The Darwin Year is almost upon us here in the San Joaquin Valley!
The festivities really kick off on Monday, Feb. 2nd. Dr. Rick Zechman, CSU Fresno Biology Department Chairman and a member of the 'Deepest Green' group of phylogenetic research, will give a presentation for Central Valley Cafe Scientifique.
I was fortunate enough to take a survey course from Dr. Zechman back in 1999 on algal systematics and came away deeply impressed with his enthusiasm for doing science and his approach to the topic. Dr. Zechman's presentation, "Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life", celebrates the 150th anniversay of the publication of the 'Origin of Species'. CSU Fresno provides a proud press release that you can read, right here. Members of the CSU Fresno faculty will be participating in a number of events during this year, and they have even formed a consortium of (heh) 'Darwin's Bulldogs' to help publicize and encourage the public understanding and celebration of evolutionary biology.
This should be an absolutely timely presentation. Dr. Zechman is an expert himself in the very modern and up-to-date business of building phylogenetic trees based upon molecular data to establish the relationships between different taxa, in particular the phylogenetic relationships within the Ulvophyceae. A particularly beautiful and exceptional member of the phylum, Acetabularia, is shown at right: known as the 'mermaid's wineglass', it is one of the larger single-celled organisms on the planet, with specimens reaching 10 centimeters in length.
Anyway, you can check out the Zechman Lab here. Dr. Zechman's personal experience as a phylogenetic researcher will be sure to give a special flavor to his talk, which will begin with the famous tree Darwin sketched in his 1837 notebook, and explores how Darwin's insights have led us to the point where we can use genes to investigate the relationships between all living things, indeed the history of life on Earth.
The talk will begin at 6:30 on Monday evening and will be given at Lucy's Lair, an Ethiopian restaurant that offers a tasty and exotic buffet just for Cafe Scientifique folk. It's located at 10063 Maple Avenue in Fresno, and the embedded link directs you to a map and other information about the event's host. We hope you will join us!
On the following day, I'll be taping the first of a series of programs on Darwin Day and Darwin's influence, often considered notorious by people of faith, for KNXT-Channel 49, which is a local television station operated by the Catholic Diocese of Fresno. I'll be appearing on a program entitled "Forum for a Better Understanding", hosted by Jim Grant. The program is usually dedicated to ecumenical discussions between Catholics and other faiths and often has members of the Interfaith Alliance of Central California (in which I participate) on to represent their faith tradition.
This time, however, Jim has rather graciously and
enthusiastically agreed to sponsor a series of discussions between myself and Terry Scambray, who is a local academic who is sympathetic to intelligent design. Terry and I have previously skirmished in an Oxford-style debate back in 2006 and I'll be giving him another crack at me and my Darwinian enthusiasms. The first 30-minute episode is slated to air sometime on Feb. 16th, and I'll provide more information as I know more. Should be lively!
The Fresno County Academic Decathlon will be at CSU Fresno on Saturday, Feb. 7th, between 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM. There will be many area high schools competing, including a Bullard team that I (of course!) be supporting. The reason this is relevant is because this year the Super Quiz topic is 'Evolutionary Biology'. Students and coaches will check in at the Resident Dining Hall, with the Super Quiz to be played at 3:30 that afternoon.
On the morning of February 11th,* I'll make another appearance on behalf of things Darwinian, this time on The Alan Autry Show. This will be my second appearance on the program, which is broadcast weekdays from 10:00 to 12:00 AM local time on KYNO AM-1300. I'll be taking my 'face for radio' on the road with Dr. Paul Crosbie from CSU Fresno's Biology Department. Dr. Crosbie is a parasitologist, has taught the department's Evolution course, and one of the brains behind 'Darwin's Bulldogs'. Our host, the former mayor of Fresno, is broadly sympathetic to intelligent design and is sure to pose a couple of questions "designed" to test our mettle. If last time is any indication, this should be fun!
On the 12th, as previously mentioned, I'll be attending an evening event sponsored by New Covenant Community Church and the local chapter of Reasons To Believe. As I said to one of my fellow Darwinians, this is my cross to bear. For those not interested in the speculations of creationists, or who don't feel an obligation to attend such, let me commend the following events in and around Fresno:
Darwin Birthday Celebration and Reception
Feb 12th, 2009, 4:00 PM
Downing Planetarium and Museum
Darwin Day Dinner (lecture, "Darwin's Finches")
Feb 12th, 2009, 7:00 PM
4280 N. Blackstone (major cross streets: Blackstone and Ashlan)
Darwin's Ideas and the Societal Impact of Evolutionary Biology
Feb 13th, 2009, 3:00 PM
Science II Building, Room 109
There may be more events emerging this month as well, and I'll try to post them as I find info about them. If you don't live in the Fresno area, but you'd be interested in finding a Darwin Day event, have I got a web site for you! Check out Darwin Day Celebration. It has a searchable database of events, and as of this post the list is 371 events in 31 countries. Pretty wild!