Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Origin!

Take a moment today to wish a happy 150th birthday to the Origin of Species, published on November 24, 1859. This truly seminal work should be read by everyone, scientists and laypeople alike. Darwin was an eloquent and passionate writer, and there are many lovely passages in the book. My favorite has always been the very last paragraph:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

I think it's difficult not to find these words moving if you're anyone who gazes at stars or watches plants germinate or waits with bated breath for the latest news from the LHC. We've learned so much about the world during our species' short presence on this planet, thanks to the efforts of intrepid naturalists and researchers like Darwin, who live and breath for the pursuit of knowledge. The power of science to teach, to improve our lives, and to increase our understanding and appreciation of our fragile world is awe-inspiring. Truly, there is grandeur in this view of life.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ferns on the radio

Ferns will have their day on the radio next Thursday, November 19. If you live in Madison, tune in to WORT 89.9FM for Perpetual Notion Machine from 7-7:30pm, or you can listen live online at WORT's site, or you can download the show as a podcast afterwards. Yours truly will be the guest, talking about ferns, science-blogging, and my favorite passage in the Origin of Species (whose 150th birthday is coming up soon...).

Fern blog La Selva

I just found this blog about ferns at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica. La Selva is one of the stations operated by the Organization for Tropical Studies, which ran a tropical fern course I took several years ago, part of which was taught at La Selva. It's a really neat place in the lowland tropical rainforest of northern Costa Rica, with lots of ferns. This video-blog documents research that's being done on the La Selva ferns, some of it by students, and it's really great!

Here's their most recent post, on Lomariopsidaceae. Go visit the blog to learn more!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fiddleheads immortal

One of the nicest things about living in Madison, Wisconsin is that we have a lovely, free, public botanical garden here, Olbrich Botanical Gardens. And one of the nicest things about the Garden is that, in addition to having many ferns on the grounds, they have this beautiful cement statue of fiddleheads prominently displayed! I was stunned the first time I saw it, and now it's one of my favorite things to visit in town. I don't know anything about who designed or made it, because I haven't been able to locate a plaque or sign. It's now become a mission to find out the name of the artist who appreciates ferns this much.

Update, March 2010: A former student of mine discovered the identity of the sculptor: her name is Sylvia U. Beckman. Thanks Lois!