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Exhibit Puts Darwin Insights On Display

A bit of science history goes on display at the Utah Museum of Natural History this weekend, giving Utah a new perspective on Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking book on evolution and one of the pigeons that helped shape its ideas.

Donney Nicholson of London’s Natural History Museum hand-carried a fantail pigeon to Utah. He’s storing its bone-colored body in a locked metal cabinet at Utah's Natural History Museum until the new pigeon exhibit goes live. It’s one of 120 pigeon specimens Charles Darwin donated from his own collection to the London museum a few years after his 1859 book, On the Origin of the Species. It's part of the research that began to transform how science understands life itself.

“It’s historically important and scientifically important,” he say, “because Darwin used pigeons to in a way validate his theory on natural selection.”

You wouldn’t be alone in wondering: “Why pigeons?” Lisa Thompson gets that question a lot. She developed the exhibit for the Utah Museum of Natural History and says pigeons turn out to be a great way to understand natural selection because of their variety.

“You have pigeons with incredible feathers on their feet and you have pigeons with incredible crests on their head,” she explains. “And they come in all kinds of colors. And there are tiny pigeons and there are large pigeons. And it’s this variation that has helped scientists past and present begin to understand how evolution works.”

Visitors can see a first edition of Darwin’s revolutionary book at the exhibit. They also can put his ideas to work by breeding digital pigeons and dressing up in pigeon costumes. The exhibit opens Saturday and ends January 3.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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