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The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Environmental Science Institute’s seminar talks tarsiers, human evolution

Naina Srivastava
Community members gather at Welch Auditorium to listen to Dr. Chris Kirk’s talk on tarsiers on Nov. 3, 2023. The event, part of a series called Hot Science – Cool Talk, was put on by the University’s Environmental Science Institute.

The Environmental Science Institute hosted its 127th Hot Science – Cool Talks seminar, featuring a lesson from anthropology professor Chris Kirk about tarsiers this Friday.

The talk, called “Tarsiers — Tiny Terrors of the Tropics!” gave a brief introduction to the unique primate tarsiers and their evolutionary connection to humans.

“One thing that ESI is doing is reaching out to the community and really trying to make science something that everybody is engaged in and interested in and excited about,” said Jay Banner, director of the Environmental Science Institute and professor of the Jackson School of Geosciences. ”Without science, we really can’t tackle a lot of our most pressing environmental sustainability challenges.”

The event drew first-time guest Kass Love, an anthropology and classics junior, to attend and listen in as she aspires to switch majors to biology. 

“As an anthropologist, so many applications can be drawn from primatology — it’s super fascinating as a field,” Love said. “(It) makes me (want to) learn about any primate just in general.”

Before the speech about tarsiers, which are a type of primate, the event hosted booths providing hands-on opportunities for visitors to learn more about primates. These activities included seeing skulls of different primate species, guessing games to try facially recognizing different species and making clay models of tarsiers. 

“We’re educating people on what goes into primate conservation, and more so the research involved,” said Connor Nelson, a sustainability studies and marine science senior. “All of our stuff we’re doing here is kind of just like little skills that are useful out in the field.”

During the talk, Kirk discussed the distinct features tarsiers have and how they relate to humans and other primates. He showed the extreme features of tarsiers’ characteristics by comparing them to altered pictures of Matthew McConaughy with wide eyes and large feet like tarsiers.

“I would ask a question and people would have answers,” Kirk said. “I’d show a picture and people would gasp or react and that’s the best. It’s the exact opposite of when you give a talk somewhere and everybody’s on their cell phone or falling asleep. It was a great crowd.”

This is Kirk’s third Hot Science – Cool Talks, according to Banner. Kirk said one of the reasons he keeps coming back is the unique audience’s wide age range, from elementary schoolers to adults from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. 

“I like lecturing to undergrads, but this is one of the few opportunities I get to just talk to a whole range of ages and a whole range of interests and backgrounds,” Kirk said. “Where else but at an ESI Hot Science – Cool Talk can you get that kind of cross-section from every background, every age range and the only thing they have in common is they want to learn something interesting about science?”


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About the Contributor
Naina Srivastava, Senior News Reporter & Senior Photographer
Naina is a freshman journalism major from Mountain View, California. She is currently a senior news reporter and senior photographer at the Texan.