Intern Isabel Kirsch

Isabel Kirsch, a student at Yale College, has worked with PHE during the summer of 2020 as an intern exploring the immune system through the lens of human performance enhancement. While Isabel’s internship is drawing to a close, we look forward to continuing collaboration and thank Isabel for creatively expanding the scope of our research.

Michael Shellenberger’s new book

We are long-time admirers of Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who co-founded The Breakthrough Institute in 2003. TBI award Jesse Ausubel its annual prize in 2014, and Iddo Wernick has served as a Breakthrough Fellow. Perrin Meyer has also participated in TBI activities, and fostered appreciation in TBI of diffusion and loglets. Michael, who founded Environmental Progress in 2016, has now authored a best-seller (it climbed to #5 among all Amazon non-fiction last week) Apocalypse Never. Jesse and ideas developed over the years in PHE figure significantly in the book.

Alan Curry takes on new challenge

Alan Curry, who has worked creatively and fruitfully with the PHE for more than 8 years, has joined a biotech start-up in a management role as his primary employment. Happily, Alan will continue part-time with PHE, for example, in our studies of technology in the “blue” (maritime) economy and in regard to human performance enhancement. Best of luck to Alan in the new endeavor!

Discoveries of the Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project

Biologists in the Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project have shared a trio of fascinating, innovative papers.

Manolito G. Torralba, Claire Kuelbs, Kelvin Jens Moncera, and Karen E. Nelson of the J Craig Venter Institute, La Jolla, California, and Rhonda Roby of the Alameda California County Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory, used small, dry polyester swabs to gently collect microbes from centuries-old, Renaissance-style art in a private collector’s home in Florence, Italy. Their findings are published open access in the journal Microbial Ecology, “Characterizing microbial signatures on sculptures and paintings of similar provenance.”

Concurrently available are a pair of papers by David Thaler, of the University of Basel and a guest investigator in the Program for the Human Environment.  David’s papers are

“Evidence for extraordinary visual acuity in Leonardo’s comment on a dragonfly,” and “Sfumato in Leonardo’s portraits: Optical and psychophysical mechanisms.”

Thaler’s papers form part of a collection now in press as a book: Actes du Colloque International d’Amboise: Leonardo de Vinci, Anatomiste. Pionnier de l’Anatomie comparée, de la Biomécanique, de la Bionique et de la Physiognomonie, edited by Henry de Lumley, CNRS editions, Paris.

Two major newswires, Agence France Presse and Agencia EFE, each did separate stories:

Manny Torralba et al.
AFP Microbes Could ‘help Save Old Masters’ And Catch Forgers

Agencia EFE Identificar microbios en obras de arte abre la puerta a una mejor preservación

David Thaler

AFP  Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘quick eye’ may be key to Mona Lisa’s magnetism  

German version Forscher: «Schnelles Auge» half da Vinci beim Zeichnen und Malen

Agencia EFE La rapidez visual “súper desarrollada” de Da Vinci podría explicar la sonrisa de la Mona Lisa

LiveScience, United States Did Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘quick eye’ help him capture Mona Lisa’s fleeting smile?

By Leonardo Da Vinci DNA Project (summary)

Genetic detectives ID microbes suspected of slowly ruining humanity’s treasures

Reuters article on COVID-19 & Quiet Ocean Experiment

Journalist Maurice Tamman wrote an excellent, widely published article, Pandemic offers scientists unprecedented chance to hear oceans as they once were, about the International Quiet Ocean Experiment (IQOE) for Reuters.

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Eleven years ago, environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel dreamed aloud in a commencement speech: What if scientists could record the sounds of the ocean in the days before propeller-driven ships and boats spanned the globe?

even picked up by the New York Times:

and in the hard copy edition of the Washington Post.

The 2009 Dalhousie University Commencement Address to which it refers is posted here:,  published on 23 November 2009 by the monthly science magazine, SEED, as Broadening the Scope of Global Change to Include Illumination and Noise.

The 5th IQOE Newsletter is here.

A vivid set of  2019 articles about the oceans authored by Maurice Tamman and Co.: Maurice Tamman, Matthew Green, Mari Saito, Sarah Slobin and Maryanne Murray – Reuters: Ocean shock: The climate crisis beneath the waves

Passing of marine biologist Ron O’Dor

The chief scientist of the Census of Marine Life, Ron O’Dor, passed away in Nova Scotia from COVID-19 at the age of 75 on 11 May 2020.  Ron was a curious, good-humored colleague. 

Jesse first met Ron in December 1997 at a meeting at the New England Aquarium to assess the feasibility of censusing the “non-fish nekton.” Ron represented the cephalopods, very well. Ron’s creativity immediately became apparent. Chats about the potential of Internet databases with spatial information about marine species led Ron to enlist his grad student James Wood to create CephBase, for all squids and octopi. CephBase launched in 1998, biblical times for on-line services, pre-dating Google.  By the time the CoML officially launched at the start of 2000, it was clear the program would need a full-time senior scientist. Ron was the unanimous preference of the founding members of the Scientific Steering Committee.

The CoML went terrifically well in large part because Ron brought many outstanding people into the program, always neatly aligned with CoML objectives. His ability to work on airplanes and in hotel rooms amazed everyone. It did not matter where he was or when it was, work got done, and was always well-written and clean. The Baseline Report that Ron (sole author) produced in October 2003 was a tour de force and did much to establish the credibility of the program.

A remembrance from the Ocean Tracking Network and an obituary in the Chronicle Herald.

The Ron O’Dor Memorial Fund has been set-up to sustain his legacy:  Deep condolences to his widow Janet and family and the Dalhousie science community of which he was a formative member.

COVID & The World Interview with Jesse Ausubel

The website Human Progress launches a new video series called The Covid Tonic. The series features conversations between renowned scholars and editor, Marian L. Tupy. The interviews focus on the global impact of COVID-19 and the continued importance of rational optimism. Episode 1 features the environmental scientist Jesse Ausubel, a Human Progress Board Member and Director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University in New York City. 

Watch the full video here