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EVOLVE! A lively mix of art and evolutionary science at Noorderzon

Fun for young and old
03 September 2017

From the 20th to the 24th of August the Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival was enriched with Evolve located at the south pavilion. Evolve was created on the occasion of the 16th International Congress of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB) that took place simultaneously in Groningen. Evolve offered the general public the opportunity to learn about evolutionary biology by means of fun experiments, interactive exhibits and art.

Kids went nuts with GEN.ERATE!
Kids went nuts with GEN.ERATE!

Evolving artworks
Visitors could participate in the evolution of the artwork by building along with GEN.ERATE. Kids went nuts building it up and tearing it down! Parents helped them sometimes but their kids remained the true builders. ‘She is always busy building things’, said the father of Lydia proudly (7 years old). Later at night GEN.ERATE became a battlefield between men and women. ‘The idea is to investigate whether there are any creative differences between men and women (or women and men) and how the artwork evolves in response to change’, explained GEN.ERATE designer Leen van Wijngaarden. He should know since he developed GEN.ERATE together with the Pezy Group and Science LinX as an artistic model of evolution.

Visitors could also marvel at the ‘Random Digits’ artwork in the ‘Exhibition container’. Interdisciplinary artist Jan Ruerd Oosterhaven showed in this artwork how simple rules could create complex structures.

During the night of 20th to the 23rd of August there were three repetitions of the theater performance De Balts. Mirthe Dokter and Tim Hammer amused the public with a fun mixture of theatre and music. From the albatross to the deep-sea anglerfish, their disguises knew no bounds as they transformed themselves from one species to the other creating their own version of the animal kingdom’s mating dance. ‘I thought it was very creative. They used everyday household objects to build up their fantasy world. It was a very intimate dance just like the mating dance. The dancers fight before kissing which showed the mating pattern very well’, commented festival visitor Helena (30 years old).

In the lab as both researcher and guinea pig
Children and their parents could become biologist for a day by extracting DNA out of a strawberry. Kids poured all their energy into squashing their strawberries into a puree under the approving gaze of their parents. But DNA did not look as they expected. ‘It looks like glue!’ exclaimed a surprised young girl. Visitors could also experience what it was like to be a predatory bird with the ‘evolution game’. Families and friends disguised themselves as birds and fought for resources to survive.

There was also the possibility to participate in two ongoing research experiments. The first experiment involved seeing if subjects were faster with their right or left hand. Most people assumed it would coincide with their obvious hand preference. However, that was not always the case. ‘It is very fun. I saw someone that was right-handed but was faster with her left hand. That was very surprising.’ Nevertheless, results can always vary. ‘I’m right-handed and was also faster with my right hand. So it coincided in my case’, said Praedinius Gymnasium high school student Wynona (14 years old). In the second ongoing experiment you had to copy a drawing made earlier by another visitor. What was the result? Details of the drawing started to change the more people copied it. The drawing evolved! On Thursday the 24th of August the preliminary results of both experiments was presented to an eager audience in a packed room.

Festival visitors as test subjects in ongoing experiments.
Festival visitors as test subjects in ongoing experiments.

On to city safari and myth busting
The more active festival visitors also had something fun to do! Visitors could join everyday at 14:00 on an expedition through the Noorderplantsoen with Christophe Brochard from Bureau Biota. On the city safari he showed how some animals have adapted to the city life. Did you know for example that space bears (Tardigrades) lived in volcanoes and in our Noorderplantsoen?

At the Evolution Café visitors could interact with evolutionary biologists and increase their knowledge about evolutionary biology. Additionally, every night a guest scientist busted some myths regarding evolution and biology at ‘Arno’s Aperitief’. Did you know for example that antibacterial soap is actually bad because it aggravates antibiotic resistance?

Additionally there were different flash lectures about topics like co-evolution and bio-mimicry. On Tuesday August 22nd professor Dr. Randolphe Nesse (Arizona State University) from the United States came to talk about ‘evolutionary medicine’.

Christophe Brochard talks about the natural wonders of the Noorderplantsoen during a city safari.
Christophe Brochard talks about the natural wonders of the Noorderplantsoen during a city safari.

Evolve was a big hit for the young and the young at heart. Everyone could link his or her interests to evolutionary biology. The Evolve programme was developed by Science LinX (RUG) in collaboration with evolutionary biologists from the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES, RUG), and with the support of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB).

Last modified:14 May 2020 10.29 a.m.
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