Exploring the Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color Educator Evening
May 3, 2012
This special educator evening on Thursday, May 3rd, talked about what is not often talked about: the biological and social meaning of skin color. Anthropologist and paleobiologist Nina G. Jablonski, author of Skin: Its Natural History discussed the unique biological and cultural aspects of human skin and its importance as a key element of human evolution.
The evening provided teachers with opportunities to engage in dialog with colleagues and conversation around the research on the evolution of human skin and color. Dr. Jablonski, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Penn State studies the evolution of adaptations to the environment in nonhuman and human primates.
Dr. Jablonki's research done in collaboration with other scientists, has demonstrated that skin color is the product of natural selection acting to regulate levels of melanin pigment in the skin relative to levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in the environment. Melanin is a natural sunscreen that prevents the breakdown of certain essential biomolecules (in particular, B vitamin and DNA), while permitting enough UVR to enter the skin cells to promote the production of the essential vitamin D.
Following the talk, a reception in the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins provided an opportunity for teachers to engage with Museum staff and network with other educators.