Listening beyond the rhythm of ocean waves and squawks of seagulls, biologist Sheila Patek explores the sounds below the ocean’s surface during her talk "(un)Silent Sea." The talk is part of the Honors Faculty Lecture Series presented by Commonwealth Honors College at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
"A healthy sea is full of sound. Yet," she asks, "Are we heading toward a silent sea?" Her lecture examines the biomechanics and behavior of sound in the sea, and considers the ever-increasing impact of humans on ocean life. An associate professor of biology at UMass Amherst, Patek studies the interplay between evolution and basic physics.
Patek suggests that the majority of sounds that can be heard beneath the ocean’s surface remain unidentified because human attention is naturally drawn to other land creatures such as birds and insects and to close evolutionary relatives, like whales and dolphins. However, "Understanding the sources and diversity of sound in the sea is important," she says, "because this biological frontier holds answers to fundamental evolutionary questions and offers insights into the mechanisms and meaning of ocean life."
Focusing primarily on arthropods, Patek’s research determines how animals produce communication signals, and examines how their physiology influences the evolution and diversification of animal communication. She also studies the process known as power amplification, through which animals’ physical mechanisms evolve to increase their speed and acceleration.
Patek earned a bachelor's degree with honors in biology from Harvard University followed by a doctorate in biology from Duke University. She was then awarded a Miller Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Berkeley. She has received several honors, including the George A. Bartholomew Award for distinguished contributions to comparative physiology, a Radcliffe Fellowship, a NSF CAREER award, and the Brilliant 10 award from Popular Science magazine. Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Geographic Society, Hellman Family Foundation, Armstrong Fund for Science, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and others.
Commonwealth Honors College introduced its Faculty Lecture Series during the spring 2011 semester in recognition of university faculty who have made significant contributions to research or creative activity. Through lectures that highlight academic excellence and scholarship, these faculty share their ideas and insight with honors students in sessions open to the campus community.
Many of the talks in the faculty lecture series relate to themes in "Ideas that Changed the World," the Honors Seminar in which honors students examine books and other works that have profoundly shaped the world we live in. The texts in this class and the related faculty lectures are meant to be exemplary for students who have the potential themselves to achieve outstanding things.
This semester's series concludes with English Professor Sabina Murray presenting "The Writer's Perspective: Literary Imagination and Living History" on November 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the UMass Campus Center Auditorium.