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30 years of finches bring evolutionary theory to life

By

Margaret Coulombe

Kyoto winners to speak at ASU Darwinfest

Peter and Rosemary Grant, Princeton professors emeritus and winners of the 2009 Kyoto Prize for Lifetime Achievement, come to Arizona State University on Oct. 28 to join in ASU’s Darwinfest, as part of the Darwin Distinguished Lecture Series. Their talk about their work with “Darwin’s Finches” starts at 6 p.m. in the Turquoise Ballroom at the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus and will be followed by a book signing.

With more than 35 years devoted to study in the Galapagos Islands, the Grants shared research has delved into questions about natural selection and evolutionary change. Their long-term studies (where the duo tagged thousands of birds — that's more than 20 generations) have allowed the Grants to trace lineages and demonstrate how evolutionary change — revealed through alternations in beak size and shape — can rapidly result via competition for resources and environmental stress. The Grants and their finch studies formed the basis of the novel “The Beak of the Finch: A Story of Evolution in Our Time” penned by Jonathon Weiner, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995. Following their talk, the Grants will sign copies of Weiner’s book and their own, titled “How and Why Species Multiply. The Radiation of Darwin’s Finches.”

As the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species” draws nigh, the last of the distinguished lecture series will be held on Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. in the Life Sciences E-wing, room 104. Noted author Janet Browne, Harvard University Aramont Professor of the History of Science will address “Celebrating Darwin: 1909, 1959 and 2009.”

ASU Darwinfest was developed by School of Life Sciences founding director Robert E. Page, Jr., in collaboration with Quentin Wheeler, VP and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Designed to bring attention to how bold ideas can transform science, technology and society, ASU Darwinfest has grown to become one of the most significant Darwin celebrations nationally. With more than 33 partners and sponsors, on and off campus, ASU launched the Darwin Distinguished Lecture Series with a visit from E. O. Wilson, The Future of Evolution Lecture Series (held at the Arizona Science Center), and a ASU workshop for public school teachers called “Translating Evolutionary Science into the Public Classroom Workshop.” Emissaries of the New American University, graduate students collaborated from a range of academic units at ASU and hosted festivals, movies, contest, panels and discussions with some of the foremost evolutionary scientists and theorists in the world. Darwinfest also served as a platform for the original and radical science being done on campus. Estimated attendance of core events exceeded 3,600, not including the popular Origins Initiative and lecturers Daniel Dennett and Jay Melosh, hosted by the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. The Darwin Distinguished Lectures have been captured as podcasts, featured by Apple on iTunesU and can be found at http://darwin.asu.edu. For more information about the upcoming talks by the Grants or Browne, contact Margaret.coulombe@asu.edu; (480) 727-8934.