From comics to genetics, ISU celebrates Darwin

January 29 2008

TERRE HAUTE • Comic books, a documentary and an evolutionary genetics researcher are all part of Indiana State University’s celebration of Charles Darwin’s life and scientific research that begins Feb. 5.

“We started this to increase awareness of scientific advancement,” said Rusty Gonser, ISU assistant professor of life science.

Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held on or around Feb. 12, the anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth in 1809. While it celebrates the discoveries and life of Charles Darwin -- the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor • it also acknowledges the benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to humanity, according to the darwinday.org Web site.

Now in its third year of being celebrated at ISU, Gonser said he had received many requests about including events at different times. A grant from the Center for Public Service and Community Engagement allowed him to expand the day to a week.

“We want to make it interesting to a broad spectrum of students because science is a part of every day life,” Gonser said.

Darwin Week kicks off at 4 p.m. Feb. 5 in Science Room 12 with the Tri-Beta Speaker, Jay Hosler, who is the Lee G. Hall Visiting Professor at DePauw University and uses comic books to teach scientific concepts to people of all ages. His keynote address of “The Adventures of Darwin’s Chihuahua” will discuss comic books, Darwin and natural history.

From 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 11 in the ISU Library Events Area Gonser will emcee the showing of the documentary “Flock of Dodos” and of the question-answer session afterward. The panelists for that session are: Hopi Hoesktra biology professor from Harvard University, Ella Ingram a biologist from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Kevin Kinney a biologist from DePauw University.

“Flock of Dodos” by filmmaker, evolutionary ecologist and surfer Randy Olson pokes fun at both sides of the Darwin versus intelligent design controversy, even as it explores it.

“This is not meant to solve the debate but to engage in awareness,” Gonser said of the documentary. “I want students to take away that there’s more than one viewpoint and you shouldn’t walk into things saying ‘I believe only in this’ or ‘I believe only in that’. We want to promote critical thinking. Science is not about telling what to think, but teaching how to think.”

At 4 p.m. on Darwin’s birthday of Feb. 12, Hoesktra is the featured Darwin Day speaker in Science Room 12. Her research focus is on evolutionary genetics of natural populations of mammals and she plans to speak on “From Darwin to DNA: The Genetics of Adaptation in Mice.”

“Some people may not appreciate that understanding the genetics in mice is important,” Gonser said. “But mice carry diseases. Mice can transmit those diseases to humans. If we look at the genetics in mice, and see how mice respond to the disease, then we might gain insights as to how the disease may affect people.”

Through such activities as Darwin Week and the on-going Life Sciences Seminar Series, Gonser said it is an opportunity for students at ISU to be exposed to on-going research at leading institutions.

“It’s an opportunity for them to hear from some of the cutting edge scientists in the U.S., if not the world,” he said. “That scientific community and culture is being brought to ISU and the students get to walk away with their knowledge.”

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Contact: Rusty Gonser, Indiana State University assistant professor of life sciences, at 812- 237-2395 or rgonser@isugw.indstate.edu

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or jsicking@isugw.indstate.edu

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Comic books, a documentary and an evolutionary genetics researcher are all part of Indiana State University's celebration of Charles Darwin's life and scientific research that begins Feb. 5.

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