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Scott Gilbert

Howard A. Schneiderman '48 Professor Emeritus in Biology

Emeritus Biology


Scott Gilbert

  Research | Publications | Lectures


Scott's been quoted in the January 1, 2023 New York Times story "When Does Life Begin?"

Scott F. Gilbert is the Howard A. Schneiderman Professor of Biology, emeritus, at Swarthmore College, where he teaches developmental genetics, embryology, and the history and critiques of biology. He is also a Finland Distinguished Professor, emeritus, at the University of Helsinki.  He received his B.A. in both biology and religion from Wesleyan University (1971), and he earned his PhD in biology from the pediatric genetics laboratory of Dr. Barbara Migeon at the Johns Hopkins University (1976). His M.A. in the history of science, also from The Johns Hopkins University, was done under the supervision of Dr. Donna Haraway. He pursued postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin in the laboratories of Dr. Masayasu Nomura and Dr. Robert Auerbach.

Scott currently has three textbooks in print: (1) Developmental Biology (now in its twelfth edition) is probably the most widely used textbook in the field; (2) The new textbook, Ecological Developmental Biology, which is trying to construct a new subdisclipine of biological science by bringing together aspects of embryology, medical physiology, ecology, and evolution; (3) Fear, Wonder, and Science in the New Age of Reproductive Biotechnology, a bioethics trade-book concerning fertilization, early human development, and infertility.   

Scott has received several awards, including the Service Award for Education and Outreach at the Pan-American Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology, the Medal of François I from the Collège de France, the Dwight J. Ingle Memorial Writing Award, the Choice Outstanding Academic Book Award, honorary doctorates from the University of Helsinki (Finland) and the University of Tartu (Estonia), and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Grant. In 2002, the Society for Developmental Biology awarded him its first Viktor Hamburger Prize for Excellence in Education, and in 2004, he was awarded the Kowalevsky Prize in Evolutionary Developmental Biology. He has been elected a fellow of the AAAS and the St. Petersburg Society of Naturalists. He received the Burnhill Award from the American Reproductive Health Association in 2009, and in the last few years, he has presented the Tinbergen lecture at the University of Oxford, presented the Keynote lecture for the Italian Society for Evolutionary Biology in Padova, Italy, the Burian-McNabb Lecture, the Kurt Benirschke Lecture, and the Robert L. Brent Lecture. In 2016, he presented a lecture on developmental biology to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. In 2019, he might have been given his greatest honor: his former student, Tyler Lyson named a newly discovered species of fossil turtle "Saxochelys gilberti." So now Scott has a 67-million-year-old turtle species named after him!

In 1994, Scott established the first website for a textbook, and he is also the co-author of a digitally-based history of developmental of biology. He is funded by the National Science Foundation to work with undergraduates on that most interesting of topics-how the turtle forms its shell-and he continues to do research and write in both developmental biology and in the history and philosophy of biology. He is married to Dr. Anne Raunio and has three children. His hobbies have included playing piano in KNISH, one of Swarthmore's premier Klezmer bands.

turtle species illustration

In this painting, you can see the newly described turtle species, Saxochelys gilberti amidst T. rex, Thescelosaurus neglectus, and Archeoraptor. The turtle species was named for Scott by his former student, Tyler Lyson, and the artwork is by Andrey Atuchin .


Scott's public lectures on "Symbiosis and biological individuality" in Zürich, 2014.

Scott's Sinauer Lecture "Extending Lynn Margulis' View" (UMass, 2014) can be heard here.

Scott's lecture on "How the Turtle Got its Shell" (Moscow, Russia, 2015) can be seen here.

Video of lecture on "When Does Human Life Begin" given to the American Reproductive Health Professional Society, 2010. (A similar talk was given to the Legionaries of Christ in 2007). 

Audio and text of an address on "Science, Religion, and Wonder," given to the Swarthmore graduating seniors in 2011. 

Powerpoint of a lecture on Evolutionary Developmental Biology in 2012. 

An Interview with Emeritus Professor Scott Gilbert in The Node Magazine

Scott Gilbert wrote (and still co-authors) the leading textbook in developmental biology. He has also written papers on racism, abortion, art, religion, feminism, and environmentalism. In a recent interview, Scott claims that teaching at Swarthmore has been pivotal in allowing him to author the textbook, pursue research in evolutionary developmental biology, help raise a family, and publish broadly. 

read the interview

Scott and the Dalai Lama

In 2016, Scott was invited to present a lecture to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and around 3,000 Buddhist monks at the Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India, concerning the embryonic origin of bodies and how concepts of animal development might resonate with Buddhist philosophies of co-dependent origination.

watch the video on youtube

When Does Personhood Begin?

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