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[RIO DE JANEIRO] The Oscar of Brazil's annual carnival parade has been awarded to a mobile display on Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution.

The Estandarte de Ouro (Gold Standard) award, one of two key awards, was presented to the União da Ilha (Union Island) samba school this week (8 March) in Rio de Janeiro at the Carnival of Brazil — the country's most famous holiday. Awarded by Brazilian newspaper O Globo, it is an unofficial award but is considered by many to be the top prize of the carnival.

Union Island's display, 'The Mystery of Life', presented key elements of the life of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, as well as his visit to Brazil during his voyage on the Beagle. The float captured Darwin's childhood curiosity about nature.

One section, 'Memory of Earth', was completely white and included dinosaur bones. Another displayed a large turtle, representing those Darwin saw in the Galapagos islands. Carnivorous plants, insects and a model of the Beagle also featured in the parade.

"União da Ilha represented Darwin as a young person — rather than an old guy, which is the norm — which was really cool since it enabled young people to identify with scientists," Renato Cader, managing director of the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden, and Union Island's consultant for the parade, told SciDev.Net.

Darwin's great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes, said: "This prize is wonderful for evolution and for Darwin."

According to Keynes, when Darwin visited Rio de Janeiro in 1832 he was thrilled to explore its surrounding forests. "União da Ilha has now given his inspiration to us all with their rich and splendid samba on the city's streets. Darwin loved music, colour and dance and it is exciting to imagine how he would have enjoyed their performance," he told SciDev.Net.

Roald Hoffmann, a Nobel prize-winning chemistry professor at Cornell University, said: "It is fantastic to see Darwin and evolution celebrated in the carnival of carnivals. As [Union Island] said in their samba-enredo [songs performed by a samba school], we are preserving Darwin's 'tree of life' — a tree that has flourished in a particularly lively and diverse way in Brazil."

The school won despite a fire a month ago that destroyed most of its carnival equipment.

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