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Creating Young Darwins

Ned Friedman, a botanist at Harvard, has come up with an intriguing way to use Darwin’s life to teach the basics of evolution.

He and a team of graduate students have created a freshman seminar called “Getting to Know Darwin,” in which the students recreate ten of Darwin’s experiments and observations, spanning his life from his college days to the work on earthworms, which he carried on during his final years. To get an intimate feel for Darwin’s ideas and work, the students read his letters in which he discusses each topic. They then run experiments very similar–or in same cases, identical–to the ones Darwin ran himself.

Friedman has now gone the extra mile and put all the details of the class online at the Darwin Correspondence Project site. You can read about each lesson, such as the one on biogeography–the science of why species are where they are. Friedman’s students do experiments with seeds in fresh water and salt water to see how plants could get to remote islands. Some ducks’ feet obtained from a butcher shop allow students to see how Darwin figured out that birds could transport plants to new homes.

Friedman explains the project in this video:

Darwin Resources from Darwin Correspondence Project on Vimeo.