Tag Archives: Lawrence Krauss

harry lonsdale - origins of life challenge

Harry Lonsdale Announces Origin of Life Challenge Winners

In mid-2011, retired California chemist and entrepreneur Harry Lonsdale issued a challenge to the origin of life scientific community to come up with novel ideas for explaining the mechanism of life’s origin, through the Origin of Life Challenge.

Dozens of proposals were received and evaluated by an international panel of experts. The winners were announced today by Lonsdale in collaboration with the Origins Project at Arizona State University and its director Lawrence Krauss. Harry Lonsdale is co-founder of the high tech company, Bend Research Inc., Bend, Ore., and Krauss is an ASU Foundation Professor.

Unraveling life’s origin won’t be easy. Earth was a hellish place when life started some 3 to 4 billion years ago. It was a rocky planet with oceans and a primitive, oxygen-free atmosphere, subject to rampant volcanism and intense solar radiation, with frequent impacts from asteroids and comets. Yet, that was the cradle of life, and as far as we know the only life in the universe. Somehow life started and, through replication of its blueprint and the extraction of energy from its environment, life gained a toehold here on Earth, so that Darwinian evolution could begin its inexorable march — toward us.

Co-winners of the $50,000 prize in response to the Origin of Life Challenge were two British chemists, John Sutherland at the Medical Research Council Laboratory in Molecular Biology, Cambridge, and Matthew Powner at University College, London. They also received a $150,000 one-year grant to pursue their research in the field.

The Sutherland-Powner team is focused on understanding the chemistry of the replication mechanism of first life. All biological replication is based on the nucleic acid polymers RNA and DNA, which carry the genetic code. The team seeks to demonstrate the selective generation of the RNA building blocks and other key biological molecules from simple feedstock molecules under the presumed environmental conditions of pre-biotic Earth. If successful, the Sutherland-Powner team will have demonstrated how RNA could have emerged from plausible chemical reactions on the early Earth.

A $90,000 one-year grant was also made to a joint Canadian-U.S. team consisting of Niles Lehman of Portland State University, Portland, Ore.; Peter Unrau of Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada; and Paul Higgs of McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. That team will explore the ways in which potential information stored within random pieces of RNA can spontaneously assemble into sets of self-replicating molecules.

The Lehman-Unrau-Higgs team will mix large pools containing small fragments of non-functional RNA under a range of plausible pre-biotic conditions, looking for RNAs that have the ability to make copies of themselves, as well as catalyze other important biochemical reactions. If successful, they will have demonstrated the transition from “dead” chemicals to a living state of autonomous replication.

A third, $60,000 grant was made to the team of Wenonah Vercoutere of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and David Deamer at the University of California, Santa Cruz. That team will attempt to demonstrate how simple molecules called nucleotides can polymerize to form RNA when they are organized within membranous structures and exposed to conditions simulating volcanic hot springs. If successful, they will have shown how proto-cells containing RNA could have been produced in the pre-biotic environment.

“These researchers are among the best in the world, and I am excited to see the results of their work,” Harry Lonsdale said. “Ultimately, it is my hope that within a decade or two the fruits of this research will help provide answers to the origin of life question, and that a rational model for life’s origin will be taught in every biology classroom in the world.”

Krauss said the Origin of Life Challenge grants fit perfectly into the mission of the Origins Project at ASU – which is to ask the big questions. “The Origins Project is thrilled to partner with Harry Lonsdale to further his remarkable vision of pushing forward the frontiers of our understanding of life’s origin,” Krauss explained. “It is my hope that these awards will motivate others to contribute support for investigating the important foundational questions that drive the Origins Project and, more broadly, fundamental science everywhere.”

For more information on Harry Lonsdale and Bend Research, visit Bend Research’s website at bendresearch.com.

For more information on ASU Origins Project, visit ASU’s website at origins.asu.edu/about.

Krauss Honored For Science

Krauss, ASU Professor, Honored For Helping Public Understand Science

Lawrence Krauss has spent much of his lifetime trying to solve the riddles nature has put before us. He also spends a lot of his time communicating the complexities of nature and its hidden beauty to a wider public.

Those latter efforts have earned Krauss, a Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics at Arizona State University, the 2012 Public Service Award from the National Science Board. The NSB is the 25-member policymaking body for the National Science Foundation and advisory body to the President and Congress on science and engineering issues.

The NSB Public Service Award honors individuals and groups that have made substantial contributions to increasing public understanding of science and engineering in the United States. Previous winners include Alan Alda, host of Scientific American Frontiers, Ira Flatow, host of National Public Radio’s Science Friday and Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel Corp.

Throughout his career, Krauss, a renowned theoretical physicist, has taken elements of popular culture and used them as starting points to convey scientific ideas and turn on in individuals the desire to know more.

To that end, he has written several best-selling books, lectures extensively, writes for national newspapers and magazines, appears on radio and television and convenes meetings with leading intellectuals talking physics, cosmology, nuclear security, social psychology, creativity, our place in the universe and why we (and the universe) even exist at all. He has been hailed by Scientific American as a rare “public intellectual.”

“Lawrence Krauss’ broad public outreach bridges science and popular culture through various media and intellectual pursuits, and we are proud to name him as the recipient of the 2012 NSB Public Service Award presented to an individual,” said NSB Chairman Ray Bowen.

“I am humbled and honored to receive this remarkable national award from the National Science Board,” Krauss said. “I will count this as one of the highest honors I have received. Science is the greatest intellectual adventure that I can imagine, and it involves some of the most exciting and awe inspiring discoveries and ideas that humans have come up with, which is why I am so excited to be part of the enterprise.”

“I believe we owe it to the public to share these ideas more broadly,” he added. “Most people are actually fascinated by science once they realize that the questions they have always asked themselves really are scientific questions. This is what I have tried to encourage. And in the 21st century we need to encourage greater scientific literacy among the public and among our political leaders if we are to address the numerous global challenges we face.”

Krauss has authored more than 300 scientific publications and nine books, including the international bestseller The Physics of Star Trek, an entertaining and eye-opening tour of the Star Trek universe, and Beyond Star Trek, which responds to recent exciting discoveries in physics and astronomy and takes a look how the laws of physics relate to notions from popular culture. A recent book on physicist Richard Feynman, Quantum Man, was awarded the 2011 Book of the Year by Physics World magazine in the UK.

His most recent bestseller, A Universe from Nothing, offers provocative, revelatory answers to the most basic philosophical questions of existence. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for nonfiction within a week of its release.

In addition to being a professor at ASU, Krauss is the director of the Origins Project, which explores key questions about our origins, who we are and where we came from, and then holds open forums to encourage public participation.

Krauss has been a frequent commentator and columnist for newspapers such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He has written regular columns for New Scientist and Scientific American, and appears routinely on radio and television.

He continues to be a leader in his field as he serves as a co-chair of the board of sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, on the board of directors of the Federation of American Scientists, and is one of the founders of ScienceDebate2012.

Additionally, he performed solo with the Cleveland Orchestra, narrating Gustav Holst’s The Planets at the Blossom Music Center for the most highly attended concert at that venue. Krauss also received a Grammy nomination for his liner notes for a Telarc CD of music from Star Trek, and served as a judge at the Sundance Film Festival.

Krauss is internationally known for his work in theoretical physics – he is the only physicist to receive major awards from all three U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Institute of Physics and the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Krauss will receive the NSB Public Service Award for an individual medal and certificate at an awards ceremony and dinner on May 3 at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. Other honorees will include the recipients of the Vannevar Bush Award, the NSB Public Service Award for a group and National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award.