With streamers, balloons and finch paraphernalia lining the walls, doctor of paleontology Kenneth Lacovara and 40 other guests gathered to celebrate one of the biggest events in science — Charles Darwin’s 214th birthday — on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Hosted by Words Matter Bookstore in Pitman, New Jersey, “Darwin Day” celebrated Charles Darwin, a naturalist, geologist and biologist most famously known for his theory of evolution and natural selection.
“Darwin day is really a celebration of science,” said Jennifer Totora, the marketing and events specialist at Rowan University’s School of Earth and Environment. “And its a way to kind of bring light to all of Darwin’s achievements and what he brought to the world of science and evolution.”
Totora managed the event’s “Feed the Finches” station, a table set-up where attendees could attempt to use different utensils representing various finches’ beaks to pick up different objects meant to mimic food a finch would eat.
Darwin Day had several similar stations, such as a “Pin the Beak on the Finch” and a “Discovery Zone” where attendees could examine different finch skulls, turtle shells and snakeskin to observe how evolution occurred in each specimen.
“We wanted to bring everything that we do at Rowan at the School of Earth and Environment with science and paleontology and evolution — and all of that to the community. So we thought Darwin Day would be a great opportunity to do that,” Totora said.
The event was highlighted by a discussion with Kenneth Lacovara, professor of paleontology and geology at Rowan University, as well as the founding dean of the School of Earth and Environment. Lacovara also discovered the Dreadnoughts, a dinosaur estimated to have weighed more than seven T-rex together.
“I really like to think a lot about the young Charles Darwin. When we think of Darwin, we think of this, you know, aged, learned man with a big beard and he looks like Father Christmas,” Lacovara said, addressing a crowd of 30 people that had squeezed into the front room of Words Matter. “Darwin was once a young, uncertain, unsteady 20-year-old that didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life.”
As attendees began to eat cupcakes with a picture of Darwin’s face on them, Lacovara also discussed the soon-to-be Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park, which he was an integral part of establishing. According to Lacovara, the fossil park, which is expected to open in the Spring of 2024, will feature a virtual reality exhibit, high-grade microscopes that individuals can use to view fragments of the asteroids that crashed to Earth 66 million years ago, and a “Sixth Extinction” exhibition that features recently extinct creatures and critically endangered species.
Although still in various phases of construction and assembly, the Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park have hosted several “Dig Days” where community members can come to the facility to dig for fossils and get a small taste of what the park has to offer.
Hannah Kye, assistant professor with Rowan’s College of Education, took her three children to a Dig Day at the fossil park in the past and considered Darwin Day to be the perfect chance to expand upon this foundation.
“We took them to the fossil park before they had done all their renovations… We were mostly just sliding in the mud. Our older one got super excited about finding fossils,” Kye said. “And so we just wanted to come here, see what’s new, and keep that excitement alive.”
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