Doing Darwin's experiments

Charles Darwin’s great curiosity for the natural world meant that he carried out scientific experiments throughout his life, mostly from his home at Down House in Kent.

Darwin worked from his study rather than in a lab. He wrote to thousands of correspondents to gain information and help. His letters, notebooks and published work show us how he worked. Many of his experiments were simple to create but had a profound impact on scientific thinking.

This pack shows you how to carry out some of Darwin’s experiments in the classroom and how you can compare your results with his findings.

  • Science KS3 and 4

The Experiments

Click on an illustration below to carry out one of Darwin’s experiments and see what you can discover.

  • 1. Flytraps and Sundews
  • 2. Survivor Seeds
  • 3. Create a Weed Garden
1.

Experiment: Flytraps and Sundews

Darwin was fascinated by insectivorous plants and conducted many experiments into their feeding habits.

My book on Insectivorous Plants was published July 1875, that is sixteen years after my first observations. The delay in this case, as with all my other books, has been a great advantage to me; for a man after a long interval can criticise his own work, almost as well as if it were that of another person. The fact that a plant should secrete, when properly excited, a fluid containing an acid and ferment, closely analogous to the digestive fluid of an animal, was certainly a remarkable discovery.

Charles Darwin

The Experiment

In these experiments you can test the impact of different food types as well as designing your own insectivorous plant.

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2.

Experiment: Survivor Seeds

Darwin experimented with the potential for seed distribution and germination for many years.

Since his time on the Beagle voyage, Darwin was fascinated by how seeds travel and germinate.
When he returned home he spent many hours testing the viability (or vitality, as he called it) of various seeds that had gone through interesting journeys; from being caught in a bird's foot to having been swallowed and regurgitated by an owl.

The Experiment

In these experiments you can test whether seeds will germinate after being subjected to simulated gastric juices, salt water and heat, just as Darwin did, and compare your results with his own.

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3.

Experiment: Create a Weed Garden

Working from his home at Down House in Kent meant Darwin was studying nature on his doorstep.
He conducted all his experiments from there.

Darwins garden was also the site of scientific experiment. In 1857 he cleared a small patch of ground to watch the progress of emerging weeds over a period of time. He was surprised at the number of seedlings that came up and marked each with a wire.

Darwin carefully monitored their growth and was even more surprised at how few survived.

The Experiment

Try creating your own weed garden to see what factors affect the survival of all living things. – including weeds.

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