Go to navigation

News

Vassar to hold free events to celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday and commemorate the 150th anniversary of his publication of On the Origin of Species. January 26 - February 19, 2009

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — “2009 marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, whose profound insights into evolution still form the basis of our knowledge of life on earth; in addition this is the 150th anniversary year of the publication of On the Origin of Species, one of the most ground-breaking books of all time,” noted Rick Jones, a lab technician and collections manager of Vassar’s Earth Science and Geography Department.

Lois Horst ’04, curator of Vassar’s A. Scott Warthin Museum of Geology and Natural History, explained  “In order to celebrate these significant Darwin anniversaries in 2009, many of the academic departments at Vassar College came together and arranged a series of free events.” These include a ‘Naturally Selected’ Film Festival (Jan 26-Feb 11); ‘Darwin Days,’ a two-day series of presentations (Feb 12-13); and a lecture by Lauri Lebo, the author of The Devil in Dover (Feb 18). Horst noted that, “In addition to these presentations, there will be special Darwin related exhibits in the museum, located in Ely Hall.”

Jodi Schwarz, an assistant professor of biology who was also instrumental in this campus-wide celebration of Darwin, explained that “Our celebration is very interdisciplinary as Darwin’s influence is far-reaching and more than just biology. I hope ‘Darwin Days’ broadens the communication between the science and non-science communities at Vassar, with the socio-cultural aspect of the programs. It should be a great learning experience for everyone.”

One of Schwarz’s bioinformatics students, Jennifer Wilson-Cohen a senior majoring in neuroscience, designed an original computer game, “Evolution Simulation,” that will be demonstrated during the mornings of the ‘Darwin Days’ events. “I had a lot of fun making this game that is designed primarily for school children. The challenge was to make sure that it was fun and hands-on. The game simulates the evolution of a species over generations, representing Darwin’s ideas about change over time. Evolution affects everything.”

The Vassar departments that will participate in the Darwin events include Anthropology, Biology, Computing and Information Services, Drama and Film, Earth Science and Geography, French, and Psychology.

ABOUT CHARLES DARWIN

Naturalist Charles Darwin, born Feb. 12 1809 in England, was the first to propose the theory of evolution by natural selection. He presented his theory in the monograph, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life, which was published on November 24, 1859.

ABOUT THE DARWIN CELEBRATION

The Darwin celebration will begin with the ‘Naturally Selected’ Film Festival (January 26 to February 11), which will present films that both entertain as well as answer current questions of science and evolution.

The exploration of Charles Darwin will continue with “Darwin Days,” a two-day program on February 12 and 13 that will include presentations, travelogues, and hands-on experiments that give perspective to the many disciplines Darwin influenced. Among the many presentations will be a demonstration of an original computer game, “Evolution Simulation,” created by Vassar senior Jenny Wilson-Cohen; a public experiment devised by biology professor Jodi Schwarz; a lecture about Hudson Valley naturalist John Burroughs by earth science professor Jeff Walker, and a talk about how robots may be used to understand the origin of vertebrates by biology professor John Long, who designed Madeleine, a biologically inspired underwater robot that helps scientists and engineers better understand energy efficient modes of locomotion. Students from the Department of Drama and Film will close the two-day festival with readings, adapted from the play Inherit the Wind.

On February 18, a public talk by Lauri Lebo, the author of The Devil in Dover, will conclude the Darwin-centered events. Lebo will speak about her experiences as a reporter for the York Daily Record covering the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School Board, a 2005 federal case that challenged the teaching of Intelligent Design in a Pennsylvania high school’s biology curriculum. In a review of The Devil in Dover that appeared in the New York Times, Charles McGrath noted that Lebo’s “account is both well informed and at times deeply (almost embarrassingly) personal: the whole time she was reporting the story, she was struggling with her own beliefs and also locked in argument with her father, who owned a fundamentalist Christian radio station.” Lebo has been a journalist for 20 years and has won numerous state and national awards.

The special Darwin related exhibits will be on view during this celebration at Vassar in the A. Scott Warthin Museum of Geology and Natural History, located in Ely Hall. The museum is open from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday, while school is in session.

Schedule of Events

January 26 through February 19
Darwin Related Exhibits
Location: A. Scott Warthin Museum of Geology and Natural History
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9am – 5pm

January 26, 28, February 2, 4, 9, 11*
Location: Blodgett Auditorium at 7:00 pm
(*February 11 film will be screened in the Aula)
The ‘Naturally Selected’ Film Festival

February 12 and 13
Location: Aula
Darwin Days

Thursday, February 12

  • 9:00 to 10:30 am. Biology professor Jodi Schwarz will offer the public a chance to create bacteria in the experiment, “Let There Be Light! Create Your Own Living, Glowing Bacteria.”
  • 9:00 to 10:30 am. Jenny Wilson-Cohen, a senior neuroscience major, will offer the public a chance to play her “Evolution Simulation” game.
  • 9:00 to 10:30 am. CIS offers Spore “Creature Creator, a computer game that allows the design of creatures on computers.
  • 10: 30 to 11:15 am. Earth science professor Jeff Walker will present a lecture, “John Burroughs and the American School of Neo-Lamarckism.”
  • 11:15 to 12:00 pm. Psychology professor Randy Cornelius will present a lecture, “Charles Darwin and the Evolution of Facial Expressions of Emotion.”
  • 12:00 to 1:00 pm. Lunch Break  - Backgammon Break! Backgammon was one of Darwins’ vices—he was an absolute fiend for it. Bring lunch, and come play or learn this 5,000-year-old game.
  • 1:00 to 2:00 pm. French professor Kathleen Hart will present a lecture, “Naked Apes & Naked Emperors: Darwinian Approaches to Literature.”
  • 2:15 to 3:00 pm. Wilson Salls, a senior earth science major, will give a talk, “A Galapagos Travelogue.”
  • 3:15 to 4:00 pm. Anthropology professor Lucy Johnson will present a lecture, “Survival of the Fittest: Spencerian Social Evolution.”
  • 4:15 to 5:00 pm. Biology professor Mark Schlessman will present the lecture “Darwin’s ‘wretched-looking little weeds’:  Insights on evolution from the fascinating flora of the Galapagos.”

Friday, February 13

  • 9:00 to 10:30 am. Jenny Wilson-Cohen, a senior neuroscience major, will offer the public a chance to play her “Evolution Simulation” game.
  • 9:00 to 10:30 am. CIS offers Spore “Creature Creator, a computer game that allows the design of creatures on computers.
  • 9:45 to 10:45 am. Earth science professor Kirsten Menking will present a lecture, “Animals in the Galapagos: What Darwin Saw.”
  • 11:00 am to 12:00 pm. Biology and cognitive science professor John Long will present a lecture, “Evolving Robots to Understand the Origins of Vertebrates.”
  • 1:00 to 1:45 pm. Geography professor Yu Zhou will present a lecture, “What Does Darwin Have to Do with Innovation?”
  • 2:00 to 2:45 pm. Earth science professor Jill Schneiderman will present a lecture, “Irreducible Complexity, Intelligent Design and Geology.”
  • 3:00 to 4:00 pm. Emily Vail, a senior environmental studies major, will give a talk, “Charles Darwin in Tierra Del Fuego.”
  • 4:00 to 5:00 pm. Biology professor Jodi Schwarz will present results and give a review of the experiment, “Let There Be Light! Create Your Own Living, Glowing Bacteria.”
  • 5:00 to 5:30 pm. Reception
  • 5:30 to 6:30pm. The Drama and Film Department will present readings adapted from the play Inherit the Wind, by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.

Wednesday, February 18
Location: Rockefeller Hall, room 300
Lecture by Lauri Lebo, the author of The Devil in Dover

People with disabilities requiring accommodations should contact the Office of Campus Activities at (845) 437-5370. Directions to the Vassar campus are available at www.vassar.edu/directions.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Monday, January 19, 2009