Museum visitors – and there are more than 50,000 annually – can gaze at rocks and minerals of all colors and fossils from across the United States and beyond. They can breathe in the odors of what early earth may have smelled like in the museum’s “Aromas of Astrobiology” exhibit. And they can marvel at the enormous reconstructed skeletons of a duck-billed dinosaur (Edmontosaurus) and a mastodon, which Slaughter calls the museum’s unofficial mascot. Slaughter says the gift will allow the museum to acquire “unique, world-class, signature pieces,” both through the private market and by funding expeditions for staff members and students. And it will give the museum the financial means to showcase those pieces through exhibits and programs for the wider public. It will also open up more possibilities for student involvement – fitting, since the Lesars’ connection to the museum is their daughter, Lisa, who as an undergraduate geoscience major worked as a tour guide, collected dinosaur bones on expeditions and organized a collection of the museum’s historical geological equipment. Norsted runs the tour program and often collaborates with geoscience faculty members on outreach components of their research projects. Eaton manages the collection – not just the 1,000 or so objects on display, but the more than 100,000
in the museum’s repository. She also works on exhibits, like one featuring large mammal fossils from Ice Age Wisconsin. Lovelace spearheads the museum’s research program, which focuses on life during the dawn of the dinosaurs. Each summer he takes students to Wyoming to hunt for fossils and then trains them in the museum’s fossil preparation lab. And Slaughter oversees the whole operation, touching all parts of the museum’s mission (including identifying objects that are brought in by curious members of the general public). “I think of the museum as this little refuge where we get to nurture undergraduate students,” Norsted says. “We’re a small museum and we don’t have silos. All of us are very collaborative and we have overlapping talents.”
Geology rocks on the Geology Museum's Twitter account! Follow @UWGeologyMuseum for inside peeks into the museum, the funny sides of science and #MineralMonday and #FossilFriday finds.
Slaughter says he tells the museum’s corps of a dozen or so student tour guides not to get too bogged down by facts and figures. Aim to cultivate a sense of wonder, he advises. “One of the best parts of this job is getting to inspire curiosity, to spark that, whether that’s in adults or children,” he says. “Anytime you can make someone more curious, it’s kind of a special thing. You’re making their world more exciting.” — Story by Tom Ziemer
SKELETAL SURPRISE If you’ve ever stared up at the iconic Boaz Mastodon, the famed fossil likely turned your thoughts to the end of the last Ice Age, when the giant mammals roamed North America. But did you know this skeleton, on display at the museum since 1915, is actually the remains of two mastodons? PHOTO BY JEFF MILLER
Geology Museum staff, led by curator Carrie Eaton, used historic documents, plus CT scans, genetic testing and radiocarbon dating to determine only two bones hail from an 1897 uncovering in Boaz, Wisconsin, while the majority come from a discovery in Anderson Mills the following year! ls.wisc.edu