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Darwin Day Celebration: February 15
February 3, 2009, Volume 55, No. 20

Year of Evolution

Highlight Event for Philadelphia’s Year Of Evolution

Charles Robert Darwin, the world-renowned author of On the Origin of Species—and the originator of the modern theory of evolution—has his 200th birthday in February, and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology will celebrate it in style, with the third annual Darwin Day and Evolution Teach-In Sunday, February 15, 2009, from 1 to 4 p.m.

The free afternoon program features short “teach-in” talks in galleries by renowned experts, curator-led tours of Penn Museum’s National Science Foundation-funded evolution exhibition Surviving: The Body of Evidence, and a physical anthropologist’s “touchables” corner with casts of hominid skulls and other bones. An “Origins” scavenger hunt, a family program on dinosaurs, a game of Evolutionary Twister, an orchid display, and the opportunity to play some badminton, reputedly a favorite pastime of the evolutionary thinker, are also part of the afternoon. Darwin himself (or a reasonable likeness) promises to make an appearance to enjoy the festivities—and partake of the free birthday cake!

The Darwin Day celebration is a highlight of Philadelphia’s city-wide Year Of Evolution series of exhibitions and special programs (www.yearofevolution.org continuing through May 2009), and several of the cultural organizations offering programming during the year will be at the afternoon event with information and special displays. The Academy of Natural Sciences, the American Philosophical Society (APS), the Wagner Free Institute of Science, and the Philadelphia Zoo bring Darwin and evolution-related activities and information to the event.

“Darwin dramatically changed the way people think about our world,” said Dr. Richard Hodges, the Williams Director of Penn Museum. “Penn Museum is delighted, once again, to offer up this free, fun and educational event, joining in partnership with area cultural organizations, and in spirit with an international chorus of classroom teachers, museums, universities and other organizations celebrating Charles Darwin, whose actual birthday is February 12.”

University of Pennsylvania faculty from several disciplines, middle school life science teacher Steve Stough (a parent activist during the Dover, Pennsylvania “Intelligent Design” school district controversy in 2005), and others are participating in the teach-in, offering attendees a variety of perspectives on the study of evolution. Dr. Michael Weisberg, assistant professor of philosophy and chair of Penn Museum’s Evolution Project, provides introductions to the speakers. The following experts offer short lectures:

• Peter Dodson (professor of paleontology, earth and environmental sciences, School of Arts and Sciences, and professor of anatomy, labs of anatomy, department of animal biology, Veterinary School, Penn): Documents of Evolution: The Dinosaurs!

• Carlo Maley (assistant professor, molecular and cellular oncogenesis Program, Wistar Institute): How Do We Get Cancer and Why Has It Been so Hard to Cure? Evolution.

• Hermann Pfefferkorn (professor, earth and environmental sciences, School of Arts and Sciences, Penn): Darwin and Deep Time

• Steve Stough (middle school life science teacher and a Dover, Pennsylvania parent plaintiff in the landmark case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District): Kitzmiller et al—Shaken from Complacency

• Sue Ann Prince (director and curator, American Philosophical Society Museum) How Do You Have a Dialogue with Darwin?


Darwin Day visitors are invited to tour Penn Museum’s Year Of Evolution exhibition, Surviving: The Body of Evidence, open now through May 3, 2009. Developed with a major grant from the National Science Foundation, Surviving takes the visitor on a journey of self discovery to find out how the process of evolution and its outcomes have had a profound impact on daily life for humans today. Dr. Janet Monge, acting curator-in-charge of the Museum’s physical anthropology section and co-curator of the new exhibition, offers tours of the exhibition at 1:30 and 3 p.m.

The Museum is home to the world’s largest repository of high-quality casts of hominid fossils, which provide an important teaching tool for educators at Penn and around the world. The event features a special Physical Anthropology corner with hands-on examples of important fossil casts of hominids from three million years ago to 100,000 years ago. Visitors can handle the casts and learn about some of the ways that physical anthropologists study the evidence for evolutionary change over time.

Children and families can discover more about evolution through a special program, Why Can’t I Have a Dinosaur for a Pet? presented by Penn’s own dinosaur hunter, Peter Dodson, at 3 p.m. To provide a wider perspective on the many ways that we humans have understood our beginnings, visitors of all ages can follow a specially designed “Origins” scavenger hunt through several galleries featuring cultural materials from around the world.

An ever-curious naturalist, Charles Darwin studied the diverse characteristics of finches he identified in the Galapagos Islands. Sabrina Fecher, Children’s Educator at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, will be on hand with an interactive bird beak adaptation activity designed to engage visitors of all ages in scientific inquiry. The Philadelphia Zoo brings an evolutionary “Zoo on Wheels” to the day.

Roland Wall, director of the Center for Environmental Policy at the Academy of Natural Sciences, will show objects related to Darwin’s personal connection to the scientific community of Philadelphia. The Academy’s membership enthusiastically embraced Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, electing him as a corresponding member in 1860.

Just how flexible are you? Everyone can join a game of Evolutionary Twister, an “evolved” version of the classic kid’s game, featuring Darwin as master of ceremonies.

Darwin’s curiosity extended to plants, including diverse and beautiful orchids. Jim and Lois Duffin of Lois Duffin Orchids, winners of the 2008 Pennsylvania Horticultural medal for best orchid, join the celebration with expert orchid knowledge, and a special display and sale of flowering orchids, selected from their extensive inventory of more than 8,000 plants in 500 varieties.

The publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man revolutionized scientific thinking about evolution. Visitors will have an opportunity to hear excerpts of these books and other Darwin writings, as read by Charles Darwin (or a reasonable likeness) himself. On the Origin of Species, and other books by and about Darwin and evolution will be on sale—(and 10% off)—in the Museum Shop for the day. Visitors who join the Museum at Darwin Day will receive a free copy of On the Origin of Species, while supplies last.

To make the celebration complete, there will be birthday cupcakes for Darwin, free for everyone—including Charles Darwin himself—while they last. Darwin, no doubt like the day’s teach-in attendees, enjoyed taking a break from his work on occasion, and badminton was a game of choice. Visitors can take a lecture-break at the badminton set up in the Children’s Lunchroom.

The Museum Café serves up a (non-alcoholic) “Darwin Punch” and offers a Galapagos 2009 lunch menu for the afternoon.

Penn Museum’s Darwin Day and Evolution Teach-In is coordinated by Dr. Michael Weisberg, chair of the Museum’s Evolution Project.

Year Of Evolution programs continue at Penn, Penn Museum, and around the city, with updates online: www.yearofevolution.org. A growing list of other Darwin Day events held at other museums and educational institutions internationally is available online at www.darwinday.org.


Almanac - February 3, 2009, Volume 55, No. 20