01/31/2007 08:00:00

Jared Diamond Named Caltech Commencement Speaker

PASADENA, Calif.-American evolutionary biologist, physiologist, biogeographer, and Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction author Jared Diamond will be the keynote speaker at the 113th annual commencement ceremony at the California Institute of Technology at 10 a.m. June 8 on Beckman Mall. The commencement ceremony will be digitally recorded and made available for viewing online at http://pr.caltech.edu/commencement.

Diamond wrote the popular "Guns, Germs, and Steel" and most recently "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," an international bestseller. Diamond's lectures tackle the big questions: Why do some societies thrive and prosper while others shrivel and die? How can humanity maximize the opportunity for human happiness while saving the planet from ecological ruin? Are there lessons we can learn from other great civilizations?

Diamond is a professor of geography and of environmental health sciences at UCLA, and has received numerous awards, among them a MacArthur Foundation "genius" Fellowship, the Conservation Medals of the Zoological Society of San Diego, Japan's International Cosmos Award, the prestigious Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and a National Medal of Science for his research and discoveries in evolutionary biology.

"I've set myself the modest task of trying to explain the broad pattern of human history, on all the continents, for the last 13,000 years," says Diamond. "Why did history take such different evolutionary courses for peoples of different continents? This problem has fascinated me for a long time, but it's now ripe for a new synthesis because of recent advances in many fields seemingly remote from history, including molecular biology, plant and animal genetics and biogeography, archaeology, and linguistics."

Diamond earned his bachelor's degree at Harvard University in 1958 and his PhD in physiology and membrane biophysics at the University of Cambridge in 1961.

Writer Mark Ridley has jokingly suggested that Diamond is not a single person, but instead "is really a committee," and a glance at his career path seems to verify that. While a professor of physiology at the UCLA Medical School in his twenties, he also developed a separate but parallel career in the ecology and evolution of New Guinea birds. Then, in his fifties, he gradually built a third career in environmental history and thus assumed his current title at UCLA.

Diamond is renowned as the author of a number of popular science works that combine anthropology, biology, linguistics, genetics, and history.

His best-known work is the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (1997), which asserts that the main international issues of our time are legacies of processes that began during the early-modern period, in which civilizations that had experienced an extensive amount of "human development" began to intrude upon simpler civilizations around the world.

In his most recent book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" (2005), Diamond examines what caused some of the great civilizations of the past to collapse into ruin and considers what contemporary society can learn from their fates.

Diamond speaks a dozen languages, and his books rely on fields as diverse as molecular biology and archaeology, as well as knowledge about typewriter design and feudal Japan. Diamond is a recipient of research prizes of the American Physiological Society and National Geographic Society, and many teaching awards and endowed public lectureships. He is on the editorial board of "Skeptic Magazine," a publication of the Skeptics Society. He is also a member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences. He is the U.S. regional director of the World Wildlife Fund.

His field experience includes 22 expeditions to New Guinea and neighboring islands to study ecology and the evolution of birds; rediscovery of New Guinea's long-lost goldenfronted bowerbird; and other field projects in North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. As a conservationist he devised a comprehensive plan, almost all of which was implemented, for Indonesian New Guinea's national park system, and carried out numerous field projects for the Indonesian government and the World Wildlife fund.

Written by Jill Perry