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Science Director of the NYU

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Professor of Biology

Co-Author: (With Dorian Sagan)

"Death and Sex"




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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4FXojrznn4 - TYLER VOLK Ph.D



More about: TYLER VOLK Ph.D

Tyler Volk

Tyler Volk

Professor of Biology
Ph.D. 1984 (atmospheric science), M.S. 1982 (applied science), New York; B.S. 1971 (architecture), Michigan.

Office Address:
New York University
Department of Biology
1009 Silver Center
100 Washington Square East
New York, NY 10003-6688

Email: tyler.volk@nyu.edu
Phone: (212) 998-3736
Fax: (212) 995-4015


The roles of life in the earth system, biogeochemical aspects of global change, and space life support have been areas of research. All concern the cycling of materials by living systems and the coupling of biological models to physical and chemical processes.

This research in the global carbon cycle, for example, suggests that biological evolution has been at least as important in shaping the Earth's thermal and chemical regimes as pure physical forcings. In one case, the evolution of plankton with shells of calcium carbonate pushed Earth's climate toward additional greenhouse warmth. Further back, bacterial mats and crusts changed the climate billions of years before the first mosses and ferns greened the landscape, cooling the Earth by 30 degrees C. Without this microbial forcing of global temperature, complex proteins would not have been chemically stable enough for higher forms of life to evolve.

Most recently, I have been active in what might be called biosphere theory, or Gaia theory (with "biosphere" or "Gaia" defined as the system of atmosphere, ocean, soil, and life). Are there unifying scientific principles that govern diverse phenomena within the biosphere? Past work in Gaia theory has primarily focused on the state of the global environment that surrounds living things, for example, on the chemistry or temperature of atmosphere or ocean. I have been suggesting another approach. This involves close attention to how organisms fit into and in fact make the chemical cycles, the so-called biogeochemical cycles. A potential universal metric for these cycles is the "cycling ratio." This is the ratio of an element's flux into the photosynthesizers within a system (either the biosphere system or subsystems within) relative to the flux of that same element across the system's boundary into the system. I am exploring how this metric could be useful for biosphere theory, as a way of comparing systems with life across different scales of space, essential nutrients, and evolutionary time.

For many years I was active in the research field of advanced life support, helping NASA plan the systems that will someday keep astronauts alive on the Moon and Mars. I developed one of the first computer models to connect the flows and chemical transformations of crop production, human metabolism, and waste processing. I then turned attention to the modeling of crop growth and development for enhancing productivity, collaborating with experimentalists at Utah State University and at NASA centers in Florida, Texas, and California. They grew the crops in controlled environments, I built the models to help understand and predict results.

I also wish to note my ongoing look into the relationship between form and function on all levels of reality. This passion for the interdisciplinary is expressed in my book: Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind. It presents a synthesis of science, philosophy, and psychology in the universal patterns that underlie our lives and the world around us. As visual ideas, metapatterns facilitate explorations about the architecture of existence at all levels. Metapatterns are grand attractors - functional universals for forms in space, processes in time, and concepts in mind.


Current courses taught at NYU:

Graduate course:
G23.1201 - Earth Biology

Undergraduate course in the Earth and Environmental minor:
V49.0012 - Whole Earth Science: The Global Environment

Undergraduate course for nonscience majors (a Natural Science-II course in the Morse Academic Program):
V55.0311 - The Biosphere

Undergraduate freshman honors seminar:
V50.0202 - Form and Function in Nature, Mind, and Culture

Past courses taught at NYU:
G12.1400/1401 - Fundamentals of Energy and Geophysical Science I&II
G12.1410/1411 - Atmospheres and Oceans I&II
G12.2310 - Advanced Oceanography I
G12.2212 - Physical Climatology
G12.3204/3205 - Problems in Energy Science I&II
G12.3208/3209 - Problems in Environmental Science I&II
G54.2000 - Science Survey (Journalism Dept., part of team)
G65.1093 - Patterns in Space and Time (Graduate Program in Liberal Studies)


B.S. (Architecture), University of Michigan, 1971.

M.S. (Applied Science), New York University, 1982.

Ph.D. (Applied Science), New York University, 1984, advisor: Martin Hoffert.

I grew up in the small industrial city of North Tonawanda, New York State, on the banks of the Niagara River just upstream from Niagara Falls. The air was sometimes filled with acrid fumes from a nearby paper mill, but my spirit was boosted by the nearby healthy green expanses of Pine Woods Park, a place where a boy could both lose and find himself in the wonders of nature.

Eventually came college. At the University of Michigan I headed first into physics, but a concern for helping society led me into architecture, a discipline wherein along with my math skills I sought to apply powers of visualization, as well as flex an interest in social psychology. For many years after graduating I was a private builder, and during that time had my first published technical note on a "solar heated bath," which I had designed, tested, and constructed. After more hands-dirty work and part time teaching positions in everything from middle school science and math, to the School of Visual Arts and adult education, I decided to enter graduate school to learn the quantitative details of sustainable energy systems.

There in grad school (or should I say, here, for it was at NYU) I became entranced with the concept of the Earth as a solar collector and the fact that the same thermodynamic and energy equations used for energy technologies were employed for studying climate and other enigmas about our planet, which was (and is) in dire need of our understanding. But somewhere in me also bubbled up that love for the living world, which encompassed the trees of Pine Woods Park bound into an integrated system with humanity. We are subjecting ourselves and all else to our own wastes products in the closed bottle of the biosphere, causing carbon dioxide, as one infamous example, to rise year by year.

Concerned, I sought to incorporate biology into studying the future of this greenhouse gas. For my Ph.D research, I studied the role of life in distributing carbon and other elements at various depths in the world ocean. Continuing on with employment at NYU, for many years I have endeavored to understand various aspects of life on a global scale, past, present, and future. Work for NASA took me into the realm of future space projects, where I built math models for the cycling of elements in what are called "closed ecological life support systems." My passion now is to look into the cycling efficiencies of various ecosystems. I also continue with the work in metapatterns, with interests in neurobiology, consciousness, and all expressions of human patterns, whether found in art, religion, or science.

Areas of Research/Interest

The role of life in the Earth system

External Affiliations

Collaborative research on crop growth and development with Utah State University, NASA Ames Research Center, and NASA Kennedy Space Flight Center.


Two NASA Summer Faculty fellowships at Ames Research Center and one at Johnson Space Center.


VOLK, T., Foreword to the book Writing the Natural Way (by Gabriele Rico), Tarcher/Putnam: New York, pp. xv-xvi, 2000.

Cavazonni, J., T. VOLK, B. Bugbee, and T. Dougher, Phasic temperature control and photoperiod control for soybean using a modified Cropgro model, Life Support and Biosphere Science, 6, 273-278, 1999.

VOLK, T. Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of the Earth, Copernicus Books/Springer-Verlag, 1998

T. VOLK, B. Bugbee, and F.N. Tubiello, Phasic temperature control appraised with the Ceres-wheat model, Life Support and Biosphere Science, 4, 49-54, 1997.

Cavazzoni, J., and T. VOLK, Assessing long-term impacts of increased crop productivity on atmospheric CO2, Energy Policy, 24, 403-412, 1996.

VOLK, T. Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind, Columbia University Press, 298p., 1995

VOLK, T., The soil's breath, Natural History, November, 48-54, 1994.

Schwartzman, D., M. McMenamin, and T. VOLK, Did surface temperatures constrain microbial evolution?, BioScience, 43, 390-393, 1993.

VOLK, T. and H. Cullingford, Crop growth and associated life support for a lunar farm, The Second Conference on Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century, edited by W. W. Mendell, NASA Publication CP-3166, 525-530, 1992.

Schwartzman, D. W., and T. VOLK, Biotic enhancement of weathering and surface temperatures on Earth since the origin of life, Global and Planetary Change section of Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 90, 357-371, 1991.

Barlow, C., and T. VOLK, Open living systems in a closed biosphere: A new paradox for the Gaia debate, BioSystems, 23, 371-384, 1990.

VOLK, T., Sensitivity of climate and atmospheric CO2 to deep-ocean and shallow-ocean carbonate burial, Nature, 337, 637-640, 1989.

VOLK, T., and Z. Liu, Controls on CO2 sources and sinks in the earthscale surface ocean: temperature, nutrients, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, 2, 73-89, 1988.

VOLK, T., Feedbacks between weathering and atmospheric CO2 over the last 100 million years, American Journal of Science, 287, 763-779, 1987.

Gaffin, S. R., M. I. Hoffert, and T. VOLK, Nonlinear coupling between surface temperature and ocean upwelling as an agent in historical climate variations, Journal of Geophysical Research, 91, 3944-3950, 1986.

VOLK, T., and M. I. Hoffert, Ocean carbon pumps: analysis of relative strengths and efficiencies in ocean-driven atmospheric CO2 changes, in The Carbon Cycle and Atmospheric CO2: Natural Variations Archean to Present, edited by E. T. Sundquist and W. S. Broecker, pp. 99-110, Geophysical Monograph 32, American Geophysical Union, Wash., D.C., 1985.

VOLK, T., Multi-property modeling of the marine biosphere in relation to global carbon and climate cycles, Ph. D. thesis (University Microfilms #84-21570), New York University, New York, 1984.

VOLK, T., Performance of tornado wind energy conversion systems, Journal of Energy, 6, 348-350, 1982.


Death & Sex

by Tyler Volk, Dorion Sagan

"In Death & Sex two of my favorite thinkers and writers ruminate on two of my favorite subjects and turn up all manner of unexpected interconnections. The result is a splendidly entertaining, informative and original piece of science writing."

—John Horgan, author of The End of Science and Rational Mysticism

On DEATH . . .

What is shared by spawning Pacific salmon, towering trees, and suicidal bacteria? In his lucid and concise exploration of how and why things die, Tyler Volk explains the intriguing ways creatures—including ourselves—use death to actually enhance life. Death is not simply the end of the living, though even in that aspect the Grim Reaper has long been essential to natural selection. Indeed, the exquisite schemes and styles of death that have emerged from evolution have been essential to the great story from life's beginnings in tiny bacteria nearly four thousand million years ago to ancient human rituals surrounding death and continuing to the existential concerns of human culture and consciousness today. Volk weaves together autobiography, biology, Earth history, and results of fascinating studies that show how thoughts of our own mortality affect our everyday lives, to prove how an understanding of what some have called the ultimate taboo can enrich the celebration of life.

. . . and SEX

In Sex, Dorion Sagan takes a delightful, irreverent, and informative romp through the science, philosophy, and literature of humanity's most obsessive subject. Have you ever wondered what the anatomy and promiscuous behaviors of chimpanzees and the sexual bullying of gorillas tell us about ourselves? Why we lost our hair? What amoebas have to do with desire? Linking evolutionary biology to salacious readings of the lives and thoughts of such notables as the Marquis de Sade and Simone de Beauvoir, and discussing works as varied as The Story of O and Silence of the Lambs, Sex touches on a potpourri of interrelated topics ranging from animal genitalia to sperm competition, the difference between nakedness and nudity, jealousy's status as an aphrodisiac and the origins of language, Casanova and music, ovulation and clothes, mother-in-law jokes and alpha females, love and loneliness. A brief, wonderfully entertaining, highly literate foray into the origins and evolution of sex.

Two books in one cover, Death & Sex unravel and answer some of life's most fundamental questions.

About the Authors

Dorion Sagan

Dorion Sagan is author of numerous articles and twenty-three books translated into eleven languages, including Notes from the Holocene: A Brief History of the Future and Into the Cool, coauthored with Eric D. Schneider. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, Wired, the Skeptical Inquirer, Pabular, Smithsonian, the Ecologist, Co-Evolution Quarterly, the Times Higher Education, Omni, Natural History, The Sciences, Cabinet, and Tricycle.


View Dorion's full profile page >

Tyler Volk

Tyler Volk is Science Director for Environmental Studies and Professor of Biology at New York University. Recipient of the NYU All-University Distinguished Teaching Award, Volk lectures and travels widely, communicates his ideas in a variety of media, plays lead guitar for the all-scientist rock band The Amygdaloids, and is an avid outdoorsman. Volk's previous books include CO2 Rising: The World's Greatest Environmental Challenge; Metapatterns Across Space, Time, and Mind; and Gaia's Body: Toward a Physiology of Earth. ...

View Tyler's full profile page >


Book Data

ISBN: 9781603581431
Year Added to Catalog: 2009
Book Format: Hardcover
Dimensions: 5 x 8
Number of Pages: 256
Book Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing
Old ISBN: 160358143X
Release Date: October 17, 2009
Web Product ID: 472

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