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University marks Darwin's birthday with events

Darwin Days Cake
A birthday cake was just one of many features at UNG's recent Darwin Days events.

There were scientific lectures as one might expect, but there was also birthday cake and an art exhibit featuring insects at the University of North Georgia to mark the birthday of Charles Darwin.

The global event, dubbed Darwin Day, is a tribute to the life and scientific contributions of Darwin, and a chance for people to learn about many topics that Darwin influenced. Darwin is best known for his 1859 book "On the Origin of Species" and his research in the area of evolution that many believe transformed the field.

"The goals of the UNG Darwin Days events are to provide opportunities for students to learn about a variety of topics related to evolution, interact with experts in the field of evolution, and have fun in the process," said Danyelle Aganovic, UNG biology lecturer. "We believe these types of experiences and learning opportunities will lead to well-rounded graduates."

Dr. James Rilling
Rilling speaks to students, faculty and staff.

The debate over teaching evolution in public schools is long-standing and has even been addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court, which supports the practice. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 6 in 10 Americans say humans and other living things evolved over time. The figure includes 32 percent who say life evolved through natural processes like natural selection and 24 percent who say that a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life.

Drs. Dietrich Stout and James Rilling, anthropologists from Emory University, attended during the event to give guest lectures about human evolution. Stout spoke about the progression of tool-making by humans, and Rilling addressed research on the evolution of the human brain, focusing on how it differs from other primate brains in an effort to explain why humans have some abilities that other primates lack.

"We were pleased that Drs. Rilling and Stout were able to visit our campus and interact with our students," said Dr. Meg Smith, UNG biology instructor. "We chose them because of their broad appeal and their expertise in both biology and anthropology. Their interdisciplinary approaches use cutting-edge neurobiology techniques to answer fundamental questions about the evolution of the human brain. Because we had two speakers this year, we were able to present a broader range of topics that were still complimentary to each other."

Jo Whaley art
An image displayed from Whaley's book.

The insect art exhibit, called Formicidae, featured artists whose work focuses on the visual qualities of the insect form. The artists included Jo Whaley, whose work has been exhibited internationally, and who contributed three images from her book "Theater of Insects."

"Their ingenious structures and design are unique visual qualities that inspire awe," Whaley said.

There was also an artistic tribute contest during the three-day event. "Homage to Hominids" asked students to submit artwork honoring primates, ranging from poems to visual art and costumes.

"When we created the Darwin Days celebration, we wanted to incorporate an artistic component that would allow our students to display the hidden talents we don't normally have the opportunity to see in biology classes," said Dr. Erin Barding, assistant professor of biology at UNG. "We were very impressed with the quality of the poetry and visual art we received."

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