Lecture by Professor Andrew H. Knoll
From November 6 to 10, 2023, Janne Blichert-Toft welcomes Andrew Knoll, Fisher Research Professor of Natural History at Harvard University, recipient of the Crafoord Prize in Geosciences 2022. During his stay, he will be working with LGL-TPE members Janne Blichert-Toft, CNRS Research Director, and Francis Albarède, Professor Emeritus at ENS Lyon, as part of the ANR BIOGEN program.
Professor A. H. Knoll will give a public lecture on Wednesday November 8, at 5pm, open to all at ENS de Lyon.
The fossil record, informed by comparative biology, provides a narrative history of life, and, increasingly, geochemical analyses of sedimentary rocks are revealing a history of both long-term environmental change and transient perturbations to the Earth system. This deep time environmental record provides a necessary framework for understanding the history of life, but to interpret correlations in time, we need a bridging concept. Physiology links an organism to its environment, and so, physiological inferences about ancient organisms can help to integrate paleontological and geochemical data. Physiological performance can sometimes be estimated directly and quantitatively from fossils—this is commonly the case for vascular plants, as key aspects of plant physiology are biophysical in nature. Statistical inferences about physiology can also be made on the basis of phylogenetic relationships. Examples from paleobotany, marine micropaleontology, and invertebrate paleontology illustrate how physiological observations, experiments, and models can help to link Earth’s physical and biological histories. This approach also provides a template for evaluating the habitability of other planets, not least the ancient surface of Mars. Expanding physiological research motivated by concerns about our environmental future provides an increasing diversity of tools for understanding the relationship between Earth and life through time. The geologic record, in turn, provides an important distant mirror on contemporary global change.
Andrew H. Knoll has been a member of Harvard University since 1982, integrating as Associate Professor of Biology after receiving his Ph.D. in Geology in 1977. He has been serving as Professor of Biology, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences, chair of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Professor Knoll’s research focuses on the early evolution of life, Earth’s Precambrian environmental history, and, especially, the interconnections between the two. Knoll has also contributed to our understanding of mass extinction, the early evolution of terrestrial ecosystems, biomineralization, complex multicellularity, and phytoplankton evolution. He served on the science team for NASA’s MER mission to Mars and maintains a research interest in the Red Planet.
Professor Knoll’s honors include the Walcott and Thompson medals of the US National Academy of Sciences, the Paleontological Society Medal, the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society (London), the International Prize for Biology, and the Crafoord Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Knoll is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London.
Andrew Knoll, Fisher Research Professor of Natural History at Harvard University