Happy Birthday Mr. Darwin

Helen Hill | EAPS News
Monday, March 12, 2018

On Saturday, February 10th, in honor of Charles Darwin’s 209th birthday, the Fournier lab went to the Franklin Park Zoo to co-host their Darwin Day celebration!

For two months, EAPS graduate students worked with teams of middle school students in the Boston Public Schools to create interactive displays about natural selection and evolution. Fournier lab members helped the teams brainstorm creative ways to share their favorite evolutionary concepts with Zoo visitors; engaging and exciting the public.

Displays highlighted a broad variety of fun activities and concepts, such as demonstrating finch beak adaptations using different hand tools to race to grab different types of seeds, and matching games showing the fossil puzzle of whale evolution.

Other activities explained the principles of inheritance via DNA and genes, and how drug-resistant bacteria emerge and spread. Equipped with their newfound evolutionary understanding, the students shared their posters and activities with visitors of all ages (along with some resident gorillas, tapirs and lemurs) in the Zoo’s Rainforest Exhibit.

Students from the McCormack Middle School help young visitors to their booth understand how artificial selection has shaped the diversity and abundance of domestic dog breeds we see today - Image credit: Kris Grymonpre, Boston Public Schools

Gesturing to their poster, students from the McCormack Middle School answer questions on how evidence from DNA sheds light on our evolutionary relationships with other organisms on Earth today - Image credit: Kris Grymonpre, Boston Public Schools

A classic example of natural selection - moth colors during the Industrial Revolution - is brought to life by students from the Haley Pilot School. Their booth featured a game that timed visitors finding camouflaged moths on a bark surface - Image credit: Jo Wolfe, MIT EAPS

To conclude the event, Professor Fournier gave a public lecture on Darwin, evolution, and the diversity of life across Earth's history. Discussing the scientific and historical context of evolutionary studies from Darwin to dinosaurs to modern molecular techniques, Prof. Fournier provided guests with a whistle-stop tour of how we see evolution in action, and how we reconstruct the past in light of Darwin's Theory.

Kris Grymonpre, Science Teacher, Grades 7-8 at Dever McCormack School, Boston Public Schools said, "I thought the event was amazing for the kids! Beyond the Science impact, it certainly helped boost the self-esteem and academic pride of my students, presenting to the public in that way." Paul Connor, a Science Teacher at the Haley Pilot School, Boston Public Schools agreed, "It was just a great experience for my students."

The Zoo looks forward to hosting the program again in future years.

Special thanks to Greg Fournier, Makayla BettsJo Wolfe and Sarah Schwartz (a graduate student in Biology who recently joined the Fournier Lab) for sharing EAPS science with the community and for their help writing this article.

Story image: To celebrate Darwin Day, Greg Fournier, Assistant Professor of Geobiology in EAPS, talks with a crowd of zoo visitors and event participants about the diversity of life today – one that displays a complex history of evolution, yet is shaped by simple processes Charles Darwin outlined over 150 years ago. - image credit Makayla Betts, MIT EAPS

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The Fournier Lab - Geobiology at MIT