Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Center forHuman Evolution and Diversity


Historically studies in neuroscience have presented their findings regarding how the brain works as universal to all humans, whereas studies in anthropology have focused on the great cross-cultural diversity in behavior and thought. Furthermore, studies of the human brain and mind are typically conducted with samples that are highly unrepresentative of the global population. Therefore, in order to truly understand the functions of the brain and mind across the spectrum of human diversity, it is necessary to integrate theory and methods from anthropology, psychology and neuroscience.

Elizabeth Losin, Associate Professor of Biobehavioral Health


There is an urgent imperative to unbias human microbiome studies across the diversity of all of us to solve the major challenges relating to health disparities and inequities. More precise and personalized approaches must take into account microbial influences on and responders to our lived experiences. Without a sense of urgency and mission, the generalizability of microbiome findings across populations will be limited and likely generate new cascading health disparities.

Seth Bordenstein, Director of the Microbiome Center, Professor of Biology and Entomology


Reconstructing human ecosystems of the past and their evolution provides not only a window into the past but helps us better plan for the future. We can use information from our ancestors to improve our lives tomorrow.

Laura Weyrich, Associate Professor of Anthropology

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Quite simply, the only way we will make meaningful progress in solving “wicked problems” of today and tomorrow is to take a holistic approach, drawing upon both depth and breadth of expertise from multiple disciplines and recognizing the importance of diverse perspectives and experiences.

Jennifer Wagner – Assistant Professor of Law, Policy, and Engineering


One of the strongest evolutionary influences on humans has been largely invisible: microbes. Interdisciplinary approaches that incorporate evolution, microbiology, genetics, physiology, and more are necessary to reveal how we interact with microbes and how these trans-kingdom interactions affect both evolution and health.

Emily Davenport – Assistant Professor of Biology


Our history of conquest, colonization, and massive forced migration has created a profound and long-lasting social and cultural legacy, and these actions also left a genomic legacy. Transdisciplinary research is necessary to fully appreciate human diversity, to combat health inequity, and to advance wellbeing for everyone.

Zachary Szpiech – Assistant Professor of Biology

David Puts Headshot

"No factor is more fundamental to human variation than biological sex, and its importance to our health and well-being is becoming increasingly appreciated. A transdisciplinary approach rooted in evolutionary principles is the surest path to understanding the development of sex differences and how these processes contribute to human diversity and influence our lives."

David Puts – CHED Co-Director, Professor of Anthropology

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"Our Center is important for two reasons: 1) There are many interesting questions yet to answer about human evolution and physical, behavioral, and genetic variation, and 2) There seems to be a continuing divide between what anthropologists know and how they think about human evolution and diversity and how the general public and academic colleagues in other fields think about these topics."

Mark Shriver – CHED Co-Director, Professor of Biological Anthropology

Nina Jablonski Headshot

"Human beings are products of rich and complex interactions between biology and culture that have developed over millions of years. Human evolutionary history informs our understanding of human behavior and culture, and vice versa. Examining only one side of this set of reciprocal interactions risks missing the plot entirely."

Nina Jablonski – Atherton Professor, Evan Pugh University Professor Emerita of Anthropology

Heather Toomey Zimmerman Headshot

“Bringing together multiple disciplines to understand how people learn and reason about complex topics such as human evolution is important for today’s schools, museums, and other educational settings. The Center offers multiple perspectives of how research in this area is conducted, which will enhance young people’s views of how scientific knowledge is developed and of human diversity.”

Heather Toomey Zimmerman – Associate Professor of Education

Peter Hatemi Headshot

"If we are to make any headway in fighting diseases, reducing inequalities and the internecine fighting that appears to emerge so endemically when resources are scarce, values differ, and political approaches conflict, we must utilize multiple approaches, methods, be transdisciplinary and take into account the nature of human diversity, at every level, from our genes to our social identifications."

Peter Hatemi – Professor of Political Science

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"For problems ranging from infectious disease to racial tensions in American cities, understanding that evolution matters but that genes are not deterministic and differ in their effects depending on social behavior and environment is a powerful way to better understand and solve many human challenges. Interdisciplinary research holds great promise for using our knowledge of evolution effectively to improve the human condition."

Eric Plutzer – Professor of Political Science

David Almeida Headshot

"A transdisciplinary study of human evolution and diversity not only helps us understand how and why we became who we are, it is necessary for determining how we function day-to-day. My research examines the effects of biological and self-reported indicators of daily stress on health. How we experience and respond to daily life challenges is intricately tied to the evolution of human diversity."

David Almeida – Professor of Human Development and Family Studies


Nina Jablonski Headshot

Nina Jablonski

CHED Co-Director and Evan Pugh University Professor of Anthropology, College of the Liberal Arts

A biological anthropologist and paleobiologist, she studies the evolution of adaptations to the environment in Old World primates including humans.

Her research program is focused in two major areas.  Her paleoanthropological research concerns the evolutionary history of Old World monkeys, and currently includes an active field project in China.  Her research on the evolution of human adaptations to the environment centers on the evolution of human skin and skin pigmentation, and includes an active field project examining the relationship between skin pigmentation and vitamin D production.

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Personal website

Department profile

STIAS (Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study) Effects of Race Project

Mark Shriver Headshot

Mark Shriver

CHED Co-Director, Professor of Biological Anthropology, College of the Liberal Arts

Sam Richards

Teaching Professor of Sociology, College of the Liberal Arts

Dr. Samuel Richards is an award winning teacher and sociologist at Penn State University and the instructor of the largest race, gender and cultural relations course in the United States. With over 760 students each semester and a twenty-five-year legacy, that course was the subject of an Emmy Award winning television broadcast called, “You Can’t Say That.” The course is currently streamed live to the world every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at His current work focuses on inequality stemming from racial and gender differences and he works to develop programs that bridge cultural divides. Email –  Department profile World in Conversation
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Peter Hatemi

Professor of Political Science, College of the Liberal Arts

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Kateryna Makova

Pentz Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for Medical Genomics, Eberly College of Science

Kateryna is interested in genomics, evolution, and human genetics. Her lab studies mutations using both computational and experimental approaches. Additional topics of interest include sex chromosome evolution and genomics of childhood obesity.

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The Makova Lab @ Penn State

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Jenae Neiderhiser

Professor of Psychology, College of the Liberal Arts

George (PJ) Perry

Associate Professor of Anthropology and Biology, College of the Liberal Arts and Huck Institute of Life Sciences

PJ is a biological anthropologist with training in genomics. His research group at Penn State uses genomics and other approaches to study human and non-human primate evolutionary ecology – how we have adapted to our variable or changing environments. Current human research in his laboratory includes evolutionary studies of rainforest hunter-gatherer populations in Central Africa and Southeast Asia, and population history studies of the Malagasy, the people of Madagascar. His lab also has an ancient DNA component that is used primarily for genomic studies of Madagascar’s extinct, giant ‘subfossil’ lemurs, but also for studies of archaeological human populations.

Email –

Anthropology Genomics Lab website

Eric Plutzer Headshot

Eric Plutzer

Professor of Political Science, College of the Liberal Arts

David Puts

Associate Professor of Anthropology, College of the Liberal Arts

Dr. Puts studies the neuroendocrine and evolutionary bases of human sexuality and sex differences. His research focuses on how sexual selection has shaped human anatomy, psychology and behavior, as well as the hormonal and genetic basis for these and other sexually differentiated traits. Members of Dr. Puts’s lab employ a variety of methodological techniques in the lab and in the field across cultures and species, including psychological experimentation, anthropometry, enzyme immunoassay of salivary steroid concentrations, and candidate gene and genome-wide association studies.

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Behavioral Endocrinology and Evolution Lab

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David Almeida Headshot

David Almeida

Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, College of Health and Human Development

Heather Toomey Zimmerman Headshot

Heather Toomey Zimmerman

Associate Professor of Education, College of Education

Heather is a learning scientist who investigates and designs meaningful trajectories of educational activities for families and young people during out-of-school time. Her goal is to connect everyday life experiences to the learning that happens in schools, camps, museums and other informal spaces. Her research interests include science learning, parent-child interactions, designing for learning in informal institutions, technology to support learning across settings, and gender issues that intersect with STEM disciplines. 

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Department profile

Augmented and Mobile Learning website