Natural Engineers: Darwin's Finches

Eli Whitney Museum

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Natural Engineers: Darwin's Finches

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Vacation Program

  • Monday, February 20, 2017
  • 9:00 am – 3:00 pm
  • Designed for ages 6 to 12
  • By Andrew Sargent, Site Historian & Lead Educator

200 years ago, Charles Darwin was about your age. (His birthday was the same as President Lincoln's: February 12th, 1809.) Even before he started school, Darwin was a careful student of nature. As a young man, Darwin traveled as a naturalist on the Beagle to the Galapagos islands. He brought back to England birds he had collected there. The ornithologist John Gould realized these specimens, though different in their features, were all part of the finch family. Darwin began to realize that the birds had developed beaks to match the food available on the islands they inhabited. Their inheritable specializations helped Darwin organize his understanding of evolution.

Consider the adaptation of beaks as an engineer. Construct a robot finch. Engineer a beak that will pick up a Tootsie Roll™. An easy challenge. Then adapt your bird to pluck a Lifesaver© from deep inside a cup. Then adjust your bird to pop a balloon to recover a treat inside. Create challenges for others to master.

Engineers and birds evolve tools to efficiently solve essential challenges.

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