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Carl Zimmer, speaker

Carl Zimmer

    • New York Times columnist and award-winning science journalist
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(Some) EXTINCTION IS (not necessarily) FOREVER: Carl Zimmer at TEDxDeExtinction

(Some) EXTINCTION IS (not necessarily) FOREVER: Carl Zimmer at TEDxDeExtinction

Carl Zimmer reports from the frontiers of biology, where scientists are expanding our understanding of life. Since 2004 he has written about science for the New York Times, where his column “Matter” has appeared weekly since 2013. He is a popular speaker at universities, medical schools, museums, and festivals, and he is also a frequent on radio programs such as Radiolab and This American Life. Zimmer has won many awards for his work, including the Stephen Jay Gould Prize, awarded by the Society for the Study of Evolution to recognize individuals whose sustained efforts have advanced public understanding of evolutionary science.

Zimmer is the author of thirteen books about science. His latest is She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Power, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity. David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon praised the book, saying, “No one unravels the mysteries of science as brilliantly and compellingly as Carl Zimmer, and he has proven it again with She Has Her Mother’s Laugh—a sweeping, magisterial book that illuminates the very nature of who we are.” The New York Times Book Review named it a notable book of the year. Publisher’s Weekly picked it for their Ten Best Books of 2018, and it was selected for the shortlist for the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction. The Guardian named it the best science book of 2018.

Zimmer’ career began at Discover, where he went on to serve for five years as a senior editor. In addition to his work for the New York Times, he has written articles for magazines including National Geographic, Wired, and The Atlantic. In 2003, Zimmer also launched “The Loom,” an award-winning blog which has been hosted by Discover and National Geographic. In 2015, Zimmer became a contributing national correspondent for STAT, a publication about health and medicine, where he hosted “Science Happens,” a video series that was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. In 2019, Zimmer created “What Is Life?”, an eight-episode series of live conversations with leading thinkers about why life exists, how it began, and other big questions about existence.

His journalism has earned Zimmer many honors. In 2017, he won an Online Journalism Award for his “Game of Genomes” series for STAT. His work has been anthologized in both The Best American Science Writing series and The Best American Science and Nature Writing series. Zimmer is a three-time winner of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Journalism Award–twice for his work for The New York Times and once for his blog, The Loom. Zimmer has won the National Academies Science Communication Award for “his diverse and consistently interesting coverage of evolution and unexpected biology.” In 2015, the National Association of Biology Teachers awarded Zimmer with their Distinguished Service Award.

In 1998, Zimmer published his first book, At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore and Then Went Back to Sea. Since then, Zimmer has written a dozen more books, for which he has won fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Among his other books, Zimmer is the author of Soul Made Flesh, a history of neuroscience. It was named one of the top 100 books of the year by The New York Times Book Review and dubbed a “tour-de-force” by The Sunday Telegraph. His book Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea was called “as fine a book as one will find on the subject” by Scientific American. The Los Angeles Times called Parasite Rex “a book capable of changing how we see the world.” Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, was hailed Anthony Doerr in The Boston Globe as “superb…quietly revolutionary.” It was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Science Book Prize. Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and The Huffington Post. In 2015, the University of Chicago Press published the second edition of his book, A Planet of Viruses. In their review, the Washington Post declared, “Science writer Carl Zimmer accomplishes in a mere 100 pages what other authors struggle to do in 500: He reshapes our understanding of the hidden realities at the core of everyday existence.”

Zimmer is also the author of two widely praised textbooks. In 2009, he published The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution, the first textbook about evolution intended for non-majors. Edward O. Wilson of Harvard called it “excellent for students, the general public, and even other biologists.” Choice named it an academic title of the year. The second edition was published in 2013. Zimmer also co-authored Evolution: Making Sense of Life a textbook for biology majors, with University Montana biologist Doug Emlen. “Their text can only be described as an exciting moment for our field,” said Neil Shubin of the University of Chicago. The third edition of the book is scheduled to be published by Macmillan in September 2019.

In 2009, Zimmer began teaching workshops and seminars at Yale, and in 2017 he was appointed professor adjunct in the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Grace and their children, Charlotte and Veronica.

He is, to his knowledge, the only writer after whom a species of tapeworm has been named.

She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

In this lecture, Carl Zimmer redefines heredity, weaving together historical and current scientific research, exemplary original reporting, and his own experience as a parent of two daughters. Introducing audiences to the not-too-distant future, Zimmer explores the ways in which DNA editing with the powerful new tool CRISPR may change our world—and ourselves. He fearlessly examines controversial topics (Do races actually exist? Is success inherited?) in light of current advances in DNA analysis, and discusses the ways in which heredity has historically been used to justify racism and social inequality. By challenging long-standing presumptions about heredity, Zimmer takes audiences on a journey of discovery about who we really are, where we came from, and what we can pass on to future generations.


Science Reporting In the Age of Fake News

Are humans causing the planet to get hotter? Do vaccines cause autism? Did our species evolve 300,000 years ago? Scientists have answered these questions (yes, no, yes), yet these subjects and many others are now fiercely contested, in some cases by government officials. This talk will explore the current state of science reporting, including some hopeful innovations that will allow for stronger communication about urgent scientific concepts to the public and lawmakers alike.


A Journey to the Center of the Brain

Our brains are the foundation for who were are—they store our memories, give rise to our emotions, and enable us to look to the future. But our brains remain terra incognita, an inner continent that remains barely explored. Only now are scientists beginning to map the brain in its full complexity, mapping some of its 80 billion neurons and their trillions of connections with each other. The results, while early, are mind-blowing to contemplate. Already, brain-mapping has improved people’s lives, enabling scientists to implant electrodes in the brain to help people with Parkinson’s regain their ability to walk, and also to give paralyzed people the power to control computers. In the future, mapping the brain may point to better ways to treat disorders such as autism, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. And, ultimately, we will gain an inner map of human nature itself.


Finding Lost Ancestors and Your Inner Neanderthal

Companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com are introducing millions of people to the history inscribed in their DNA. Over hundreds of generations, our ancestors accumulated mutations that can reveal astonishing secrets, from unknown cousins to ancestral homeland to interbreeding with Neanderthals and other extinct kinds of humans. The science of molecular ancestry is now showing scientists how our ancestors evolved the features that made us uniquely human. But as we encounter these astonishing insights, we must also be aware of the limits of this research, and not try to use it to justify long-refuted myths about ethnicity and ancestry.


Ebola and Company: How Can We Survive on a Planet of Viruses?

The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa inspired fear and confusion across the planet. But scientists are uncovering the astonishing secrets of viruses that let them hold sway over humanity—as well as other species. Viruses do more than just kill, however. They’re evolution’s engine, helping to shape life itself over billions of years. By understanding viruses, we can do more than just rein in diseases like Ebola. We can also harness viruses to build nanomaterials, bring harmony to our microbiomes, and rewrite our own DNA.


You Are Thousands of Species

We think of ourselves as individual human beings, but our identity is actually intermingled with a menagerie of microbes that live in us and on us. Our microbiome contains about five times more cells than our own body, and a thousand times more genes. While we have known for centuries that microbes live in our bodies, only in the past few years have scientists been able to survey their diversity and to begin to figure out what these microbes are doing. It turns out they are essential for our health, and they influence everything from our weight to our minds.

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