BIO BIRTHDAYS BASH

2009 is the year of Charles Darwin. It includes the 200th anniversary of his birth (February 12) and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species (November 24), his seminal work that essentially created the field of modern biology. Kalamazoo College will mark these milestones with its own Year of Darwin Celebration.

"Our special events do more than celebrate Charles Darwin," says Associate Professor of Biology Jim Langeland. In fact, they honor the very spirit of inquiry, and for that reason include artists, scientists, philosophers, writers, students, and teachers.

And around whom better to center such a celebration than Charles Darwin! He was an exquisitely keen observer, a relentless questioner, and a careful thinker: the qualities that good science - and the liberal arts - stand for. Darwin first pondered his grand theory - evolution (or descent with modification) by natural selection - a full two decades before publishing On the Origin of Species. He spent the interim amassing evidence and analyzing the logic of his hypotheses. Twenty years of experimenting to see if his ideas were fit enough to survive a kind of "natural selection" of evidence. Darwin sought an enormous critical mass of evidence (and delayed publication until he had it) in part because of his concern regarding the reaction to his theory, given the prevailing orthodoxy that all species had been shaped through special acts of creation and were essentially fixed. He finally published his work in 1858 in order not be scooped. That year the young English naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, conceived his evolutionary theory based on fieldwork in the Malay Archipelago. After 150 years, the theory continues to link diverse and new biological facts into a coherent whole!

To honor this achievement and the spirit it represents the College will sponsor a series of Year of Darwin symposia. The first - on February 12, of course - is the Year of Darwin Biology Alumni Symposium. The event will feature three Kalamazoo College science graduates, and "all of their work touches the area of evolutionary biology," says Langeland.

Jeff Wilson '91 is assistant professor of geological sciences and the assistant curator of the Museum of Paleontology at University of Michigan. His research focuses on the evolution of the largest land dinosaurs (sauropods) during the 160 million years they roamed the earth.

Rob Dunn '97 , assistant professor of zoology at North Carolina State University and author of the book Every Living Thing, studies interactions between species and the consequences of those interactions.

Lisa Herron-Olson '00 is an infectious diseases researcher in the pharmaceutical industry and therefore directly engaged in the evolutionary dance of germs "descending and modifying" to survive the medicines humans make to kill them.

The celebration continues in June with the biology department's annual Diebold Symposium, during which senior majors present their individualized projects. This year's speaker will be American philosopher Daniel Dennett, the Austin
"Our special events do more than celebrate Charles Darwin."
B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University (Medford, Mass.) and the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies. He is the author of many books, including Darwin's Dangerous Idea and, most recently, Breaking the Spell. His research interests include the philosophy of biology, particularly evolutionary biology and cognitive science.

The Diebold Symposium will also be occasion to unveil the Year of Darwin Art Contest's winning submissions. "Last year we solicited proposals for artwork in the Dow [Science Building] lecture halls," explains Langeland. "The proposals had to relate thematically to evolutionary biology. We'll officially dedicate the two winning works in June." One is a ceramic tile work by Julia Gartrell '08 and Alison Lucas '10 (Dow 226); the second is a painting by Lenya Friesner '08 (Dow 232).

Fall quarter's special event will occur "as close to November 24 as we can set it," says Langeland. It will feature a presentation by James Costa, titled "An Origin Primer: A guide to the origin and evolution of Darwin's 'one long argument'." Costa is the H.F. and Katharine P. Robinson Professor of Western Carolina University. His research concerns the ecology and evolution of social insects. He studies communication, group foraging dynamics, and colony genetic structure in caterpillars and sawflies. He's also interested in the history and philosophy of social insect biology.

Photo: Jim Langeland peruses first editions of the books of Charles Darwin in the A.M. Todd Rare Book Room in Upjohn Library Commons

by Jim VanSweden

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