October 16, 2015 Comfort Begins Tenure as Third NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology

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

Historian of science Nathaniel Comfort began his one-year tenure this month as the third Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center.

A well-known historian of recent science, biology and biomedicine, Comfort is 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).

He will spend one year at the Library of Congress studying the history of the genomic revolution in origin-of-life research. “Genomics represents not just a new approach to genetics, but a new style of thought,” Comfort says. “It is transforming all the life sciences, from medicine to ecology, to evolution, to astrobiology.”

The field of astrobiology is interested in how life began and evolved on Earth, in addition to the search for life elsewhere in the universe, and Comfort’s research will address this area of inquiry. 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 Baruch S. Blumberg NASA/Library of Congress Chair in Astrobiology 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. The astrobiology chair is 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 is the third scholar to hold the Astrobiology Chair: previous chair holders were astrobiologist and planetary scientist David Grinspoon (2012-2013) and Steven Dick, former chief historian at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (2013-2014).

The Kluge Center is accepting applications for the chair in astrobiology for 2016-2017. Applications must be submitted online by Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015. For information, guidelines and forms, visit loc.gov/kluge/fellowships/NASA-astrobiology.html. Further questions about the chair can be directed to [email protected].

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 loc.gov/kluge/.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s first-established 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 loc.gov.

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PR 15-185
2015-10-16
ISSN 0731-3527