From the evolution of our existence to our ideas, West Virginia Universitys annual Festival of Ideas will feature many of todays pre-eminent thinkers and scientists.

This yearsevolution-themed line-upinspired by the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and his profound impact on cultureincludes best-selling author Walter Isaacson, professor and public intellectual Cornel West, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill and renowned paleontologist Meave Leakey.

A pioneer of evolutionary biology, Darwin launched not only a seminal guideline for scientists with 1859sOn the Origin of Species,but also helped shape a multitude of scholarly disciplines and modern thought.

A celebration of Darwin encompasses more than just science or evolution,interim WVU President C. Peter Magrath said.His theories have become the backbone for diverse philosophies ranging from behavior to economics, religion and morality to history and much, much more. Darwins legacy is evolutionary and revolutionarymany ideas and views have sprung from his initial works.

From February to April, a diverse cast of national experts will visit WVU and discuss the latest ideas about their respective fields with a nod to Darwinian principles.

A few of the talks are also part of the Universitys DarwinFest, a series of activities surrounding the 200th birthday of Darwin, who was born Feb. 12, 1809.Darwin: Evolutionary Science and Its Impacts on Societyan interdisciplinary celebration involving colleges and schools across the Universityis supported across the academic and administrative units of the University, including Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, the Presidents Office and University Relations. (A separate DarwinFest announcement is forthcoming.)

The Festival of Ideas lecture series was revived shortly after WVU President David C. Hardesty Jr. took office in 1995. It was inspired by events he organized as WVU student body president in the 1960s.

Each year since, the Festival of Ideas has brought key figures from the fields of sports, politics, business, entertainment, research, scholarship and culture to Morgantown. The presentations are free and open to the public.

The series is supported in part by the David C. Hardesty Jr. Festival of Ideas Endowment.

This years speakers and the dates of their lectures are as follows. More details will be released at a later date.

Cornel West:The Evolution of Street Knowledge: Hip Hops Influence on Law and Culture

Friday, Feb. 13, 4 p.m., Mountainlair ballrooms

Cornel Westpraised by The New York Times for hisferocious moral visionhas been a champion for racial justice since childhood.

Currently the Class of 1943 Professor at Princeton University, West burst onto the national scene in 1993 with his best-selling book,Race Matters,an analysis of racism in American democracy.Race Mattershas become a contemporary classic, selling more than a half a million copies to date.

West earned two bachelors degrees from Harvard in three years. After receiving a doctorate from Princeton, he became a professor of religion and director of the Afro-American Studies program there. West has also taught at Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Harvard and the University of Paris.

In addition to publishing about 20 books, he has produced three albums. His latest CD,Never Forget: A Journey of Revelations,is a collection of socially conscious music featuring collaborations with Prince, Outkast and others. West also offers commentary weekly onThe Tavis Smiley Showfrom PRI .

West was an influential force in developing the story line for the popularMatrixmovie trilogy and has served as its official spokesperson, as well as playing a recurring role in the final two films.

Leroy Hood:Systems Biology and Medicine/DarwinFest lecture

Thursday, Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m., Ming Hsieh Hall, Room G21 *

Scientist Leroy Hood has published more than 600 peer-reviewed papers, received 14 patents and has co-authored textbooks in biochemistry, immunology, molecular biology, genetics and a soon-to-be published book on systems biology. He co-authoredThe Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project,a popular book on the human genome project, with Dan Keveles.

Hood was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. He played a role in founding more than 14 biotechnology companies, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Systemix, Darwin and Rosetta. He is currently pioneering systems medicine and the systems approach to disease.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Nath Lecture.

*Walter Isaacson:The Evolution of Mass Communication

Monday, March 9, 7:30 p.m., Mountainlair ballrooms

Tuesday, March 10, 7:30 p.m., The Clay Center, Charleston

Walter Isaacson is a best-selling author and distinguished leader in American media. His latest book,Einstein: His Life and Universe,was a New York Times best-seller and extrapolates Isaacsons views on great leaders and how their work can help people respond to the challenges and crises of today.

Isaacson uses Einsteins methods to explore the nature and importance of creativity in the fields of science, the arts and business.

Isaacson is the author of several other acclaimed biographies on some of historys most notable figures, including Benjamin Franklin, Henry Kissinger and Dwight D. Eisenhower and other American leaders during the Cold War.

Formerly managing editor of Time and chairman and chief executive officer of CNN , Isaacson is president and CEO of The Aspen Institute, one of the worlds pre-eminent think tanks, and chairman of the board of Teach for America. He was appointed vice chairman of the Louisiana Recovery Authority after Hurricane Katrina and is on the boards of directors of United Airlines and Tulane University.

Bill Easterly:Free the Poor! The Evolution of Ideas Towards Ending Poverty from the Bottom Up

Tuesday, March 24, 7:30 p.m. (location TBA )

Economist William Easterly is the author ofThe White Mans Burden: How the Wests Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little GoodandThe Elusive Quest for Growth: EconomistsAdventures and Misadventures in the Tropics.

He is a research associate with the National Bureau of Economic Research, co-director of New York Universitys Development Research Institute and an NYU professor of economics with a joint appointment at the universitys Africa House, a campus intellectual center.

A native West Virginian, he was born in Morgantown, and his parents are WVU alumni. Easterly received his doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and spent 16 years as a research economist at the World Bank. He is also a nonresident fellow of the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., and was visiting fellow at Brookings Institute during the 2007-08 academic year.

Easterlys areas of expertise are the determinants of long-run economic growth, political economy of development and effectiveness of foreign aid.

He has worked in most areas of the developing world, most heavily in Africa, Latin America and Russia. Easterly is an associate editor of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Economic Growth and Journal of Development Economics; co-author of three other books; and author of about 60 journal articles.

His work has been discussed in media outlets such asThe NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,National Public Radio, BBC , The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and numerous others. Foreign Policy magazine named him one of the worlds Top 100 Public Intellectuals in 2008.

Gwen Ifill:Evolution in Washington

Thursday, April 2, 7:30 p.m., Ming Hsieh Hall Room G21 *

Gwen Ifill is moderator and managing editor ofWashington Weekand senior correspondent forThe NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.She is also frequently asked to moderate debates in national elections, most recently the vice-presidential debate during the 2008 election.

Ifill joined bothWashington WeekandThe NewsHourin 1999, interviewing newsmakers and reporting on issues ranging from foreign affairs to politics.

Before joining PBS , she spent five years at NBC News as chief congressional and political correspondent, and still appears as an occasional roundtable panelist onMeet the Press.

Ifill also worked for The New York Times, where she covered the White House and politics. She also covered national and local affairs for The Washington Post, The Baltimore Evening Sun and The Boston Herald American. She is the author ofThe Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama.

She has received more than a dozen honorary doctorates and several broadcasting excellence awards, including honors from the National Press Foundation, Ebony Magazine, the Radio Television News Directors Association and American Women in Radio and Television.

*Meave Leakey: A look at evolution from the basis of fossil evidence in Africa/DarwinFest lecture

Monday, April 6, 7:30 p.m., Mountainlair ballrooms

Meave Leakey is a paleoanthropologist and zoologist who was part of the research team that in 1999 unearthed theflat-faced man of Kenya,a 3.5 million-year-old skull representing an entirely new branch of the early human family tree. This amazing discovery, announced in the journal Nature, has profound implications in understanding the origins of mankind.

Leakey is the standard-bearer of a family of paleoanthropologists who have dominated their field since the beginning of the 20th century. For 70 years, the Leakeys have been digging in Africa, uncovering fossilized clues to the origins of humansearliest ancestors. Leakeys field and laboratory work have established her as one of the most visible and distinguished scientists in a highly competitive and male-dominated profession.

In 1994, her field expedition discovered an important piece of the evolutionary puzzle: a new species of hominid, or early human, that began to walk upright at least 4 million years ago, half a million years earlier than previously thought.

Leakeys research also includes the evolution of monkeys, apes, carnivores and mammalian faunas. She has written more than 50 scientific articles, and her lectures are known to be as enjoyable as they are informative. A masterful storyteller, she combines scientific observations with real-life tales of her fieldwork in Africa.

Leakey has worked at the National Museums of Kenya since 1969 and was head of the division of paleontology from 1982 to 2001. She continues her research as a research affiliate of the National Museums. She is also a National Geographic explorer-in-residence in recognition of the 50-year relationship between the National Geographic Society and the Leakey family dynasty of pioneering fossil hunters.

In addition to her work in Kenya, Leakey is currently a research professor at Stony Brook University.