Science meets community at Iowa City Darwin Day

Iowa City Darwin Day

Biology Building East, Kollros Auditorium — Friday, Feb. 22 at 2:30 p.m.
MacBride Hall — Saturday, Feb. 23 at 9 a.m.
FilmScene — Saturday, Feb. 23 at 3 p.m.

The Iowa City Darwin Day logo. — courtesy ICDD

The science minded Iowa City-zen will have an opportunity to explore the contributions of science and evolution to society Friday and Saturday, Feb. 22 and 23, with the induction of the 2019 Iowa City Darwin Day (ICDD) festivities. Darwin Day, a local two-day celebration of science and community, takes place each year on or around Charles Darwin’s birthday (Feb. 12, 1809).

Each annual program consists of a variety of fun and informative science-themed events, from presentations by scientists from around the country to movie screenings — even a birthday party at the University of Iowa’s Natural History Museum for the eponymous evolutionary biologist himself.

ICDD has roots as far back as 2006. The celebration initially got off to a rocky start. In an email conversation, local physician and founding member of the ICDD board Dr. John Stamler recounts how Iowa City’s own Darwin Day came to be.

“I remember sitting in my office reading newspapers online about the growing disrespect for science — climate science denial, evolution denial, vaccination denial, etc.” he said. “As a physician and scientist, I wondered if there was a way to positively support science in the public space”

After an attempt in 2007, stymied by the ever dynamic February weather, the first ICDD was held in 2008, with two guest speakers.

“In the following years, we incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, grew our organizing committee with more faculty and students from multiple University of Iowa departments and many community members, and have presented an inspiring program each year completely free and open to all,” Stamler continued.

The majority of Saturday’s events take place in Macbride Hall on the University of Iowa campus. — CC0 public domain/via Max Pixel

Over a decade later, Darwin Day is still going strong, providing more community-based events in addition to the inspiring guest talks.

“One of the ways in which ICDD has become increasingly a community event is through free events for local science teachers,” said Dr. Deidre Egan, assistant director of the Writing Center at the University of Iowa, another member of the board who also participated in the email exchange. “Teachers who attend all events are eligible for one unit of continuing education, but they can sign up for individual events too.” While the requirements vary between districts, continuing education credits can be applicable to the renewal of a teaching license and are approved by the Board of Educational Examiners.

“Most of us learned our love of science from the inspiring and dedicated teachers we encountered in school and college, and this is our way of honoring their work as they bring that excitement and passion to the next generation of scientists.” she said.

That very love of science attracts speakers from various departments at the University of Iowa, as well as from across the country. Dr. Maurine Neiman, associate professor of biology at the University of Iowa and board member also commented on what kind of speakers the event hopes to bring to the community:

“In general, our goal is to celebrate science and scientists.” she said. “This is a broad and ambitious goal, and we are delighted to include anyone who can help deepen understanding and appreciation of how amazing and fun science and scientists can be, the accomplishments of science, and the challenges that remain”

For this session, topics of disease and evolution dominate the docket. Events in addition to the presentations include a screening of 2011’s Contagion, with a discussion moderated by Dr. Sharon DeWitte, one of the lecturers (also part of FilmScene’s Science on Screen series). Four scientists from universities across the country will give presentations over everything from predicting the evolution of pneumonia after vaccines to trends in past and present emerging diseases. Speakers are selected by members of the committee, who work to bring an exciting mix of active scientists to each ICDD celebration.

“We have always sought to invite a diverse set of speakers: we want to include a broad range of people representing different areas of expertise and different perspectives.” Neiman said. “We also make concerted efforts to invite people who break the mold of ‘old white male’ scientist”

The events are likewise geared toward audiences of all ages and educational backgrounds. “[We] would love to see a lot of participation from people outside the university … Kids are especially welcome at the Saturday events, which include Java House muffins and hot cocoa, a Darwin birthday cake, and the chance to hang out in the terrific Hall of Birds in the Natural History Museum — all for free” said Neiman.

Friday’s events will take place in the Kollros Auditorium of the Biology Building East at the University of Iowa. Things kick off at 2:30 p.m. with an opening reception. Saturday’s events begin at 9 a.m. with coffee and pastries; they will be centered in the University’s Macbride Hall, with speakers in the Macbride Auditorium. The full schedule is available on the ICDD website.

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