This week's Darwin Festival
is drawing to a close in Cambridge. It's been an amazing week of lectures, discussions, plays, and performances all to celebrate Charles Darwin on his 200th birthday.
All of us at Science
Careers tend to ask people what or who inspired them to go into science. Some people cite Darwin as their inspiration; they are more likely to say that his life's work is inspirational. There's another name that comes up frequently, particularly here in the U.K.: David Attenborough.
Also Cambridge-educated (he studied geology and zoology at Clare College
), Attenborough is best known as a television presenter. Off and on for 50 years, he's written and presented countless programs about the natural world -- among his most famous are Life on Earth (and the entire "Life" series
), The First Eden, and Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives. Earlier this year he hosted a show called Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. His excitement and fascination with the natural world shows through in his programs, and he's brought the the natural world to the TV screens of generations of viewers, young and old.
Now 83 years old, Attenborough was the special guest at a sold-out dinner last night at King's College, Cambridge. "Above all, Darwin demonstrated ... that we are members of the natural world, that we're not separate from the natural world, that we're subject to its laws. And if we deny that, we deny our responsibility to ... the future. Charles Darwin is indeed the man who put that in our minds, and for him we should all be grateful."
Why hold the Darwin Festival in Cambridge? Long before the HMS Beagle voyage, settling in Down House, or writing The Origin of Species
, Darwin was an undergraduate theology student at Christ's College, Cambridge
Here he developed a love for the natural world, and studied under
botany professor John Henslow. He collected beetles on the banks of the
River Cam, a hobby he would continue for much of the rest of his life.
festival has been a testament to the reach of his work: nobel laureates
Paul Nurse and Harold Varmus spoke here this week; Lords Martin Rees
and Robert May, current and former president, respectively, of the
Royal Society, made appearances as well; as did evolutionary biologist
Richard Dawkins. But the festival isn't just for scientists: Authors
Terry Pratchett and Ian McEwan, among others, were here to discuss
Darwin's influence on literature. At dinner last night I sat next to a
lecturer in literature at a U.K. university who has written a book
about Darwin in poetry that will be published this autumn. Darwin
certainly influenced a wide variety of careers, both in science and