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  The Journal of Effective Teaching
an online journal devoted to teaching excellence


Journal of Effective Teaching, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2009   PDF Version

Herman, R. L. (2009). Letter from the Editor-in-Chief  Digital Textbooks – Making Textbooks Affordable. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 9(2), 1-2.

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief: Origins

Russell L. Herman[†]

The University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC 28403


In the beginning -  


and there was light.



This set of equations, which makes little sense to some, has been displayed on many a physics major’s T-shirt. These equations are referred to as Maxwell’s equations, named after the famous physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who used what was known about electricity and magnetism in the 1860’s and predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves. It wasn’t until 1887 that a thirty year old Heinrich Hertz produced the first electromagnetic waves, leading to radio and television broadcasting. Not long after that Jagadish Chandra Bose discovered microwave radiation. Just a few years before Maxwell’s predictions, in 1859, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species.  


This year is the bicentennial of Darwin’s birth (February 12, 1809) and the 150th anniversary of his publication, On the Origin of Species (November 24, 1859)[1]. Many groups have been celebrating these events and there has been much discussion in college and university classrooms about the impact of Darwin’s work in the sciences and beyond. Considering the recent controversies in the public schools and the media, this topic has lead to questions as to how to effectively teach a diverse student population and the general public about the science, philosophy, and history of evolution and Darwinism in our society.


In this volume of The Journal of Effective Teaching you will find articles on teaching evolution in the classroom marking these anniversaries. We solicited articles on teaching evolution in the college classroom which also adhered to the mission of the journal, namely articles which highlighted effective teaching practices, or studies involving student learning, and not those solely about the content of evolution.


Table 1: Some Other Significant Dates Ending in “9”


Years Ago




25 August 1609

Galileo Galilei demonstrated his new telescope.[2]



Johannes Kepler wrote the book Astronomia nova



First English translation of Newton’s Principia by Andrew Motte


12 February 1809

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born.


24 November, 1859

On the Origin of the Species


March 14, 1879

Albert Einstein was born.


November 20, 1889

Edwin Hubble was born.


May 29, 1919

Sir Arthur Eddington solar eclipse expedition confirmed Einstein’s theory  of general relativity.



Hubble discovered the Redshift Distance Law of galaxies, Hubble's law.



Nuclear fission is discovered independently by Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn.


July 20, 1969

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the Moon.


November 18, 1989

COBE launched


December 1, 1999

First Human Chromosome Completely Sequenced



Where did we come from? Why am I here? What is the fate of the universe?


Many people have contemplated such questions since their youth from points of view ranging from philosophical and religious to scientific. The question of origins was the subject of the recent September 2009 issue of Scientific American, which considered the origins of many fields including topics like the origins of the universe, life, and computing. It was also the theme of the 2009 Origins Symposium[3] held at the Arizona State University, which brought together 70 of the world’s leading scientists and scholars to explore Origins issues.


Over the last one hundred and fifty years our collective view of the universe has changed more than it had the two thousand years after Aristotle. We found out we are not at the center of the universe, or even the solar system. We learned by the 1800’s that we were part of the Milky Way Galaxy. In the 1920’s we realized there were galaxies beyond our own. In fact, the Hubble telescope has uncovered over a hundred billion galaxies - each containing a hundred billion stars.


There were also surprises in store for us in the twentieth century on very small scales further challenging our thoughts about the fabric of the universe. The electron was discovered in 1897, the neutron in 1932 and hundreds of subatomic particles resulted in the atom smashers in the mid 1900’s. The strange world of subatomic physics lead to practical  applications that changed our modern world – transistors, lasers, computers and cell phones.


In 1905 Albert Einstein and others introduced us to new ways to view space, time, and determinism, upsetting the clockwork universe handed down to us by Newton. Such ideas found their way into all walks of life, appearing in the works of philosophers and artists Einstein’s work on gravitation eventually lead Edwin Hubble to data for an expanding universe, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1965 to detect the signs of the beating heart of the early universe, only later to be confirmed to incredible accuracies by experiments like COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) and WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) in the last decade. By looking at experimental evidence of the universe’s past, we are now confident that the universe as we know it dates back 13.7 billion years to a hot soup of matter and radiation. The fabric of spacetime exploded, dragging with it the material universe as we have come to know it, along the way producing elements, stars, galaxies and more.


And, billions of years later the Earth was born and a few million years after that Charles Darwin introduced his famous work, On the Origin of Species. Ever since 1859, the theory of evolution has been challenged and tested by many. How do we bring this subject into the classroom? There are many ways one can do this. However, in this special issue of The Journal of Effective Teaching we are not as much interested in the deep details of how to present arguments for or against evolutionary ideas, but we want to see what preconceptions students have, or how to bring students into contact with the facts … like actually going to Galápagos, critically discussing the recent Dover case, or even to face preconceived notions of where the borders of science and religion might meet. We hope that you find these articles interesting and provoking, leading you to other discussions as to how we explore controversial topics in the classroom.


[1] It is interesting to note that there are other significant anniversaries ending in “9” such as those as shown in Table 1.

[2] Matson, J. (August 25, 2009). 400 years ago, Galileo's telescope was ready for prime time. In 60-Second Science Blog, Scientific American.

[3]The Origins initiative can be found at The symposium featured Nobel laureates and others giving lectures, or participating on panels, including people like Richard Dawkins, Ann Druyan, Steven Weinberg, Paul Davies, Craig Venter, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Steven Pinker, Brian Greene, Donald C. Johanson, Lawrence Krauss, and many others. Videos from the symposium are online at

[†] Author's email: