Celebrating Darwin's Evolution Revolution The world is getting ready to celebrate the 200th birthday of one of the most influential biologists — some would say THE most influential biologist — ever born. Charles Darwin revolutionized the way scientists think about how life on this planet evolved.

Celebrating Darwin's Evolution Revolution

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Next month, we'll mark the 200th birthday of the most influential biologist ever, Charles Darwin. It's impossible to underestimate the significance of this man or his book "The Origin of Species." So in February, Weekend Edition and NPR's science desk will begin a series on Darwin. And NPR's Joe Palca is in England to prepare stories for the Darwin bicentenary, and he joins us. Hey, Joe. I know you've been there a few days. Where are you?

JOE PALCA: Hey, Liane. Well, I'm in the Sedgwick Museum, which is on the campus of the University of Cambridge in Cambridge. And there are fossils here of all sorts. It's a remarkable little museum. I'm standing at the end of a case where there's a collection, some fossil shells, I think, that were collected in the Falkland Islands when the Beagle stopped there in the 1830s.

HANSEN: Wow. What else have you seen since you've been there?

PALCA: Well, this morning we were over at the Cambridge University library looking at some of the documents that Darwin wrote before "The Origin of Species" was published, when he was getting his thoughts together, including these tiny beautifully - well, not beautifully written because he had kind of hard handwriting to read - but really interesting little notebooks where he was jotting down his ideas. And it's like touching somebody's brain.

HANSEN: You used the pronoun we. I understand you're there with American evolutionary biologist Sean Carroll?

PALCA: Yeah, yeah. He gave the kickoff lecture last night to the Darwin College, which is one of the colleges here in Cambridge. In fact, he's standing right here. You want to say hello to him?

HANSEN: Oh, sure.

PALCA: All right. Hold on a second. Liane.


HANSEN: Hi. Is this Dr. Carroll?

CARROLL: Yes, it is.

HANSEN: Is it Dr.? I assume it is.


CARROLL: Yes, it is.

HANSEN: Joe is describing some of the things that he's seeing in the Sedgwick Museum, and he seems all wide-eyed. Are you as impressed as he is?

CARROLL: Yeah. It started this morning. We were looking at original notebooks where the first thoughts were occurring to Darwin about the changing of species. And then we've come over to the museum, and we're seeing specimens that were collected throughout the time of the voyage. Many of these specimens we're looking at carry their original labels. They're in little pillboxes. They're in little sauce bottles that were used on the ship probably for foodstuffs. And then now he emptied them out and filled them with shells, and things like that, and corked them. And you get really a sense of not just what Darwin collected but how he collected.

HANSEN: Oh, well, have yourself a great time while you're there. That's American evolutionary biologist Sean Carroll who's with NPR's Joe Palca. Can I talk to Joe one more time?


HANSEN: Thanks.

PALCA: Well, so yeah. So if you hear something in the background, Liane, it's - this museum has, you know, a bunch of visitors, and including a little baby who I think is too young for this. But that's OK.

HANSEN: Well, let me ask you. Given we're coming up on the 200th birthday of Darwin, is there Darwin fever in England?


PALCA: Yes. You know, everything - everything Darwin, I think, in this year. And, you know, someone was making the point that they celebrated his birthday a hundred years ago, on his centenary, and it was a big deal. But his importance did not diminish in the last hundred years. It grew.

HANSEN: NPR's Joe Palca speaking to us from the University of Cambridge in England. And our series to mark the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin begins next month. Joe, thank you very much.

PALCA: You're welcome.

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