To commemorate the scientist and educate the local community about evolution, UT will host its annual Darwin Day event series on Wednesday, Feb. 12, marking the English naturalist and geologist's birthday.

Although Darwin Day's events officially kicked off on Jan. 24 with giant puppets of Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, a colleague of Darwin, roaming about campus, the main event will feature keynote speaker Andrew Berry, a lecturer from Harvard.

Berry will discuss Darwin and human evolution at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 11 in Hodges Library Room 213 and will lecture about Wallace at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 in the UC auditorium.

Other events will include various movies in Hodges library, a workshop for teachers, art contests for students, information and merchandise booths on the pedestrian walkway and a lunchtime talk by former National Center for Science Education staff member Nick Matzke on the intelligent design debate.

The theme of this year's Darwin Day will center on Wallace, who independently conceived the theory of evolution through natural selection. Wallace's papers on the subject were jointly published with some of Darwin's ideas in 1858. Largely forgotten by the general populace in lieu of better-known Charles Darwin, Wallace is known as the "father of biogeography."

A student-run and organized event, Darwin Day was founded in 1997 by Massimo Pigliucci to promote the teaching of evolution in schools.

Brian O'Meara, faculty adviser for Darwin Day, said the goal of Darwin Day is to make science more accessible.

"We try to educate the local community about evolution," O'Meara said. "What it is, what the evidence is for it, how the theory has developed. We have workshops for teachers every year to answer their questions about evolution and to give them an overview of current science.

"Darwin Day's outreach should help them teach evolution more effectively and to deal with concerns from others in their community."

Kathryn Massana, a second-year graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology and head of the Darwin Day advertisement committee, said she believes the events hold increasing importance within the state of Tennessee, given the infamous "Monkey Bill" passed in 2012. The bill allows the teachings of creationism, climate change denial and other unscientific principles in public schools.

Despite popular debate, Massana said she does not see Darwin Day as an attack on religion or religious ideas regarding evolution.

"We're experts on science, we're not experts on religion," Massana said. "To say that Darwin Day is an attack on religion is not correct; we're not talking about religion. We're just talking about science."

Quentin Read, a Ph.D. student in ecology and evolutionary biology and program coordinator for Darwin Day, stated the goal of Darwin Day is to promote science education, not create disputes.

"Speaking for myself and for everyone that's involved with Darwin Day, there is no antagonism for anyone of religious faith," Read said. "When I talk about science, it's not a matter of faith; it's a matter of accepting the evidence that's out there. There's room in people's minds, in society's minds, for both of those things."

To learn more about Darwin Day, visit darwindaytn.org.