19th Edition of Darwin Week Kicks Off

19th Edition of Darwin Week Kicks Off

Evolution doesn’t just apply to living things. It applies to just about everything, including celebrations.

What started as “Darwin Day” in 1909 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth – and the 50th anniversary of his seminal work On the Origin of Species – has morphed into a week of festivities, at least here at the College. The adaptation would no doubt please the famed British naturalist.

“The history of Darwin Week [at CofC] is rooted in the 16-year legacy of its founder, my former colleague Rob Dillon,” says biology professor Jason Vance, who has been the event’s organizer for the last few years. “Rob began Darwin Week in 2001 as a celebration of evolutionary science and as public outreach.”

Centered around Darwin’s birthday on Feb. 12, the slate of research talks, discussions and debates focus on the integrative and interdisciplinary sciences that are shaping and advancing the research and understanding of evolution.

Sponsored by the School of Sciences and Mathematics, the 19th iteration of Darwin Week starts Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, at 7 p.m. in the School of Sciences and Mathematics Building (SSMB) Auditorium with a talk titled “The Motors and Brakes of Evolution” by Martha Muñoz, an evolutionary biologist from Virginia Tech. It’s one of eight seminars or lectures, with all but two taking place in the early evening at the SSMB Auditorium.

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m., on what would have been Darwin’s 210th birthday, José Aponte from the NASA Goddard Flight Center in Maryland will present “Organic Astrochemistry 101: Meteorites and the Origins of Life on Earth.” He’ll reveal results from his extensive investigation on the abundance of amino acids – the basic building blocks of all protein-based living organisms on Earth – and other biologically relevant molecules extracted from meteorites.

Also talking about the emergence of life on earth is CofC’s own Heather Fullerton, an assistant professor of biology who explores life around hydrothermal vents 2.5 kilometers deep on the East Pacific Ocean floor. Her talk, “Journey to the Ocean Deep: Investigating the Deep Sea with the Human Operated Vehicle Alvin,” will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m.

“Exploring those vents poses a technical challenge on par with space exploration!” says Vance.

With a topic that hits a little closer to home, Bobby Boessenecker, a vertebrate paleontologist at the College, will present research on the evolution of whales he’s gleaned from the fossil record around Charleston. Titled “Whales as a Poster Child for Macroevolution: Feet to Flippers, Teeth to Baleen, and Echolocation as Informed by the Fossil Record of South Carolina,” the lecture will take place on Thursday, Feb. 14, at 4 p.m in the SSMB Auditorium.

The week will conclude on Feb. 15 with a tour of the brain and a talk at 7 p.m. about “The Evolution of the Cerebral Cortex” by renowned neuroscientist David Van Essen from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Van Essen’s talk will also take place in the SSMB Auditorium.

Vance notes, “We are excited to continue this week-long celebration of Charles Darwin and ‘the greatest unifying theory in biology,’ as Harvard evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr once said.”

For a full list of Darwin Week events, click here.