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Carnegie Museum of Natural History seeks to create curiosity about evolution

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By Bob Karlovits
Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011

Researchers from museums across the country hope "Explore Evolution" will get people to start the process of wondering why.

"We are very happy when people start asking questions, because that is just what scientists do when they start looking at things," says Laurie Giarratani, a public programs specialist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland.

Giarratani says that element of questioning is the heart of "Explore Evolution," a display that opens at the museum Saturday. It is the product of teamwork between the Carnegie museum and seven other sites. The display looks at eight fields of current study that demonstrate evolution is, well, evolving and not something that ended with Charles Darwin.

"Evolution is the key principle on which all of today's exciting and fast-moving fields of natural science are built," says Sam Taylor, director of the museum. 'Explore Evolution' helps visitors connect the principles of evolution to the kinds of research that are changing the way we live."

Giarratani says the display will examine how evolution tells us as much about the development of viruses that can cripple us as it does about how animals develop.

One of the areas of study in the display is on micromonkey and anthropoid origins. It is a look at the work of K. Christopher Beard, the Carnegie's curator of vertebrate paleontology, who says Asia, not Africa, is the source of the anthropoids that ultimately led to the development of humans.

As a way of making the opening day of the display family-friendy, Giarratani says, Beard will deliver a talk on his work at noon, at the same time as an "Into and Out of Africa" event for kids from 4 to 13.

She says this is being done in an effort to keep members of a family attending the event on the same page. While the adults attending Beard's lecture can deal with issues of paleontology, the kids will encounter that same thinking in a more-simplified form.

Other areas of study in the display are on:

• The rapid evolution of HIV (human immune-deficieny virus) that causes AIDS.

• The emergence of a new single-cell organism in fossil records.

• The development of fungus "crops" for farmer ants.

• Sexual selection among Hawaiian flies.

• How environmental demands create changes in Galapagos finches.

• How whales could have evolved from four-legged mammals.

• Genetic ties between humans and chimps.

Other museums involved are the University of Nebraska State Museum, the Exhibit Museum of Natural History at the University of Michigan, the Kansas Museum and Biodiversity Center at the University of Kansas, the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma, the Texas Memorial Museum at the University of Texas and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Giarratani says the display will show how evolution can move at stunningly different rates, such as "tens of millions" of years for complex animals such as whales to a few years for simple organisms such as viruses.

"You can see that in other displays, such as the look at Ice Age animals or the evolution of horses" she says, "but this will draw attention to it."

Additional Information:

'Explore Evolution'

When: Saturday-July 24; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays.

Admission: $15; $12 for seniors; $11 for students and children 3 to 18; free for members and children younger than 3.

Where: Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Forbes Avenue, Oakland

Details: 412-622-3131 or website

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