A NEW EXHIBITION on Charles Darwin (1809-82) features the broadest and most complete collection ever assembled of specimens, artifacts, original manuscripts, and memorabilia related to the history-making scientist and his theory of evolution by natural selection. "Darwin" offers an engaging and enlightening exploration of the extraordinary life and mind of the acclaimed naturalist, whose curiosity, observations, and discoveries nearly 150 years ago forever changed the perception of the origin and nature of our own species, as well as the myriad others on this planet, and launched modern biological science. Visitors experience the wonders Darwin witnessed on his journey as a curious and adventurous young man aboard the HMS Beagle on its historic five-year voyage (1831-36) to South America, the Galapagos Islands, and beyond.
The first clues that led Darwin to his theory of evolution came into focus during his voyage on the Beagle as the ship's naturalist. The exhibition re-creates this experience with live Galapagos tortoises, an iguana, and horned frogs from South America, like those Darwin himself encountered, along with actual fossil specimens he collected. "Darwin" also features an elaborate reconstruction of the naturalist's study at Down House where, as a keen observer and dedicated experimenter, he proposed the revolutionary theory that all life evolves according to the mechanism of natural selection.
It was a theory that Darwin would keep secret for 21 years while he continued his research and studies. Rare objects on display, coupled with descriptive text, illuminate the patterns he observed among species, which led to the publication of The Origin of Species, wherein he assembled the massive evidence of life's diversity, animal and plant domestication, and the geologic and fossil record to support his theory of evolution.
Darwin arrived at the startling conclusion that life on Earth is not static, but changing, and his controversial theory of natural selection offered a mechanism to explain the existence of the amazing diversity of life on Earth. These insights continue to guide scientists today as they apply Darwinian concepts to global inventories of life, conservation biology, reconstruction of the evolutionary Tree of Life, and the treatment of diseases ranging from AIDS to SARS.
"At a time when American education in science and mathematics is failing dreadfully--in ways that undermine this country's economy and security and yield public confusion about major scientific issues, including the origins and diversity of life on Earth--[this exhibition allows visitors to] experience the sense of awe and curiosity about nature that led to the formulation of Darwin's groundbreaking theory that remains the cornerstone of modern biology," says Ellen V. Flutter, president of the American Museum of Natural History. "As we seek new cures for disease and means to avert bioterrorism, Darwin's work remains vitally important, as does a new focus on improving science education in this country."
"Darwin was a true giant in the history of science, an explorer and a lover of nature who translated his passion into a scientific explanation for the diversity of life that is the foundation of all biology," notes Michael J. Novacek, curator in the Museum's Division of Paleontology. "As a prominent geneticist once stated, 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.' This is not just a matter of scholarly achievement; Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection helps us understand ways to fight disease, manage the environment, and live better and healthier lives. Without his insights, for example, we would fail to appreciate the dangerous potentials of rapid evolution in the avian flu virus."
"Whether it's studying a fossil to gain a deeper understanding of T. rex, establishing the ancestry of spiders, unraveling the genetic code of mushrooms, or digging into our own human origins, evolutionary theory lies at the very heart of [the world of science's overall] mission," proclaims John McCarter, president of Chicago's Field Museum. …