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Hummingbirds, Hibernation, and Human Medicine: What the World’s Tiniest Birds Reveal About Our Future
February 15, 2022 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm$25 Ally Price: FREE
Hummingbirds are incredible animals. Some of the world’s tiniest birds, they have among the highest metabolic rates of all vertebrates — they burn through energy so quickly they are almost always a few hours from perishing. But these little creatures have remarkable strategies for survival. For Dr. Anusha Shankar, who has studied hummingbirds from the cloud forests of Ecuador to the deserts of Arizona, it was the hummingbirds’ ability to use a hibernation-like state called “torpor” to save energy at night that ignited her interest. In “Hummingbirds, Hibernation, and Human Medicine,” Shankar not only shares her fascination with the strategies hummingbirds use to survive, but also how her and other scientists’ research on torpor has implications that soar beyond the realm of birds. Such research illuminates possibilities for human medicine, from life-saving techniques to futuristic ambitions such as cryogenics and human hibernation.
Anusha Shankar studies hummingbirds as a Rose Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. She is investigating how hummingbirds can use a hibernation-like state called “torpor” to get cold (50°F) and rewarm safely every night, without damaging organs like their hearts and brains. During her PhD, Shankar captured hummingbird nightlife with infrared video, and before that tracked king cobras and studied giant birds — hornbills — in India. She plans to work longer term in the tropics, with a home base in India.
Shankar is passionate about teaching and mentoring, and has mentored 17 students on her projects in the past few years. She is also a National Geographic Explorer and Young Leader and loves dancing salsa, bachata, and swing, and reading fiction.