2012 Summer Museum Course

Where We Went

The Creation Museum: The Creation Museum is located in Petersburg, Kentucky, and while that was more than a stone's throw away from our prioritized circuit of Chicago museum trip stops, it proved to be an adventure well worth the additional travel time. The Creation Museum makes a remarkable effort to bring a Biblically-inspired, scientifically-infused, and visually-stimulating historical account of the world to life for its visitors. For our team of nerdy misfits, this institution proved to be an especially fruitful frontier for academic inquiry by serving as an instructive contrast class by which we could compare some of the more mainstream museums visited along our journey.
The Field Museum: The Field Museum is an active and working research institution committed to documenting and studying natural history. Only a tiny fraction of the working museum and its collections are visible to the public, and the majority of the museum staff and facilities are devoted to scholarly work. We had the opportunity of going on a "behind the scenes" tour to learn more about this often unseen but key mission of natural history museums. This tour allowed us to meet and hear from the people who work at the museum researching, collecting, identifying, preparing and maintaining the specimens that are kept there.
The Shedd Aquarium: World-renowned for its marine conservation efforts, the Shedd Aquarium showcases a wide variety of marine and aquatic animals for human visitors to experience face-to-face. Situated right on the shores of Lake Michigan, the Shedd attracts approximately 2 million visitors a year and is Chicago's top family attraction. The building and facilities, built in 1927, are both beautiful and eco-friendly. Visiting the Shedd Aquarium opened our eyes to a myriad of research queries. The interaction of art and text in the exhibit, the importance of education, the presentation of science, and the evolving mission of the institution are just a few of the topics we considered while walking the halls of the Shedd Aquarium.
The Museum of Science and Industry: With more than 400,000 square feet of exhibits, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry emphasizes the practical and creative applications of science. The museum aims to inspire children to become interested in science and its applications. To this end, the museum also performs outreach at schools, providing science teacher training courses, science clubs, and learning labs for visiting students. Although the exhibits are oriented towards children, they are interesting for adults as well. The museum's "Farm Tech" and "Petroleum Planet" sections offer fascinating insights into the links between modern private industry and science, an important topic for scholars of science.
The Adler Planetarium: As the country's oldest planetarium, Adler Planetarium is a Chicago landmark. The museum presents a balance of influential astronomical instruments, historic documents, and impressive exhibits and shows on space exploration and the wonders of the universe. Visitors come away with an appreciation of all that we have accomplished and excitement for where we have yet to go. The Adler has a simple yet effective mission: to inspire exploration and understanding of our universe. By putting the cosmos on display and showcasing some of the greatest human achievements of all time, we feel it goes above and beyond this mission.

Who We Met

Dr. Keven Feldheim is a DNA lab manager at the Field Museum. He talked to us about DNA extraction, amplification and sequencing and how this data is used in research. He explained how the collaborative nature of his lab enabled them to be involved in a wide range of projects, leading to a crucial role in supporting the research of many different groups throughout the museum.
Paul Mayer is a fossil invertebrates collections manager at the Field Museum. He led us through the background of the evolution exhibit and explained the relationship between his role as collections manager and how the specimens for the public displays are chosen. He also took us into the massive underground facilities where the majority of specimens are stored, and was our main tour guide throughout the museum.
Dr. Corrie Moreau is an assistant curator of insects at the Field Museum. She brought out the coolest portions of the insect collection for our viewing pleasure, including live tarantulas. She was the subject of an exhibit and biographical graphic novel centered on her life that encouraged young people and especially females to pursue a career in science (see http://romanceofants.ning.com/).
Akiko Shinya is the chief fossil vertebrates preparator at the Field Museum. She showed us the process for preparing fossils for study and display, shared stories of her most recent dig trip, and showed us around her lab, which was filled with the newly received and yet to be described fossils. She also taught us about the volunteers who constitute the majority of the fossil preparation labor force.
Bill Stanley is the mammals collections manager at the Field Museum. He led us through the process of mammal taxidermy and took us into the infamous "beetle-room," where thousands of flesh-eating beetles were hard at work cleaning dead flesh from skinned specimens. He described the difficulties in preparing and maintaining the specimens collections (e.g. how do you clean a whale skeleton?) while highlighting the importance of the museum's collections in the preservation of specimens for future research.
Dr. David Sepkoski is a historian of paleobiology at UNC Wilmington, who collaborates with the Field Museum in his research. He spent most of a full day with us at the Field Museum, narrating as we went and sharing yet another perspective on what we were seeing.
Dr. Robert J. Richards is the Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor in the History of Science at the University of Chicago. He also spent time with us in the Field Museum, in addition to giving us a campus tour of the University of Chicago.
Dr. Kostas Kampourakis is a professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology and book review editor of the research journal Science and Education. He gave us a fascinating presentation of his research on the theory of evolution in an educational setting.
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