One group of UK students could be about to follow in the footsteps of Charles Darwin on a voyage to the Galapagos Islands. The trip is first prize in a competition being organised by the Wellcome Trust to celebrate the end of Darwin 200, the bicentenary of Darwin's birth.
Born in 1809, Charles Darwin went on to become one of the most influential scientists of all time. Much of his work was inspired by a visit to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean in 1835. There, he studied the many different plants, animals, birds and reptiles, many unique to the island. He postulated that many had developed from the same ancestors over millions of years to adapt to their environment.
In 1859, Darwin published On the Origin of Species, setting out his theory of evolution by natural selection. This book, which was highly controversial at the time, was to revolutionise the way we viewed ourselves.
Now, the Wellcome Trust is offering school groups the chance to visit Galapagos Islands by finding the most imaginative way to explain the science behind its Survival Rivals experiments. These kits have been distributed free of charge to state secondary schools across the UK and provide the opportunity for students to consider Darwin’s ideas and how they have been developed and interpreted, as well as the impact and the relevance evolution has for our lives today.
"On the Origin of Species, inspired by Charles Darwin's visit to the Galapagos Islands, was a masterpiece of both scientific thinking and science communication," explains Clare Matterson, Director of Medicine, Society and History at the Wellcome Trust. "By offering one group of students the opportunity of a lifetime to follow in Darwin's footsteps, we hope to inspire our future scientists and science communicators."
Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who helped launch the Wellcome Trust's Darwin-related schools activities, says: "The Galapagos Islands are a beautiful and very important place. The myriad unique species that Charles Darwin found on his visit inspired one of the greatest and most influential works of all time. The first time I visited the islands many years ago, I understood what Darwin must have seen when he visited over 170 years ago. This journey will be the opportunity of a lifetime for the students and I am sure they will find the same inspiration that touched me and all those that have had the privilege to visit the islands."
Two-thirds of the UK's state schools and colleges are already taking part in Survival Rivals. There are three kits available, targeted at different ages: I’m a Worm, Get Me Out of Here, Brine Date and The X-Bacteria. These are complemented by a mass participation activity and workshops that form A Question of Taste. The kits explore themes of natural and sexual selection, and antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
Students are being asked to record the results of their experiments creatively via film or photography. The most clear and imaginative entry will win four students and their teacher a trip to the Galapagos Islands to explore their unique marine and terrestrial eco-systems with scientists on the island.
"Survival Rivals is all about hands-on investigations, understanding how evolution influences the world around us," adds Professor Derek Bell, Head of Education at the Wellcome Trust. "When it comes to practical, hands-on biology, the Galapagos Islands is the dream destination."
For further information on the competition, visit www.Survivalrivals.org.