POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam and Clarkson University are celebrating Charles R. Darwin's 200th birthday with lectures and discussions about evolution.
"I really can't stress enough how important his ideas have been. I tell my classes Darwin's ideas are the theoretical umbrella for all of biology," said Walter J. Conley, a biology professor at SUNY Potsdam. "Natural selection affects everything from how we grow our crops to how we husband our animals to how we treat our diseases."
Mr. Conley organized a series of public lectures so he and his colleagues could explain to students and the community how their research is influenced by Mr. Darwin's work. Faculty from the departments of biology, geology, anthropology and psychology will participate.
Born Feb. 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England, Mr. Darwin formulated his theory of natural selection following a five-year journey on the HMS Beagle.
After examining and collecting information on dozens of species, especially throughout the Galapagos Islands, the naturalist published "On the Origin of Species" in 1859. Before he died in 1882, his theory of evolution was widely accepted by the scientific community.
To say that the theory of evolution changed the way we see the world would be an understatement, Mr. Conley said. He begins his evolutionary biology class by reading a passage that says natural selection is "arguably the most important idea in all of science."
It's also the "most misunderstood scientific idea," but Darwin Day events won't get into the history of religious and social clashes over the issue, Mr. Conley said.
Two seminars are designed for the general public. Geology professor Lisa M. Amati will present "Evolution Explained" on Monday, and Bethany M. Usher, an associate professor of anthropology, will give a talk titled "Humans Evolving" on Feb. 11. Both of those events will be at 5 p.m. in the Potsdam Civic Center Community Room.
The lectures will culminate in a Darwin Day birthday celebration Feb. 12, when SUNY Potsdam science students and professors will mingle to discuss research and how far their fields have come.
Clarkson University will kick off the second semester of its Science Cafe series with an evolution panel Wednesday in Jack & Wezzie's Coffee House in downtown Potsdam. A panel of scientists will speak about "Evolution, Darwin and Humanity in the 21st Century" in the first Science Cafe event at 7:30 p.m. James Schulte, a Clarkson biology professor, will speak along with Ms. Amati and Ms. Usher from SUNY Potsdam, as well as Mark T. Lee, who teaches biology at Colton-Pierrepont Central School.
"They're interested in the area from different angles. We thought it would be fun to have them all come and discuss the issue. Why not? We hope to show the range of disciplines that Darwin's work inspires," said Daniel ben-Avraham, a professor of physics at Clarkson, who organizes the series.
Mr. ben-Avraham is trying to include researchers from the area's other colleges and hospitals to add to the Science Cafe series, which invites the public to ponder science over a cup of coffee.
"We're trying to make science lessons stimulating to the public and vice versa, trying to bring the public's concerns to scientists. A sense of community is something that flows from it," Mr. ben-Avraham said.