This has been the year of Charles Darwin, British naturalist and author of The Origin, because this year marks his bicentennial birthday as well as the sesquicentennial anniversary of the publication of his most famous book.
On this date in 1859, the first printing of The Origin of Species went on sale. Priced at 15 shillings each, the 1,250 copies immediately sold out, and 3,000 more copies were quickly ordered. According to the Word Wench's blog, “Swordplay,” “British conservatives were shocked: this heretical pop science book was being read in the drawing room, in the high street!”
Darwin's theory of evolution through natural selection is a primary foundation of biology. According to Wikipedia, “Darwin's book introduced the theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. It presented a body of evidence that the diversity of life arose through a branching pattern of evolution and common descent.” Natural selection, which offers the explanatory power of Darwin's theory, states that, of those traits that can be inherited, the traits that make it more likely that a creature will live longer and reproduce more successfully tend to become more common in populations over subsequent generations.
In simpler terms, lifeforms change over time. Traits of creatures that succeed in having lots of babies are, of course, the traits that are passed down to those babies.
Darwin's book was meant for the general public as well as for other scientists. Darwin was a very good writer and tried hard to be understood. The end of The Origin has been quoted often this year, for good reason:
There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
- The Tree of Life web project aims to “contain a page with pictures, text, and other information for every species and for each group of organisms, living or extinct.” It is being compiled from experts and amateurs. Browse around—there are dinosaurs and jellyfish and all manner of other creatures here!
A simpler website with a browse-able “tree of life” can be found here.
- .There are lots of other sorts of activities here.