The Robert R. Bensley Distinguished Service Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, Shubin is known widely for his evolutionary work including the groundbreaking discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, the 375-million-year-old fossil considered a missing link between fish and all animals on land, including humans.
Shubin has conducted expeditionary research programs in Canada, Africa, the continental United States, Asia and Greenland, which have led to new insights on the origin of major groups of vertebrates—mammals, frogs, crocodiles, tetrapods and sarcopterygian fish. In the laboratory, his group has revealed the way genes have changed during major events in evolution.
He has also written three popular science books: Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (2008), which was chosen by the National Academy of Sciences as the best book of the year in 2009; The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People (2013); and most recently, Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA, published in March 2020. He appears regularly on TV and media to discuss science, including as the host of an Emmy Award-winning PBS series called Your Inner Fish.
“One of the things about being a scientist is there’s no lack of problems; there’s no lack of questions,” he told the Big Brains podcast in 2018. “You’re always refreshed and kept humble by the enormity of the questions that lie in front of you as a scientist.”
The Ryerson Lectures grew out of a 1972 bequest to UChicago by Nora and Edward L. Ryerson, the latter a former Board of Trustees chairman. A faculty committee selects the Ryerson Lecturer based on research contributions of lasting significance. Recent lecturers have included Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler, psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow, linguist and anthropologist Michael Silverstein, physicist Sidney Nagel and legal scholar Geoffrey Stone.