April 7, 2015 Nathaniel Comfort Named to Chair in Astrobiology at John W. Kluge Center

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Jason Steinhauer (202) 707-0213

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has named Nathaniel Comfort to hold the third Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology in the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. He will begin on Oct. 1, 2015, and be in residence for 12 months.

A well-known historian of recent science (science of the recent past), biology and biomedicine, Comfort is currently a professor at the Institute of the History of Medicine at The Johns Hopkins University. His books include “The Science of Human Perfection: How Genes Became the Heart of American Medicine” (2012) and “The Tangled Field: Barbara McClintock’s Search for the Patterns of Genetic Control” (2001).

While at the Library, Comfort will use the collections to examine the history of the genomic revolution in origin-of-life research. He said, “Genomics represents not just a new approach to genetics, but a new style of thought. It is transforming all the life sciences, from medicine to ecology, to evolution, to astrobiology.”

Comfort’s research addresses one of the central areas of inquiry in the field of astrobiology, which, in addition to the search for life elsewhere in the universe, is deeply interested in how life began and evolved here on earth. Comfort will make use of the Library's extensive manuscript collections of notable scientists, including the Carl Sagan archive and the Barry Commoner, Maxine Singer, and George Gamow papers, as well as the resources in the Library’s Science, Technology and Business Division and the Library’s general collections.

The Astrobiology Chair at the Kluge Center is the result of collaboration between the NASA Astrobiology Program and the Library of Congress. It is named for Baruch "Barry" Blumberg, the late Kluge Center Scholars Council member, Nobel laureate and founding director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. Funded by NASA, and executed by the Kluge Center in consultation with the NASA Astrobiology Institute, the chair holder conducts research at the intersection of the science of astrobiology and its humanistic and societal implications. One senior researcher is appointed annually to be in residence at the John W. Kluge Center, to make use of the Library of Congress collections in exploration of these questions, as well as to convene related programs on astrobiology’s role in culture and society. Comfort becomes the third distinguished scholar to hold the Astrobiology Chair: previous chair holders include renowned astrobiologist and planetary scientist David Grinspoon (2012-2013) and Steven Dick, former chief historian at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2013-2014).

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world's best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another, to distill wisdom from the Library's rich resources, and to interact with policymakers in Washington. For more information about the Kluge Center visit www.loc.gov/kluge/.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 160 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.

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PR 15-055
2015-04-07
ISSN 0731-3527