Tiny, Smelly and Old – What I Learned About Teaching Science by Making an Astrobiology Exhibit

Tomorrow night we get to hear about the latest chapter in the oldest scientific outreach component of the University:  the UW Geology Museum.

Here’s a bit of background on the embryology of the museum (http://www.geology.wisc.edu/~museum/about.html):

“At the very first Board of Regents meeting for the establishment of the University of Wisconsin in 1848, one of the primary topics for discussion was the creation of an exhibit to display of geological and mineralogical samples from around the state. The Board commissioned H. A. Tenney to oversee the solicitation and collection of specimens from the public and the distribution of any duplicate samples to other state educational institutions to encourage public interest in the natural resources of Wisconsin.”

Geologists have long played vital roles in the growth and evolution of the university.  Thomas Chamberlin was the first scientist to serve as UW President (1887-1892) and he began the transformation of the university into a major research institution.  Chamberlin also wrote in 1890 one of my favorite essays ever on science as exploring the unknown:  The Method of Multiple Working Hypotheses.  See http://www.biotech.wisc.edu/outreach/pdfs/chamberlin.pdf  for the essay and http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/AB/BC/chamberlincom.php for my commentary on it.

Charles Van Hise received the first PhD awarded by the University and went on to be the first alum to serve as UW President.

The key roles of geologists and of geology reflect in part the mindset that wealth was to be found in the ground in the form of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and (alas, not very commonly in Wisconsin) gemstones.

But there’s also a wealth of knowledge and a treasury of insights about the nature of the world, including the living things in it, to be mined from geology.  I think these kinds of insights will be the gems you’ll get to take home tomorrow night after Brooke Norsted’s talk on the saga of designing & building the latest exhibit at our University’s oldest science outreach component.

By the way, I hope you had the delight of walking outside this afternoon on thawing snow and ice (mmm…Chamberlin was a glaciologist…).  I’m hoping for balmy weather for our last Wednesday Nite @ The Lab for 2013, and a pleasantly cool stroll from you car or bus stop to Room 1111 Genetics/Biotech Center.

Thanks again!

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Cooperative Extension