Law of the locust: a tale of swarms, cannibals, ageing and human obesity
Tuesday 4 June 2013, 6 pm
Professor Stephen J. Simpson FAA ARC Laureate Fellow, School of Biological Sciences Academic Director, The Charles Perkins Centre - The University of Sydney
Professor Stephen Simpson is Academic Director of the Charles Perkins Centre and Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney. The Charles Perkins Centre is a new $500 million cross-faculty initiative at the University of Sydney. Its mission is to research and implement cross-disciplinary approaches to alleviating the individual and societal burden of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Stephen returned to Australia in 2005 as an ARC Federation Fellow after 22 years at Oxford. Before that he had undertaken his PhD at the University of London, and his undergraduate degree and Honours at the University of Queensland.
Together with colleague David Raubenheimer, Stephen developed an integrative modelling framework for nutrition (the Geometric Framework), which was devised and tested using insects but has since been applied to a wide range of organisms, from slime moulds to humans, and problems, from aquaculture and conservation biology to the dietary causes of human obesity and ageing. A synthesis of this body of work can be found in The Nature of Nutrition: a Unifying Framework from Animal Adaptation to Human Obesity, published in May 2012 by Princeton University Press. In addition to nutritional biology, Stephen’s research on locusts has led to an understanding of locust swarming that links chemical events in the brains of individual insects to landscape-scale mass migration.
Stephen has been Visiting Professor at Oxford, a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg) in Berlin, Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the University of Arizona, and Guest Professor at the University of Basel. In 2007 he was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, in 2008 he was awarded the Eureka Prize for Scientific Research, in 2009 he was named NSW Scientist of the Year, and in 2010 he was named as the Wigglesworth Medallist by the Royal Entomological Society of London. He was also the presenter of a four-part documentary for ABC TV, Great Southern Land, which was aired to critical and viewer acclaim in September 2012.
Law of the locust: a tale of swarms,
cannibals, ageing and human obesity
There can be few more important challenges in modern biology than explaining how the features of organisms contribute to the populations, communities and ecosystems within which they exist, and how these in turn respond to changing environmental conditions. I will use my group’s work on locusts and other insects to show how spanning individuals to ecosystems can be achieved by combining theory, laboratory and field experiments and by using techniques from a range of disciplines, including molecular biology, neurophysiology, biochemistry, behaviour, mathematics, statistical physics, computer science, engineering, evolutionary theory and landscape ecology. Locust plagues are one of the most infamous insect scourges, affecting the lives of 1 in 10 people on the planet. But they have also provided important new clues into the causes of human obesity, how we age, and the complex behaviour of crowds. I will take us on a strange journey that begins in the midst of a locust swarm and ends with the human obesity epidemic. Along the way you will see what you can discover by ticking a locust’s leg with a paintbrush, how recreational drugs turn shy solitary locusts into swarming party animals, how robotic aircraft are being used to track swarms, how statistical physics offers the key to understanding collective movement, the sinister role played by cannibalism in marching bands of locusts and Mormon crickets, and how a powerful appetite for protein can help explain not only locust mass marching but also human obesity and ageing.
This lecture is co-sponsored by:
Tuesday 4 June 2013
Refreshments from 5:30 pm
Lecture and live streaming from 6pm (http://www.science.org.au/livestream/)
Free entry and parking