Distinguished Professor Emeritus Geerat Vermeij poses with a shell
Distinguished Professor Emeritus Geerat Vermeij, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, will deliver the upcoming New Emeriti Distinguished Lecture, which will focus on "The Evolution of Power." (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Geerat Vermeij to Give New Emeriti Distinguished Lecture on 'The Evolution of Power'

Quick Summary

  • Distinguished Professor Emeritus Geerat Vermeij, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, will deliver the upcoming New Emeriti Distinguished Lecture scheduled for Feb. 15 at 3:00 p.m. at Putah Creek Lodge.
  • Vermeij's lecture "The Evolution of Power" will focus on how the concept of power unifies a vast range of phenomena in the evolution of life, with a focus on humans as the most powerful species ever to have evolved.
  • Register to attend the lecture in person or via Zoom.

For Distinguished Professor Emeritus Geerat Vermeij, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, the essence of science is to ask questions about simple things and from those questions glean answers about the big things. For decades, the paleobiologist, who’s been blind since childhood, has dived deep into Earth’s history, using his fingertips to study the intricacies of organisms from eons past.

With hundreds of publications to his name, including multiple books, Vermeij has received numerous accolades for his research. Most recently, he was elected as a member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

“UC Davis gave me sufficient freedom and enough really great colleagues for me to do my work more or less unencumbered,” said Vermeij. “I feel very satisfied and happy about my career, and I continue to do research.”

Vermeij also continues to publish. His forthcoming book, The Evolution of Power, reveals “how the concept of power unifies a vast range of phenomena in the evolution of life,” according to the book’s publisher Princeton University Press.

This subject will be the focus of Vermeij’s upcoming New Emeriti Distinguished Lecture, the latest installment of a lecture series that celebrates the accomplishments of UC Davis’ newly retired faculty. Vermeij’s lecture is scheduled for Feb. 15 at 3:00 p.m. at Putah Creek Lodge. In addition to the in-person event, the lecture will be livestreamed on Zoom. 

“The new book and the lecture will focus on the unifying theme of power, energy taken up or spent per unit of time,” said Vermeij. “I shall focus on the place of humans as the most powerful species (individually and collectively) ever to have evolved, and on the unique monopoly we have created; yet humans follow a trend of increasing power throughout the history of life.”

“The book is an outgrowth of work dating back to near the beginning of my career,” he added. “It began with noticing that snail shells in the Pacific and Indian oceans are sturdier (more armored) than those in the tropical Atlantic; this led to the idea of escalation between predators and prey, and things grew from there.”

Origin of appreciation

The New Emeriti Distinguished Lecture series is a fledgling initiative from UC Davis. Vermeij’s lecture will be the second of the series. Last December, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Evolution and Ecology Harris Lewin gave a lecture titled “From Chickens to Cows to Everything: Perspectives from 40 Years in Science.”

Distinguished Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Walter Leal, who created the lecture series, is excited to welcome Vermeij as the series’ next lecturer.

“Geerat has a beautiful story,” he said. “He’s a person who’s been blind since he was three years old, and he made a career and became a distinguished professor, which is no small feat. It’s amazing.”

Leal said the lecture series is a way to show appreciation for the movers and shakers who made the UC Davis campus what it is today. 

“These people laid the foundation for us to succeed, so we exist because they created the foundation,” he said. “We must thank them.”

Register to attend Vermeij's lecture via Zoom or in person

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