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MSU Museum hosts Darwin Discovery Day

Friday, February 8, 2008

When you’re almost 200 years old, a museum is a fitting place to celebrate your birthday.

The MSU Museum will celebrate the birthday of Charles Darwin with Darwin Discovery Day from 1 to 5 p.m. on Feb.10. All events for the day are free.

Naturalist and scientist Charles Darwin was born on Feb.12, 1809. The MSU Museum will join other natural history organizations and science centers around the world to observe this day with special family-friendly programs. The fourth annual celebration will take over all three floors of the MSU Museum. Visitors can enjoy science-related entertainment such as activities from MSU’s 4H Children’s Garden, a rare visit to the research floor and, of course, there will be cake.

Judy Smyth, the museum’s director of educational programs, said the event started very small but grew by involving sponsors from various departments at MSU that have a connection to Darwin’s work. “The event is very open to everyone and this is a celebration of science for the curious,” Smyth said.

The event includes guest speakers from MSU professors who will give “mini-lectures” pertaining to this year’s theme of “plants.”

Don Garling, an MSU professor of fisheries and aquatic plant control, is an orchid extension specialist and has been raising orchids for more than 20 years. His lecture will discuss "Orchids: Plants of Amazing Diversity." In 1892, Darwin wrote book about how orchids are pollinated by insects which led him to the theory of co-evolution. “This is a family event so I have lots of pictures,” Garling said. “I will be talking about pollination, diversity in orchids, where they are, the ones you can raise in your own home and native Michigan orchids.”

Ralph Taggart, professor of plant biology, will speak about "Plants and Dinosaurs: the Rest of the Story." His lecture will discuss the relationship between dinosaurs and plants in the world they lived in. “The argument I’m making is the dinosaurs change was very unusual given the way the history of life has worked. Dinosaurs simply didn’t change what they were eating, but the world was changing virtually overnight.”

Taggart has given lectures for many years, from elementary schools to national and international scientific meetings and said that his material is technical but accommodating to people all ages. “I’m doing it in the spirit of Darwin so it has to be rigorous,” Taggart said. His favorite dinosaur is the hadrosaurs – the “duck-billed” dinosaur - because they were a key component of their ecological communities.

Smyth said that the event has been well attended in the past and next year will be the biggest celebration yet with Darwin’s 200th birthday. Next year is also the “Year of Science,” a national year-long celebration lead by the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science COPUS. This peer network links universities, scientific societies, science centers and museums, government agencies, advocacy groups, media, educators, businesses, and industry with the goal of enhancing public understanding of science.

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