Spring Break Adventure in Ann Arbor, MI

What do JMM staffers do for spring break? Explore museum collections and attend ecology symposiums of course! And what better place than the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor? JMM Museum Director Heather Lerner and eight students set off early Friday morning March 10th to Ann Arbor.  After arriving at the Natural History Museum at the University of Michigan, we explored the exhibits–including a special exhibit on evolution! Soon after, we met up with Kirra Berman, Associate Director of Education, and John Klausmeyer, Exhibit Preparator.  They showed us around the museum’s Hall of Evolution, which is filled with fossils, dinosaur fossils, mastodons, and other remains of fascinating creatures (although no  complete Giant Beavers!).

Two mastodon skeletons in the  “Hall of Evolution” (Photo:www.lsa.umich.edu/ummnh)

We also talked about the Natural History Museum’s new home. Don’t worry, the move isn’t far–across the street is the site of the university’s new Biology Building where the museum will find a more spacious and modern abode. While some popular exhibits will remain, most of them will be redesigned to fit the new space, John told us.

Next, we met with graduate admissions directors Trish Witkopp and Cindy Carlson who offered tips and advice to our students on finding graduate programs and being accepted.

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Two birds of the collections

Finally, we visited the vast museum collections. Earlham College alum Janet Hinshaw showed us the Bird collection, which houses 6,387 species, two thirds of the species in the world! We saw a wide array of species, including kiwis, rheas (the only bird with a bladder) and ivory billed woodpeckers, an extinct species.

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Julie Anderson holds an Ivory Billed Woodpecker

Then on to the Insect collection where we saw everything from luna moths, to hawk moths, to an orchid mantis. Can you guess what this large insect with the colorful wing is? 

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It’s a grasshopper!

Afterward, we finished off the afternoon with a delicious dinner at Zingerman’s Delicatessen. We enjoyed sandwiches, cheese, and good conversation with two U of M graduate students and Dr. Robyn Burnam, who told us about her research on vines in the Amazon Rainforest.

The next morning found us munching on bagels and bananas while waiting for the start of the 12th Annual University of Michigan Early Career Scientists Symposium. This year’s theme was “Frontiers in Community Assembly.” University of California, Berkeley Professor Rosemary Gillespie gave a fascinating talk on spider evolution on the Hawaiian Islands. We also heard about island lizard evolutions, fungi, and what the fossil record can reveal about community assembly!

The Hands On Museum focuses on interactive exhibits that are fun for kids and adults. (Photo:www.aahom.org)

On Sunday, a handful of us visited the Hands on Museum, where director of education Laurrie Beaumont gave us a behind the scenes tour. She explained two exciting new programs at the museum, sensory kits and distance learning. Sensory kits are kits of sunglasses and ear protectors which help visitors who can become overwhelmed by the highly stimulating environment at the Hands On Museum. Using these kits allows visitors to be more comfortable and better enjoy their museum experience. Distance learning allows classrooms that can’t travel to a museum the opportunity to connect with museum educators virtually. The museum provides the class with an activity kit and then Skypes with the class to guide them through the activity. The Joseph Moore Museum is currently piloting similar activity kits to be used in the museum and in the classroom, so stay tuned!

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