Carnegie Museum of Natural History

For more information, contact: Leigh Kish
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
412.622.3361 (office), 412.526.8587 (mobile)

January 25, 2011


Carnegie Museum of Natural History Hosts Explore Evolution
February 5–July 24, 2011 Contact Leigh Kish for Available Images

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania… An exciting new exhibition coming to Carnegie Museum of Natural History invites visitors to Explore Evolution, February 5 through July 24, 2011.The exhibition features eight groundbreaking scientific studies of the evolutionary processes that have shaped life on Earth. These include, for example, evidence of the evolution of whales millions of years ago, rapid mutations by the HIV virus during the search for an AIDS cure, and present-day research on adaptations of finches in the Galapagos Islands that builds on work first undertaken by Charles Darwin. The exhibition is geared to young adults and offers engaging ways to understand processes such as natural selection as well as the effects of global climate change on evolution. 

            “Evolution is the key principle on which all of today’s exciting and fast-moving fields of natural science are built,” said Sam Taylor, former Director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “Explore Evolution helps visitors connect the principles of evolution to the kinds of research that are changing the way we live.”

            Explore Evolution includes case studies of eight major projects. The exhibits and some of the interactive activities are as follows.

  • The micromonkey and anthropoid origins—Chris Beard: Carnegie Museum of Natural History is at the forefront of new discoveries about primate ancestry thanks to the groundbreaking work of museum paleontologist Chris Beard. Micromonkeys—including the genus Eosimias that Beard helped to identify—belong to a group of primates called anthropoids (which includes monkeys, apes, and humans). Beard’s discovery of Eosimias and his subsequent research on other early anthropoids in China, Myanmar, and Libya have led to changes in understanding of their evolution. Beard presents evidence that early anthropoids originated in Asia and colonized Africa before giving rise to the group that would eventually yield humans. Previous theories stated that all anthropoids originated in Africa.
  • Rapid evolution of HIV—Charles Wood: Explores the use of evolution in modern medical science. Wood researches the rapid evolution of the HIV virus as it adapts to defend itself against a number of medical drugs. This research is an important step in the search for a vaccine to combat this AIDS-causing virus. One particularly dangerous aspect of HIV, which Wood has studied at length, is the virus’s ability to evolve into a new strain during the transmission from a mother to her infant child. You’ll manipulate a model to explore the ins and outs of this virus and view “snapshots” of the virus’s evolution as it is transmitted from a mother host to her child.
  • Emergence of a new species in the fossil record—Sherilyn Fritz and Edward Theriot: Fritz and Theriot discovered a new diatom—a type of single-cell, microscopic algae—under Yellowstone Lake. In Explore Evolution, you can examine this new diatom under a microscope and see the amazingly complete fossil record for the evolution of this species.
  • Farmer ants and their coevolving partners—Cameron Currie: Some life forms evolve together as part of an ecosystem. For more than 50 million years, leaf-cutter ants have maintained a “crop” of fungus that they use for their food, protecting it from pests as it grows. Currie discovered that this farming system involves four coevolved species of ant, fungus, bacteria, and mold. Take a video tour in Explore Evolution of an ant garden and investigate an evolutionary “arms race” taking place in a Petri dish.
  • Sexual selection among Hawaiian flies—Kenneth Kaneshiro: One important aspect of evolution is sexual selection—“the struggle of one sex for the possession of the other,” according to Darwin. As an example of this widespread evolutionary process, Kaneshiro researches how sexual selection has caused one species of fly to evolve into 800 species. In Explore Evolution, you can imitate a fly courtship ritual—a method of sexual selection—by playing “fly karaoke,” and examine specimens for a close-up view of the fly’s remarkable features.
  • Galapagos finches—Rosemary and Peter Grant: The history of the theory of evolution can’t be separated from Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos Islands, a location which still yields new discoveries today. Following in Darwin’s footsteps, the Grants researched changes in beak size and shape of Galapagos finches. This work has demonstrated that evolution can occur rapidly in response to severe environmental changes. In Explore Evolution, become a scientist: take beak measurements and use your data to decide how food supply influences evolutionary changes in beak size and shape.
  • Fossil discoveries of walking whales—Philip Gingerich: While working one field season in Pakistan, Gingerich—whose research focus is on the evolution of primates— found a number of fossils that indicated the ancestors of whales evolved from four-legged mammals. With Gingerich as your guide, “travel” back to an ancient shore to conduct investigations of early fossil whales.
  • Genetic ties between humans and chimps—Svante Pääbo and Henrik Kaessmann: Scientific study of our own ancestry has come a long way since the first speculation that humans and other primates were direct relatives. Using molecular technology and DNA, Pääbo and Kaessmann’s research investigates the origins of humans and evolutionary genetics in other primates. In Explore Evolution, compare the DNA strands—known to be 99% identical—of a human and a chimp to see similarities and note the differences.


Opening Events for Explore Evolution

Into and Out of Africa: New Progress in Charting Primate and Human Evolution
Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology K. Christopher Beard, PhD
Saturday, February 5
Noon–1 p.m.
Carnegie Lecture Hall
Free with museum admission

            In this talk geared toward adults, Carnegie Museum paleontologist Chris Beard—one of the world’s foremost experts in primate evolution—discusses his groundbreaking research. Beard and his colleagues propose that early primates evolved in Asia and not in Africa as has long been thought. Beard talks about his discoveries in Myanmar and China and addresses the evolutionary relationships between humans and chimpanzees.

Into and Out of Africa: FOR KIDS!
Saturday, February 5
11:45 a.m.–1:15 p.m.
PNC Center for Museum Education
Recommended for ages 4–13
Fee: Members $10 per child; Non-Members $12 per child
Pre-registration is required for children’s program. Contact Program Registration at 412.622.3288 or

            While the grown-ups enjoy Chris Beard’s talk, youngsters explore the same topics—ancient Asian primates and the evolution of species—through exciting activities in a special program designed just for kids!

Behind the Scenes in the Fossil Collection
Saturday, February 5
1–4:30 p.m.
Big Bone Room
Free with museum admission

            Adults and children with their grown-ups go behind the scenes and experience the Carnegie Museum that only scientists and scholars typically get to see. Visit the big bone room where the vertebrate fossil collection is carefully stored and studied. See real fossils and learn why this collection is so important to scientists studying topics such as life on Earth, climate change, and extinction.

About the Explore Evolution Project 

            The touring exhibition, created by a partnership of natural history museums, focuses on new technologies and techniques in molecular and paleontological biology by giving visitors the opportunity to explore real, ongoing scientific projects. These studies, conducted by world-renowned researchers, contribute to humanity’s understanding of evolution both in specific life forms and as a scientific theory. 

            Explore Evolution is the result of a major 2003 partnership forged by the University of Nebraska State Museum and pulling together 4-H organizations and leading science museums to bring current research on evolution to the public: University of Nebraska State Museum; Exhibit Museum of Natural History of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; Kansas Museum and Biodiversity Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence; Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma in Norman; Texas Memorial Museum at the University of Texas at Austin; Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

            The Explore Evolution project was made possible through the support of the Informal Science Education program of the National Science Foundation. The material in this exhibition is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0229294. More information on Explore Evolution is available by visiting


Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is among the top natural history museums in the country. It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 22 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity. Carnegie Museum of Natural History generates new scientific knowledge, advances science literacy, and inspires visitors of all ages to become passionate about science, nature, and world cultures. More information is available by calling 412.622.3131 or by visiting the website,