University of Vermont

Burke Discusses the Science of Race at ECHO’s Café Scientifique

Cafe Scientifique logo

A presentation titled “Scientific Construction of Race” was the focus of a Café Scientifique program at ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington, Vt., on January 10, 2013. Featured speakers included John M. Burke, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Vermont (UVM), and Michael Lange, Ph.D., associate professor of anthropology at Champlain College.

The evening’s program, part of ECHO’s “After Dark Series,” was presented in conjunction with the “RACE: Are We So Different” exhibit currently on display at ECHO. The discussion focused on the anthropological and biological construction of race. ECHO recommended the following questions for consideration and discussion at the event:

  1. How much do you really know about the geographic, racial and ethnic origins of your personal ancestors?
  2. How did you obtain this information, and how confident are you that it is correct?
  3. As we continue to explore the human genome, how important are efforts to learn about a) the evolutionary history of humans, b) human biological diversity in general, and c) human racial diversity in particular?
  4. How old were you when you first learned about race? How did you learn?
  5. How do you currently experience race in your everyday life?
  6. How do you gain information about other races today?

Burke, whose research focuses on catalytic RNA and molecular biodiversity, teaches genomics, genetics, and biochemistry to undergraduates, doctoral students and medical students. He recently complete a sabbatical at one of the world’s foremost genome centers, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, England. He joined the UVM faculty in 1988.

Café Scientifique is a 21+ event that includes a cash bar, free light hors d’oeuvres, a short presentation and discussion about a scientific topic. The evening begins with socializing for 30 minutes and then, at 7 p.m., the speaker(s) of the evening begins a conversation on the chosen science topic. After 30 minutes or so, there is a short break and then questions, and an opportunity to challenge the speaker, have dialogue at the table, and delve a little deeper into science.

Burke was a guest January 7, 2013 on Vermont Public Radio’s “Vermont Edition” program, along with Molly Loomis, Ph.D., director of education at ECHO, regarding “What Science Tells Us about Race.”

Find speaker biographies, questions to consider, and additional information about this Café Scientifique program on the ECHO Events Calendar. Learn more about the “RACE: Are We So Different?” exhibit.