Fall 2012: Emergence and Complexity of Life

Where did we come from? What is consciousness? Are we alone in the universe?

These profound questions have broad significance to all members of our community. From a scientific and philosophical perspective, the origin of life and the evolutionary progression leading to the emergence of human intelligence represents one of the most fundamental questions of our time.

Over the ages, a series of scientific revolutions have changed the way we think about ourselves and the universe we live in.

We are currently poised at the threshold of just such a revolution concerning our origins. Recent breakthroughs in our understanding of the origin of life and the spectacular discovery of thousands of extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars in our galaxy makes a President’s Dream Colloquium on the emergence and complexity of life timely and exciting.

The series of lectures from internationally recognized experts will incorporate four interlocking themes:

  • Origins of life on Earth
  • Evolving ever-increasing complexity
  • I think, therefore I am
  • Is there anybody else I can talk to?

Graduate students will be the focal point of this colloquium, as they will be responsible for synthesizing background material from a broad range of fields and for presenting the ideas and results of more specialized papers to their colleagues from other disciplines.

Each colloquium will be set up as six bi-weekly seminars led by six different renowned experts in their field.

Each seminar topic will have a two-week focus: In the first week, the group will meet to discuss materials relevant to the following week's seminar, which will be led by the guest speaker. There will be a final student presentation or collaborative project.

Nancy Forde, Associate Professor, Physics
Peter Unrau, Associate Professor, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry

Participating Faculty
Holly Andersen, Philosophy
David Boal, Physics
Rosemary Cornell, MBB
Phil Hanson, Philosophy
Harald Hutter, Biological Sciences
Charles Krieger, Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology (BPK)
Dan Marigold, BPK
John McDonald, Psychology
Ralph Mistlberger, Psychology
Lynne Quarmby, MBB
Lisa Shapiro, Philosophy
Michael Silverman, Biological Sciences

Learn More

If you'd like to be notified about anything related to the Dream Colloquium, please let us know via websurvey. We'll also let you know about any other public events associated with each guest speaker.

If you would like to reserve for the free public lectures, please see the schedule page.


* Colloquium-Fall2012-course.pdf
Course description
* ColloquiumApplication-Grad.pdf
Graduate students
* ColloquiumApplication-UGrad.pdf
Senior undergraduates
* Colloquium poster.pdf
Colloquium Poster
* Seager-Exoplanets.pdf
Poster for Sara Seager lectures


All SFU graduate students and senior undergraduates may register with permission of their departments. Graduate students in the following departments have been pre-approved to take this course for credit towards their degrees:

  • Biology
  • Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology
  • Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
  • Philosophy
  • Physics
  • Psychology

Enrolment in the colloquium will be capped at 20 registrants, and admission will be by application only.