What’s for Dinner?

Free public talk at UC Riverside on April 2 to focus on molecular signatures of plants, animals and water in early human habitats

Photo shows Katherine Freeman

Katherine Freeman is a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University.Photo credit: Penn State.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A geoscientist renowned for her research in organic geochemistry, isotopic biogeochemistry, paleoclimate, and astrobiology will give a science lecture at the University of California, Riverside on Wednesday, April 2, that will highlight the detective work needed to understand biomarker and isotope signals of plants and water in the past, and what they tell us about environmental resources such as water, food, and shelter available to our forebears.

The free, public talk by Katherine Haines Freeman, a professor of geosciences at Pennsylvania State University, is titled “What’s for dinner? Molecular signatures of plants, animals and water in early human habitats.”  The hour-long lecture will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Conference Rooms D and E, UCR Extension Center (UNEX), 1200 University Ave., Riverside. The lecture is hosted by the university’s College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences and the new Environmental Dynamics and GeoEcology (EDGE) Institute.

About two million years ago, numerous human ancestors lived in the catchment of an ancient lake at Oldvuai Gorge, Tanzania. Today, molecular signatures or biomarkers of ancient plants are well preserved in the paleolake sediments and soils. Freeman’s studies of these molecules, and the stable isotope signatures they carry, reveal a diversity of the habitat both spatially and over time for the Olduvai landscape.

Her research employs the stable carbon and hydrogen isotope abundance in individual biomarkers, or fossil molecules from ancient organisms.  She has used lipids from ancient algae to estimate past atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to understand climate forcing over Earth’s history.  She has used molecules from modern and ancient microbes to study carbon cycling in oceans and marine sediments.  She pioneered the use of biomarker deuterium signatures to reconstruct the elevation of ancient mountains.  Most recently, Freeman has studied plant biomarkers to understand how changing patterns in ecosystems and water resources were linked to global climate change, to plant evolution, and to the rise of human ancestors.

Among her many awards, Freeman is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, Geochemical Society, European Association of Geochemistry, American Academy of Microbiology, Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Geological Society of America, and Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. She has received the Science Innovation Award from the European Association of Geochemistry, the James Lee Wilson Medal in Sedimentology from the Society for Sedimentary Geology, and the Pieter Schenck Award from the European Association of Organic Geochemists.

Freeman is the recipient of three teaching and mentoring awards from Penn State, was director of graduate programs in geosciences, and has supervised more than 30 postdocs and graduate students.  She is a co-editor of Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

For more questions about the talk, please call (951) 827-3182 or email jennifer.reising@ucr.edu.

Upcoming talks

On April 9, Sue Brantley of Pennsylvania State University will give a talk titled “How Fracking Impacts Our Water: The Pennsylvania Experience.”  On April 23, Scott Wing of the Smithsonian Institution will give a talk titled “Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago: What It Means for Us.” Finally, on May 7, Scott Doney, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will give a talk titled “Climate Change and the Ocean.”


Global climate and environmental change, and the associated degradation of ecosystems, together form the biggest issue facing society today. UCR’s EDGE Institute aims to examine life in this changing environment, focusing on carbon (molecules to organisms), nutrients, and water at various temporal and spatial scales. It brings together UCR scientists from the biological, chemical, and physical sciences to examine particular questions or issues.

Directing the institute will be the holder of the Wilbur W. Mayhew Chair, recently endowed by anonymous donors who are passionate about the ecology of the southwest. Their $1.5 million gift honors Mayhew, a pioneering ecologist, UCR faculty member and co-founder of the UC Natural Reserves System.  His work resulted in the preservation of key natural habitats throughout California for future generations of scientists and students. These habitats are invaluable today as laboratories of the natural world.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-6050
E-mail: iqbal@ucr.edu
Twitter: UCR_Sciencenews

Additional Contacts

Jennifer Reising
Tel: (951) 827-3182
E-mail: jennifer.reising@ucr.edu

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