The Emergence of Life

Date: Tuesday, February 26, 2019 Time: 5:30 pm-7:00 pm Location: Burr and Burton Academy, Hunter Seminar Room  { MAP } Fee: $15 in advance; $20 at the door


George H. Shaw

John and Jane Wold
Professor of Geology
Union College

The transition from inanimate molecular mixes to something we would agree is “alive” is one of the most profound events that have occurred on Earth (or elsewhere in the universe). Perhaps the key point is the development of a self-replicating system capable of transmitting information content useful in maintaining the integrity of the system. Based on what we know about modern living systems, two questions immediately arise. First… How do we get sufficient amounts and concentrations of essential raw materials (pre-biotic compounds) such that the formation of self-contained systems has a reasonable chance of emerging? Second… Is there anything in current living systems that may be construed as representative (or critical) to the emergence of life? The answer to the former question depends on the nature of Earth’s earliest surface environment, principally because it appears that life emerged surprisingly early in Earth’s history. The answer to the second may be found in the details of how life “works” at present, provided some “fossil” remnants remain for us to detect. This talk addresses both of these questions and provides some tentative answers (or guesses).

George H. Shaw has been the John and Jane Wold Professor of Geology at Union College since 1988, when he was hired to re-establish and build a geology department. Previously he was in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. During 1981-82 he was the American Geophysical Union Congressional Science Fellow and worked as a legislative assistant to Congressman Al Swift of Washington State. He has taught a broad range of courses in geology, energy resources and policy, and geophysics, including two term abroad courses in Australia and New Zealand. He has expertise in various aspects of energy policy including nuclear waste, energy resource development, and carbon capture. He is currently working on cost-effective approaches to carbon capture.