This year (2009) we celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his work "The Origin of Species."
Darwin was born on February 12th, 1809 in Shrewbury, England, son of Dr. Robert Darwin. Despite being a bad student, he had a great interest in science and nature. He liked to wander around the countryside and catch animals for his collections, and set up a homemade chemistry lab with his brother Erasmus. His family worried about his future.
At the age of 16 he went to study medicine in Edinburgh, sent by his father. But after seeing two surgeries without anesthesia he was so impressed he quit the University and returned home. The father then sent him to Cambridge to study theology, and it was there that he met the botanist John Henslow. They became friends and, after Darwin finishing his course, Henslow asked him to make the famous voyage around the world on the Beagle.
This trip, with the aim of creating a cartography of South America, took place between December 1831 and October 1836. Captain Robert Fitzroy convinced the British Admiralty to take Darwin, so he could collect specimens of natural interest.
Charles felt seasick, so he travelled whenever possible by land, collecting specimens of animals, plants, rocks and fossils, that he sent to England.
After returning to his country, he settled in London and began to identify the collected material with the help of experts. He wrote his first book "The Voyage of the Beagle”, where he had already started to speculate about the evolution of species. In the mean time, he read "An essay on the principle of population" by Thomas Malthus, where he discussed the hypothesis that competition for food could be a key regulator of human population growth. Darwin applied this idea to the natural world, raising the hypothesis that the competition would favour the best adapted species.
At age of 29 he married his wealthy cousin Emma Wedgwood, which allowed him to lead a fulfilling life. Tired of London, they moved to the village of Downe in 1842, where he lived the rest of his life with his wife and their ten children.
In the next twenty years, he developed his ideas on the theory of evolution, always in secret due to the prejudices of religious and conservative society of the time.
In June 1958 he received a letter from the naturalist Alfred Wallace, with a theory of natural selection similar to his and a request to publish it. The two theories were presented together at a meeting of the Linnean Society of London. Charles was concerned about the possibility of losing the authorship of this theory, so he hurried to write and publish "The Origin of Species" in just one year. The impact of this book was, as we know, huge.
Darwin always continued to work despite his health problems, publishing on topics such as the origin of man, the behavior of animals and man and the action of earthworms. He died at the age of 73 and he was buried as a national hero in Westminster Abbey next to Newton, as his theory of natural selection was accepted by most scientists still during his lifetime.