; and studies of the paradoxical evolution of human genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs and diabetes.
Diamond also has been praised for his ability to communicate important scientific issues to the public. He is a regular contributor to both Nature and Discover, as well as to other popular science magazines.
Earlier this year, his many diverse achievements earned him the National Medal of Science. The medal has been bestowed on only 374 U.S. scientists and engineers since its creation by Congress in 1959.
One year before the medal's creation, Diamond graduated from Harvard, with a B.A. summa cum laude in biochemical sciences. Three years later, he earned a Ph.D. in physiology from Cambridge University in England. After a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship, spent partly in Germany at the Max Planck Institute and partly at Cambridge, he returned to Harvard, taking a position in the medical school's biophysical laboratory. In 1966, he joined UCLA Medical School.
Through the years, he also has served as a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and with the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. Since 1993, he has been director of the World Wildlife Fund. He was a founding member of the board of governors of the Society for Conservation Biology and belongs to the Los Angeles Zoo's animal management advisory committee.
He also is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
His long list of honors includes being a fellow of the MacArthur Foundation and of the American Ornithologists Union, and receiving a Burr Award from the National Geographic Society, a Bowditch Prize from the American Physiological Society and a Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Gastroenterological Association.
Diamond has produced 7 books, 2 monographs, and 557 articles. His books include The Third Chimpanzee, a prize-winning look at the evolution of uniquely human traits and their possible effect on the future, and Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality.
So, for those who wonder why the world ended up as it has, come to the talk and be prepared for a 13,000-year spin through time. You may discover why NIH is in Bethesda, instead of the Australian outback, where there's plenty of parking.
Physicians can earn continuing education credit by attending. For more information about the lecture, contact Hilda Madine at 594-5595.
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