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Biorobotics expert and Vassar professor John Long to discuss his widely praised new book "Darwin’s Devices," May 3, 2012.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- Vassar Professor of Biology and Cognitive Science John Long, a pioneering researcher in the emerging field of evolutionary biorobotics, will discuss his new book, Darwin's Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us about the History of Life and the Future of Technology (Basic Books, 2012), at 10:30am at the Vassar College Bookstore in Main Building. In this lecture, free and open to the public, Long will describe the innovative role robots are playing in our understanding of biology and evolution.

Darwin's Devices and John Long have been widely praised since the book’s April publication. “Though Long is a gifted storyteller, this is no simple fish tale...With Darwin's Devices, Long reminds us that science is always an adventure, and that new technology only drives us faster and further into the unknown,” wrote New Scientist. “Darwin's Devices is part Descartes, part MacGyver and part Douglas Adams, turning from rumination on the possibility of intelligence residing in a brainless body to tips on making artificial fish vertebrae out of coffee stirrers to the dopey yet endearing jokes that seem to flourish in laboratories all over the world,” observed Salon.com. The Boston Globe added, "Long manages to balance fairly detailed and frequently entertaining accounts of the nuts and bolts of robot research with occasional forays into big picture, what-does-it-all-mean thinking.... His discussion was both intelligent and philosophically informed, a rare thing in contemporary science writing.”

At Vassar’s Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, Long, his colleagues, and his students design and build mobile, autonomous devices – biorobots – to operate like animals. Biorobots locomote, forage for food, compete with each other, and try to avoid predators. “As the generations pass, and the robotic offspring change,” Long explains, “we watch evolution in action. And when we build autonomous robots that evolve, we can reconstruct the evolution and behavior of extinct organisms.” In Darwin’s Devices Long describes this research and explains how, in terms of evolution, brains count less while efficiency counts more, and goes on to explore such topics as how autonomous robots are being, and in future will be used, on the battlefield.

Long serves as the Director of the Interdisciplinary Robotics Research Laboratory, which he co-founded, and as the Chair of the Vassar Department of Biology. He teaches classes in animal physiology, animal diversity, introductory biology, biomechanics, evolutionary theory, and neuroscience and behavior, as well as conducting research in evolutionary biorobotics, locomotor biomechanics, and bioinspired engineering. Long and his robots – called Madeleine and Tadros (for “Tadpole robots”) – have garnered widespread press coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post, among other publications. He and his robots have also taught evolution on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel.

Vassar College strives to make its events, performances, and facilities accessible to all. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 72 hours in advance of an event, Mondays-Fridays, at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space/and or assistance may not be available. For detailed information about accessibility to specific campus facilities, search for “campus accessibility information” on the Vassar homepage (http://www.vassar.edu).

Vassar College is located at 124 Raymond Avenue in Poughkeepsie, NY, and directions to the campus can be found at http://www.vassar.edu/directions.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, April 24, 2012