Emeritus Professors Peter and Rosemary Grant from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, New Jersey, are the 2016 Charles Darwin Scholars.
After lifelong careers working together in the field of evolutionary biology, including nearly 40 years studying ‘Darwin’s Finches’ on the Galapagos Islands, husband and wife team Peter and Rosemary Grant are something of icons in the field of evolutionary biology.
Their work is known internationally for its demonstration of rapid evolution in response to changes in food supply and their elucidation of the mechanisms by which new species arise and genetic diversity is maintained in populations. Charles Darwin viewed evolution as a process so slow that changes would be observed over near-geologic timescales. The Grants’ research is remarkable in that it has shown that evolution can be observed within a lifetime and has been demonstrated on the very species that were so instrumental in inspiring Charles Darwin’s ideas about natural selection. As Darwin wrote in 1845; Seeing this gradation and diversity of structure in one small, intimately related group of birds, one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends.
The Grants' contributions to evolutionary biology have garnered them many laurels, notable among which is the 1998 E. O. Wilson Naturalist Award and the 2002 Darwin Medal from the Royal Society of London for accomplishments in evolutionary biology. In 2008 they were recipients of the Darwin-Wallace Medal, which is bestowed every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London and in 2009 they were recipients of the annual Kyoto Prize in basic sciences, an international award honouring significant contributions to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of mankind.
The Grants' work has also lent the narrative spine to 'The Beak of the Finch', a Pulitzer Prize-winning account of their adventures in the archipelago written by the journalist Jonathan Weiner.
Professors Peter and Rosemary Grant visited CDU in June 2016 and were based at the Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods. While at CDU they delivered the Charles Darwin Oration (PDF 234KB) and were involved in a rerun of the 'Charles Darwin, Evolution and Tropical Australia' MOOC, as well as a range of other activities.
2014 Charles Darwin Scholar – Professor Janet Browne
The Inaugural Charles Darwin Scholar, Professor Janet Browne, was appointed in 2014. Professor Browne is one of the world’s leading scholars of Charles Darwin. She is Aramont Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, and is widely known for her work on the history of 19th century biology with a specialisation in re-evaluating the life, times and work of Charles Darwin. Her interests also range widely over the history of the life sciences and natural history and she is greatly interested in the history of animal and plant collecting, old museums, voyages of exploration, garden history, and the science and religion controversies.
Among her many achievements, Professor Browne has won critical acclaim for her two-volume biography of Darwin, Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995) and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2002), described by reviewers as “monumental” and “definitive”. She has won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography, the James Tait Black award for non-fiction in 2004 and the Pfizer Prize for Biography from the British History of Science Society, and the Royal Society of Literature Prize.
Professor Browne spent most of July 2014 at Charles Darwin University’s Casuarina and Alice Springs Campuses, where she was engaged in a wide variety of activities including the launch of the Beagle Library online, webinars and material for CDU’s MOOC Charles Darwin, Evolution and Tropical Australia, talks to staff, students and the community and most importantly, delivery of the Charles Darwin Oration (pdf 324KB) on Charles Darwin: His Life in Public and Private at Parliament House Darwin on July 16, 2014, and at CDU Alice Springs on July 24, 2014.