Sunny days and snowstorms, seniors madly studying for comps, red-foldered prospectives popping up in classes…it must be March at Earlham College! And with March, comes the Joseph Moore Museum’s annual field trip to Ann Arbor. This year’s trip to the University of Michigan’s Natural History Museum and Early Career Scientist Symposium included six museum enthusiasts—Heather Lerner, Anna Carlson, Lydia Evans, Caroline Wolfe-Merritt, Katherine Sorrows, and Arden Ambrose-Winters.
Upon arrival (well, after a quick coffee stop) Katherine met with the graduate program of the Earth Science Department. Katherine learned about the department’s 5 year PHD program. After two years of courses, students take a qualifying exam to continue with the program. This first part of the exam is written, while part two is an oral summary of the research a student has accomplished to date (even if the research wasn’t successful—whew!).
Meanwhile, the rest of the museum crew explored the University’s brand new Research Museums Complex, located five miles south of the old exhibit museum and collections. We met with EC almun and collection manager Janet Hinshaw, who gave us a tour of the new facilities and the Ornithology (birds) collection. Too bad Janet doesn’t have wings, because the new cabinets are 12 feet tall!
In addition to birds and a few mammals, we also toured the wet collections with Greg Schneider, who is the Herpetology (reptiles and amphibians) Collections Manager. The wet collection contains about 5 million specimens, housed on dozens upon dozens of 15 foot high rolling shelves.
Greg showed us Earl Werner’s collections from the University’s E.S. George Reserve, a nature reserve which includes 37 natural ponds. The comprehensive, annual collection of specimens from this site has led to a deeper understanding of larval amphibian communities. Another exciting collection we saw are caecilians, which are a type of amphibian that look like snakes. Imagine a snake that feels like a frog!
After saying goodbye to Janet and Greg, we drove back to the Natural History Exhibit Museum to talk with John Klausmeyer, Exhibit Preparator, and Kyra Berman, Associate Director of Education. Anna was prepared with paper, pen and a list of questions about how to successfully redesign JMM’s paleontology exhibit (“a million and one” questions as Anna put it). John was full of helpful tips, from the importance of including touchable objects to how to prevent guests from walking away with said touchable objects!
We also discussed with Kyra how museums can include advocacy in exhibits. Kyra explained this is an important function of museums, but one that must be considered carefully. In order for an exhibit to have lasting power, the exhibit must be relevant now and in the future. One project Kyra is working on is connecting scientists to the public and making science seem more approachable. She organizes opportunities for scientists to hold programs in the museum, as well as organizes informal events like science cafes.
While we would have talked all day with John and Kyra, a packed afternoon still lay ahead of us. Stay tuned for Part II of our Ann Arbor adventure, wherein we explore the paleontology collection, meet some mollusks, and taste fancy cheese!