Darwin's 200th birthday celebrated
Duquesne University biologist Dr. John Pollock stands in front of the Synthetic Darwin Interview display at the Carnegie Science Center yesterday.
Share with others:
For six years, David Lampe has been working to wrest Charles Darwin's theory of evolution from the shadows of religious doubt into the public light of scientific understanding.
And he now has a stage to make that happen.
Dr. Lampe and fellow Duquesne University biologist John Pollock have produced a Darwin exhibit at the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore that helps to school the public about Darwin, whose 200th birthday will be celebrated Thursday.
The two, with help from the science center, Carnegie Mellon University's Education Technology Center and others, have put Darwin on stage to discuss his book, "On the Origin of Species," his life and research in his own words.
People can ask Synthetic Darwin any of 199 questions, and Darwin, played by Lawrenceville actor Randy Kovitz, answers questions in Darwin's own words drawn from actual letters he wrote. Noted scientists also clarify and explain evolutionary principles that have come to light since Darwin's death in 1882.
"It's an exciting moment to present Charles Darwin to all of Pittsburgh," Dr. Pollock said, noting that "a lot of people don't know who Darwin is."
Don Marinelli, executive producer of the Education Technology Center, which provided the technology and Hollywood flair for the exhibit, described the medium as "edu-tainment."
"It's a joy to see fun and entertainment where they should be -- in a learning environment," Dr. Marinelli said.
The exhibit is part of an 18-month citywide celebration of Darwin's life, contributions to science and impact in explaining how living beings evolve to adapt to their environments.
"Darwin 2009: A Pittsburgh Partnership" includes Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the Carnegie Science Center, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, the National Aviary, the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Lampe's "Evening Lecture Series," featuring six Friday lectures on the Duquesne campus, explores evolution in science and its impact on human thought, sociology, gender studies and religion.
A second lecture series, "Evidence for Evolution," will be held on Saturdays at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to explore the latest evidence of evolution.
Dr. Pollock said Synthetic Darwin also will be posted online and made available on computers for schools to use as a teaching aid. Similar displays could appear in other museums and venues.
Questions that Darwin answers touch on religion, evolutionary science and details about his dog and upbringing. Mr. Kovitz's cinematic version of Darwin was filmed in a replica of the famous biologist's actual study. The project cost about $120,000 to produce.
Joana Ricou, a graduate student in multimedia arts at Duquesne, created a Darwin mural, which will hang in museums throughout the city.
Controversy over the theory of evolution has raged ever since "On the Origin of Species" was published in 1859. While many religious people now embrace the theory, others still consider it a threat to religious principles based on the idea that humankind evolved.
But Drs. Lampe and Pollock said biological science cannot be understood without the theory.
"The controversy does not need to be there," Dr. Pollock said. "We are trying to diffuse this controversy and get beyond having two sides with no nuance in the middle."
First Published February 6, 2009 12:00 am