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BIO Distinguished Lecture: Darwin Day

About the series

The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) hosted a Distinguished Lecture for Darwin Day (Feb. 12), featuring Jim Costa, PhD, Executive Director of the Highlands Biological Station and Professor of Biology at Western Carolina University, on Thursday, February 10, 2022 from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM EST.

A recording of the lecture is available at the link below.

Dr. Costa's lecture was titled "Patience, Industry, and a Fair Share of Invention – Lessons from Charles Darwin the 'Experimentiser'.”

Charles Darwin is best known as the author of the watershed book On the Origin of Species, the founding document of modern evolutionary biology — a work he famously referred to as "one long argument," tying together seemingly disparate strands of evidence into a cohesive and compelling argument for evolution by natural selection.  Less well known is the fact that Darwin authored another 10 books following the Origin, more than half of which treated his extensive experimental work on botanical subjects — works that we might call Darwin's "one longer argument."  In this talk, I explore the research method behind Darwin's "long arguments," in particular his talent for gaining profound scientific insights with simple, DIY experiments.   Darwin loved "experimentising" — from his study and garden to his greenhouse and meadows, he was constantly enlisting family and friends, and crowd-sourcing, to collect data.  Darwin's working method offers valuable lessons for science educators today in revealing science at its most essential: forget fancy equipment, science is at heart a process of learning to see and ask questions, accessible to anyone, and ultimately a collective endeavor.

About Dr. Jim Costa
Jim Costa is Executive Director of the Highlands Biological Station and Professor of Biology at Western Carolina University, where he teaches courses in biogeography and evolution.  An entomologist and evolutionary biologist by training, Jim's research and writing ranges from insect social evolution to the history of evolutionary thinking.  He has authored numerous research papers and seven books, most recently Darwin's Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory (W.W. Norton, 2017) and the edited volume An Alfred Russel Wallace Companion (Chicago, 2019), and his work has been supported by NSF, USDA, USFSW, and fellowships with Harvard's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and the LuEsther T. Mertz Library of the New York Botanical Garden.  Jim is a long-time Research Associate of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, and he currently serves as a Trustee of the London-based Charles Darwin Trust.  In 2017, Jim was awarded the Alfred Russel Wallace Medal for his contributions to Wallace scholarship.

About the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO)
The mission of the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) is to enable discoveries for understanding life. BIO-supported research advances the frontiers of biological knowledge and provides a theoretical basis for prediction within complex, dynamic living systems through an integration of scientific disciplines.

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