Darwin Day celebrants get WSU zoology lessons

Friday , March 28, 2014 - 12:15 PM

Nancy Van Valkenburg, Standard-Examiner Staff

OGDEN — Abraham Lincoln has to share Presidents Day with others who filled the oval office, but Charles Darwin, born 205 years ago on the same day as Lincoln, gets an international holiday all his own.

Wednesday was International Darwin Day, celebrated at sites around the globe with science-based scavenger hunts, lectures, essay contests, conferences, and of course, birthday parties.

At Weber State University, the day was marked with a public photo op, with a cardboard standee standing in for the absent naturalist, who died 131 years ago last April. The faux Darwin was backed by balloons in Weber State purple, and topped with a mylar-fringed birthday hat the real scientist would have been hard pressed to trace to its origins.

“This is only the second Darwin Day celebration where we invite people to come and take a picture with Darwin,” said Sam Zeveloff, event organizer and a professor in the WSU Department of Zoology. “We do this to let people know about Charles Darwin’s accomplishments and his pervasive influence over so many aspects of biology. Of course, most people just come because it’s a fun thing to do, but hopefully this will stimulate their interest, and they’ll want to learn about a key figure he was. He’s of course best known for coming up with the principle mechanism for evolutionary change, which is natural selection.”

Natural selection holds that organisms that are better adapted to their environment are more likely to survive and reproduce. Over long periods of time, traits that support survival in a given environment are passed along, and those traits become more common in the surviving population.

“He’s so influential, I think once someone were to learn about Darwin and his contributions, they would be more likely to be at least as impressed as I am,” Zeveloff said. “He is indeed a genius, in terms of the thoughts he had, especially based on the era in history when he had those thoughts.”

Zeveloff said at least a few dozen students, staffers and faculty members passing by had stopped to pose for a birthday picture with Darwin’s likeness.

“I think its been moderately successful so far,” he said, adding that the event also would draw attention to the zoology program and the many careers its graduates pursue, including wildlife management, medicine, and conservation. Those who posed with Darwin’s cardboard likeness were invited to post their pictures on the WSU Department of Zoology’s Facebook page, upon which they could learn more interesting facts about the program and club activities, Zeveloff said.

So, were posers at the Shepherd Union Building showing fake Darwin enough real respect?

“Waldo Wildcat came over and he made some silly poses with Darwin,” the professor said. “But when you’re in a costume I think that’s entirely appropriate.

Contact reporter Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or nvan@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @SE_NancyVanV.

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