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Sept. 15, 2011

Museum of Natural History launches new lecture series; Harvard professor, curator speaks Sept. 22

The University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums will kick off a brand new "Museum of Natural History Directors' Lecture Series" with a talk by Hopi Hoekstra, professor of zoology and curator of mammals at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

The free, public lecture, "From Darwin to DNA: How Animals Adapt to New Environments" will be held in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, and will be followed by a dessert reception.

Hoekstra received her bachelor's degree in integrative biology from the University of California, Berkeley before completing her doctorate in 2000 as a Howard Hughes Predoctoral Fellow at the University of Washington. She then moved to the University of Arizona as a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Postdoctoral Fellow where she studied the genetic basis of adaptive melanism in pocket mice. In 2003, Hoekstra was appointed as an Assistant Professor at UC San Diego. Three years later she moved to Harvard University, where she is the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and curator of mammals at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Hoekstra is broadly interested in the genetic basis of adaptation and speciation in vertebrate animals.

Hoekstra's research uses a variety of tools to understand why traits like size, shape and color vary in natural populations and how differences in such traits arise. She studies differences in populations both across space and across time, using new lab and field data as well as data from museum specimens collected in the early 20th century. Her work on projects, such as the ecology and genetics of coat color variation and genetic variation in endangered beach mice, brings new insight to our understanding of evolution and informs important conservation questions. Her research has appeared in top scientific journals, including Nature, Science, Evolution and many others.

The MNH Directors' Lecture Series, hosted by the UI Pentacrest Museums—Old Capitol Museum and Museum of Natural History—will continue to feature monthly public lectures by nationally renowned scientists including Steven Holen of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science on October 23 and David Mindell of the California Academy of Sciences on November 10, and then continuing in spring 2012.

John Logsdon, director of the Pentacrest Museums, hopes this lecture series "will bring world-class science to the public in an accessible and exciting way." The speakers in this series will represent a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from anthropology to zoology and are being selected not only on the basis of their expertise, but also for their ability to communicate with a broad public audience. These lectures will feature a diversity of scientists, all of whom based their research on museum specimens that illustrate the importance of natural history collections in modern research.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: John Logsdon, Pentacrest Museums, john-logsdon@uiowa.edu, 319-335-1082