Cincinnati’s Got a Museum When People Come to See ’em

By Katherine Sorrows and Katy Rockefeller

Last weekend Katy Rockefeller, Heather Brock, Bailey Heinzen, and Katherine Sorrows went with Director Heather Lerner to the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and the Ultimate Dinosaur exhibit. Before heading to the Museum, we stopped off at the Geier Collections & Research Center and met with Dr. Brenda Hunda, Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Cincinnati Museum. She talked to us about her research and curation duties, as well as the importance of networking and getting involved with museums and education. She emphasized how important it is to start networking and create connections in the field.

Dr Hunda took us to the paleontology collections where we looked at both vertebrate and invertebrate collections. The vertebrate collections are organized by geologic time period, while the invertebrate collections are organized by taxonomy. We learned first hand about different kinds of trilobites, including their metamorphosis and larval stages. We also discussed the evolution of fish and looked at Dunkleosteus specimens. At the center of the room was a long table, covered with the remains of a Sauropod that was in the process of being reassembled The Dinosaur was huge, well over 70 feet long!
We were also interested in the storage of specimens. Their metal cabinets have doors with vents at the top and bottom so that toxic gases don’t build up inside of the cases as specimens off-gas over time. Each specimen is kept in an undyed, acid-free, cardboard box on a piece of foam to keep it from rolling or sliding. They also store important publications in printed form right there with the specimens. They use bright red cabinets for their type specimens to signify that those are the cabinets to focus on in an emergency. They also use a system of colored dots within the drawers to mark important specimens.

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We also talked about how science is an ever changing field and how difficult it can be prepare for the future. Paleontology used to just be about the remains, now it is imperative to record the context of where they were found, including rock type and any particles found in the surrounding rock. It is possible to do DNA and other molecular analysis on some recent specimens now but many subfossils have been prepared and stored in ways that make it hard to do that research. Now, when we prepare and store fossils we try to keep in mind that in 50 years, scientists may have completely different methods, and although it is difficult, we try to prepare specimens in a way that will not hinder scientists of the future.

After saying our goodbyes (and many thank-yous) to Brenda, we headed for the Museum, which is beautifully located in Cincinnati’s old train terminal station. After lunch, we explored the Ultimate Dinosaur exhibit. They had a geologic time scale which showed pictures of when different species lived, and we were able to identify some of the fossils Dr. Hunda had shown us. We also saw a huge trilobite that is the type specimen. The dinosaurs ranged from tiny cat-sized creatures to unimaginably enormous. The herbivores had very tiny heads and long necks, whereas the carnivores had long sharp teeth and bigger heads.  The exhibit showed how the distribution of dinosaurian fossils provides evidence for continental movement. Most of the dinosaurs on exhibit are from the southern hemisphere, so they are not species we see often in North American displays. This exhibit had a lot of multimedia, including touch screens, interactive video displays and a smartphone app to view dinosaur animations.

Afterward, we went to the natural history portion of the museum. They had a great hands-on experimentation station, and we all watched a demonstration using liquid nitrogen. They have an exhibit where it felt as if you were exploring a cave and could find models of the animals that you would find in caves. They also had an ice age re-creation exhibit, including a model of our giant beaver, as well as giant sloths, dire wolves, mastodons, mammoths and many other animals. We discussed how the exhibits were set up, enjoying many of the interactives, but having difficulty finding the exhibits we most wanted to see.

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