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Darwin: evolution of a scientist

Illustration of Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection has been described as 'the single best idea that anyone has ever had'.

Put simply, what it did was to fundamentally change our understanding of the natural world and, importantly, how all life evolved.

And to mark the 150th anniversary of his seminal work 'On the Origin of Species', an exhibition at Manchester Museum sets out to uncover the man behind the idea.

Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist' will take visitors on a journey through his career, from a boy obsessed with nature, to young scientist on The Beagle to radical thinker.

The story of Darwin's life is told in a comic-book style, with large illustrations by artist Chrissie Morgan alongside key objects, many collected and studied by Darwin himself.

Peppered moth

Manchester's own links to the theory of evolution will also be showcased - including the story of the peppered moth, Biston betularia.

Giant tortoise
Darwin's sextant he used on voyage of The Beagle
letters he wrote about insectivorous plants
pigeons he bred and collected
corals from the Indian Ocean
a tiny finch from the Galapagos Islands
a giant tortoise from the Galapagos Islands

In the early 19th Century, the peppered moth was known to most naturalists, including Charles Darwin, as a predominantly white-winged moth liberally speckled with black.

Then in 1848, as mills covered the towns of northern England in sooty black smoke, a black variant of the moth was discovered in Manchester.

By 1895, 95% of the Mancunian peppered moths were black.

This dark form spread across industrial Britain until the Victorian entomologist JW Tutt suggested that the prevalence of the dark form of the moth was due to it being better camouflaged on dark sooty surfaces than the lighter variant.

Sure enough, following the 1956 Clean Air Act, the black moth began to decline with the return of the white form which was bettered camouflaged on lichen-covered tree bark.

On show at the museum are examples of both light and dark forms of the moth which remains the finest illustration of evolution in action.

Revealing Darwin

A number of events are being held throughout the course of the exhibition, including talks on the latest evolutionary research and the use and abuse of Darwin's ideas.

Curator of Zoology, Henry McGhie said: ''Charles Darwin is most familiar to us as an old man with a long flowing beard.

"Through the exhibition, we wanted to communicate more about Darwin as a person, at the time when he was developing his ideas and to explore just what his ideas mean to us today."

Charles Darwin: evolution of a scientist is at Manchester Museum, 3rd October 2009 - 30 August 2010



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