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Image of Burgess Shale exhibits in the museum's Paleozoic GalleryAs part of a University of Oklahoma campus-wide celebration of the 150th anniversary of the publishing of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the Sam Noble Museum in Norman will be offering an evening of free museum admission from 6 to 11 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29. The museum also will feature a free public lecture beginning at 5 p.m. by the museum’s curator of invertebrate paleontology, Stephen Westrop, titled “The Cambrian Explosion and the Burgess Shale: No Dilemma for Darwin.”

The Cambrian Explosion was one of the most important episodes in the history of life. Over some 20 to 25 million years, beginning about 543 million years ago, life in the oceans diversified. Today, we find abundant fossils of hard-shelled animals of this age in many parts of the world. The famous Burgess Shale of western Canada formed after the Cambrian Explosion but its unusually preserved fossils give paleontologists a glimpse of a nearly complete Cambrian community. These extraordinary fossils also show the wide range of animals that must have evolved earlier in the Cambrian Period. In this presentation, Westrop takes a look at recent research that gives us a new understanding of this evolutionary "explosion" of ocean life.

The museum’s Paleozoic Gallery showcases the science behind this amazing diversity of life from Earth’s Cambrian Period. Highlights include fossils, models of many of the bizarre animals of the Burgess Shale, and animated features showing how these animals may have moved and hunted.

“We invite everyone interested in an accurate description of how life developed over the last four billion years to come hear Dr. Westrop’s lecture and visit our galleries,” said museum Director Michael A. Mares. “These well-organized and scientifically accurate exhibits illustrate – through real specimens and scientific methods – the fact of evolution by natural selection as first described by Charles Darwin and continually supported by all branches of science ever since that time. Dr. Westrop is recognized internationally as an expert on the Cambrian Period, and his presentation will provide insight into the latest scientific research regarding the impact of this time period on the evolution of life on Earth. ”

Stephen Westrop has been the curator of invertebrate paleontology at the museum since 1998. His research focuses on the Cambrian System and its fossils, particularly trilobites. He was a member of an international team of geologists and paleontologists who established the current radiometric dating of the Cambrian Period, including the record of the Cambrian explosion. Westrop has published more than 50 papers in scientific journals on various aspects of the Cambrian, and serves as editor of the Journal of Paleontology, published by the Paleontological Society.

Since the beginning of 2009, the museum, in partnership with OU departments of Zoology, Botany and Microbiology, Anthropology and History of Science, all in the University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences, and the History of Science Collections in University Libraries, has presented more than 15 public education programs related to evolution. Many of these are currently available to download as podcasts through iTunes. Additional information about museum podcasts and newsfeeds is available online at www.snomnh.ou.edu/rss.

Many more Darwin programs are scheduled for the months ahead, including a seminar series called “In Discussion with Darwin,” a lecture series, a family day featuring children’s book authors Carolyn Meyer and Anne Weaver, and “Darwin Remembers,” a one-man theatre performance. Mares encourages the public to take part in these programs, many of which are free, to educate themselves about the true nature of the science of evolutionary biology.

On October 10 the museum will open “Darwin at the Museum,” a special exhibition featuring a complete set of the first editions of Darwin’s books, provided by the OU Libraries History of Science Collections. This exhibition, which will include specimens from museum collections, will be on view through Jan. 18, 2010.

Additional information about programming at the museum is available online at www.snomnh.ou.edu/publicprograms. The museum is located on the OU Norman campus at Timberdell Road and Chautauqua Avenue. For more information, call (405) 325-4712.



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