This episode is a special video and poetry episode with Prof. Eric Pianka, who you may remember from episode 5. After I initially met and interviewed Eric, he emailed and told me that he had some poems he wanted to record. Eric often ends his courses by reading poetry about the environment (which he calls “ecopoetry”), accompanied by slide presentations. So, I visited Austin earlier this spring and worked with Eric to make his ecopoetry readings and presentations into videos available to everyone. The audio-only version of this episode is his readings of “Requiem” by Kurt Vonnegut and “For the Last Wolverine” by James Dickey. The videos above are the real content of this episode.
Ted Schultz is a research entomologist and curator in the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. His research focuses on the evolution and systematics of fungus-growing ants. I was interested in talking to Ted because of his unique path into science, his pre-academia work with The Whole Earth publishing group, and what it means to be a biologist at a national museum. The Whole Earth Catalog was a very influential counter-culture magazine that started in the late sixties. Here’s The Fringes of Reason issue that Ted edited and we talk about in the beginning of the episode.
(Photo by Smithsonian Institution)
Prof. Steven Vogel of Duke University is a founding father of the field of biomechanics. Dr. Vogel and I talk about what it means to be a biologists, why people do and are interested in research, and what it was like to be a fresh-faced biologist in the 1960s compared to today. During his career he’s studied the physical properties and functional ecology or everything from plants to prairie dogs. His many books include the textbook Comparative Biomechanics: life’s physical world, and several popular science books including Cats’ Paws and Catapults: Mechanical Worlds of Nature and People, and his latest book The life of a Leaf.
In the picture above, Prof. Vogel is showing me a small sample of the mechanical teaching aids he’s built over the years.
Prof. Marlene Zuk of the Universtiy of Minnesota is an exceptionally talented and influential biologist studying behavioral ecology and sexual selection. In graduate school she co-authored a paper with Bill Hamilton that gave rise to the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis on parasite load and sexual selection. Since then she has gone on to study red jungle fowl and crickets, asking questions about sexual selection and host-parasite interactions. She has authored 4 popular science books, including her latest from last year, Paleofantasy.
(photo by Blake Leigh)
Jerry Coyne is a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago. Jerry is well known for his research on the evolutionary genetics of speciation in Drosophila. His 2004 book Speciation, which he co-authored with H. Allen Orr, is a classic in the field. Jerry has also been very successful at writing for a popular audience with his 2009 book Why Evolution is True and its companion website. I met with Jerry in his office at the university of Chicago. We talked about religion and science and he shared some great stories about his days as a student. His story about how he got into graduate school at Harvard is just one of many really great stories in this episode.
Professor Bert Hölldobler is a world expert on the behavioral ecology of ants. Popularly, he is perhaps best known for his research collaborations with E. O. Wilson at Harvard, which culminated in winning a Pulitzer Prize for the book The Ants. Bert is now a Foundation Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, and I was co-advised by him when I earned my Ph.D.
(photo: Arizona State University)
Professor Eric Pianka, aka “The Lizard Man”, is an acclaimed ecologist known for his research on the community ecology of desert lizards. He has authored several books including his influential textbook Evolutionary Ecology. We talk about his career, his mentors (e.g. Robert MacArthur), and his approach to biological research.
Professor Walter Tschinkel is a world-renowned ant researcher and fire ant expert. He was also my undergraduate advisor and one of my first scientific mentors. Much of his research can be found in his excellent book The Fire Ants. One of my goals when starting this podcast was to do this interview. I did it. It was great. Here it is.