Director’s Lecture Series

Gleditsia triacanthos 'skyline' 485-56-ADirector’s Lecture Series

Each winter, Director William (Ned) Friedman and the Arnold Arboretum present the Director’s Lecture Series, featuring nationally recognized experts addressing an array of topics related to Earth’s biodiversity and evolutionary history, the environment, conservation biology, and key social issues associated with current science. The Director’s Lecture Series is open to current Arnold Arboretum members only; visit our membership page for information on becoming a member. Lectures take place in the Hunnewell Building Lecture Hall. Parking will be available along the Arborway and in front of the Hunnewell Building on lecture nights.

Visit Past DLS Series to see descriptions and listen to audio (when available) of past lectures.

2018 Series: January 22, February 26, March 26, April 30

Members only. Free, but registration required. Space is limited.

Replaying Life’s Tape through the Lens of Plants

William (Ned) Friedman, Arnold Arboretum Director and Arnold Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
Monday, January 22, 7:00–8:30pm, Hunnewell Building


What can an understanding of the history of photosynthetic life tell us of the human condition? Are we, as a cognitive species, an absolutely inevitable consequence of several billion years of evolution? Or, should we wake up every morning with an exhilarating sense of the sheer improbability of just being! For decades, going back to the book Wonderful Life, by Stephen J. Gould, the debate as to the probabilities of intelligent life evolving not only here on Earth, but throughout the universe, has ebbed and flowed. None of the chief protagonists in this debate (zoologists, microbiologists, or philosophers) has ever thought about how an understanding of plant evolutionary history might bear heavily on the conclusions one reaches. Professor Friedman will discuss how just a few tweaks to the evolutionary history of plants might ultimately have precluded human life from evolving on Earth – and whether such tweaks could occur upon replaying life’s tape.

A Field for Women’s Work

Dava Sobel by Mia Berg

Dava Sobel, Author and Science Reporter
The date of this lecture is now Tuesday, February 13, 7:00–8:30pm, Hunnewell Building
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In the late 19th century, botany was the science generally deemed acceptable for a woman to pursue. At the Harvard College Observatory, however, women were welcomed as computers, observers, and discoverers of new celestial phenomena. They attracted international attention as they created a taxonomy for the stars and found a way to measure distances across space. Dava Sobel, author of The Glass Universe, Galileo’s Daughter, and Longitude among others, will speak about the women of the Observatory, their careers devoted to the heavens, and their passions encompassing plants and all things natural. Note: date has been changed from February 26 to February 13.


The Fingerprints of Sea Level Change in a Warming World

Jerry Mitrovica

Jerry X. Mitrovica, PhD, Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University
Monday, March 26, 7:00–8:30pm, Hunnewell Building
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Sea level changes are a particularly dramatic consequence of global warming and estimates of the average rise in sea level over the past decade are routinely reported in the media. However, such estimates obscure the fact that observed sea level changes vary dramatically around the globe. Professor Jerry Mitrovica will describe the sources of this variability and focus on the unique patterns – or fingerprints – of sea level change that follow the melting of ice sheets and glaciers. Those of us who live on the US east coast should be far more concerned about the fate of the distant Antarctic Ice Sheet than the future of our neighbor, the ice sheet that now covers Greenland.


When Darwin Met Thoreau

Prof Randall Fuller

Randall Fuller, PhD, Herman Melville Distinguished Professor of American Literature, University of Kansas
Monday, April 30, 7:00–8:30pm, Hunnewell Building
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On January 1, 1860, Henry David Thoreau learned about a new work of science entitled On the Origin of Species. Within a month, he had read the book, taken extensive notes, and begun to incorporate Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection into his understanding of nature. In this talk, Professor Randall Fuller will recount Thoreau’s deep engagement with what remains one of the most important concepts of the nineteenth century. Fuller is the author of The Book that Changed America.

Book that Changed America