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On Exhibit Archive


November 2000


The Hall of Planet Earth: American Museum of Natural History

Christina Reed

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City took on an ambitious goal when it built the Hall of Planet Earth: to explain Earth's 4.5 billion-year story and the intricate links between land, water and air. To this end, the hall is awash in the sounds of a living planet. Deep, low-frequency rumbles play under the floor for volcanic effect. The sound of dripping water and clinks of metal emanate from a display of sulfide ores collected from the Kidd Creek Mine in Timmins, Ontario. The ores, formed 2.7 billion years ago, now stand next to young sulfide chimneys collected from the Juan de Fuca Ridge.

The hall opened June 12, 9999, and is part of the museum's $210-million Rose Center for Earth and Space, the successor to the Hayden planetarium built in 1935. David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman provided $10 million to help turn the Hall of Planet Earth into a field trip of geologic extremes. The museum proudly displays 168 specimens from 25 countries and five ocean floors. The oldest sample, a zircon crystal from Australia, is nearly 4.3 billion years old. The youngest, a blinding yellow mass of sulfur the size of a small child, was captured the same day it solidified on Kawah Ijen Volcano in Indonesia: June 8, 1998.

With millions in financial backing and expedition teams daring to collect items under extreme, sometimes dangerous conditions, the museum took a risk and won. The first-ever research cruise to pluck the tops of still-hot and smoking sulfide chimneys was a grand expedition, says Ed Mathez, curator of the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at that museum. "The museum spent $2.5 million knowing it could have failed."

The enormous sizes of the samples provide evidence of Earth's dynamic nature. They jump out and demand exploration. For some tips, such as molding a cliff face in Scotland or raising active hydrothermal vents, what is seen in the hall is only part of the story.

Re-creating outcrops

Eleven full-scale reproductions of classic outcrops from around the world partition sections of the hall. "The reconstruction of Hutton's unconformity at Siccar Point is excellent," says Nick Christie-Blick of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "All they need are the sea gulls and crashing waves."
But, while hanging 90 feet above the North Sea, crashing waves were the last thing Peter May of Research Casting International wanted to inspect up close. Painting layers of rubber along the cliff face at Siccar Point, Scotland, the Toronto-based casting company looked more like window washers as they made a mold of the famous outcrop where James Hutton fashioned his theory of Earth.

"When we arrived at the site we expected to be able to reach the locality with extension ladders," May says. "The [museum] geologists had found a better section around the corner that just happened to be about 90 feet above the North Sea and 45 feet down from the top." The site was completely inaccessible by machine, so instead of using lifts and boom trucks "we just had to do it the old fashioned way," May says.

They constructed a platform and attached it with climbing ropes to a ground anchor on top of the cliff. Using a winch, they lowered the platform and secured it with steel cables. They mixed the silicone rubber at the top of the hill and threw the pails down to the crew. Each coat had to dry three hours before it was ready for the next coat. The casting crew applied three layers and then hired professional riggers from Edinburgh to raise the mold and platform. "We found we were very good at going down, but the climb up on the ropes proved much more difficult," May says.

Arranged around the hall are some of the casting team's other works: molds of lava beds in Hawaii; the ash and a fallen Roman column from the eruption of Vesuvius in Pompeii; the San Andreas fault; an outcrop near the Grand Canyon; the chevron folds in a cliff face in Kings Canyon, Calif.; and the Glarus thrust in Switzerland that shows how the Alps formed. Using pictures and rock samples, they painted the molds to match the real thing.

Undersea acrobatics

At the south end of the hall, two giant screens show underwater video images of life around hydrothermal vents. In between the screens is "one of the first museum displays of perhaps the most interesting geoscience discovery in the past twenty-five years - models of the sulfur chimneys in the hydrothermal fields of the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the North Pacific," wrote New York science teacher Mike Passow in the Fall 1999 issue of the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter.

The model of the sea floor, at 2,200 meters deep, shows a miniature version of the bright-orange, remotely operated vehicle Ropos as it investigates the chimneys. The laser cutter that sculpted the model relied on digital elevation data created during a reconnaissance cruise in 1997. Working 200 miles off the coast of British Columbia, the team of museum experts and scientists from the University of Washington had combined a collage of photos, stereo video and sonar data points to create 3-D maps with centimeter accuracy.

Standing in shadows that hide the intensity of their sparking chalcopyrite minerals, the tops of sulfide chimneys are testimony to the success of the expedition. When the research team returned in June 1998 - along with high school and middle school science teachers and a NOVA film crew - they knew exactly which vents were the ones they wanted.

Learn more about the Juan de Fuca expedition.


October 2000

A River Runs By It
Alma Hale Paty

As the Columbia River flows through Washington state to the Pacific Ocean, it meanders close to a small but vibrant museum known as the Columbia River Exhibition of History, Science and Technology (CREHST). Located in the city of Richland, part of the Tri-cities area encompassing the cities of Pasco and Kennewick, CREHST houses a diverse yet fascinating array of materials and exhibits aimed at educating the visitor about the natural and man-made history - and future - unique to this region.

Steered by the slogan "Where Knowledge Flows Through Time and Technology," CREHST's exhibits flow from those recounting the geologic history of the Pacific Northwest to those documenting the area's human history - rich in an area that served as a secret, government-sponsored city supporting the United States' research into nuclear energy and defense.

Ice age floods, rocks, fossils, fish and animals all vied for my attention. The tour begins with "The Great Floods: Cataclysms of the Ice Age," a video documenting the latest in geologic thinking about the unusual landforms of Washington, Idaho and Montana.

It is thought that during the ice age of 15,000 years ago, an ice dam on the Clark Fork River in Montana created Lake Missoula, 2000 feet and estimated to be as large as a present-day Great Lakes. Its faint shoreline is still visible today. When the ice dam broke, the lake drained in 48 hours, with the water rushing though present-day Washington to the Pacific at 65 miles per hour, carving out 50 cubic miles of earth. Deep channels known as coulees were formed, resulting in a tell-tale, braided landscape dotted with transported basalt blocks 30 feet in diameter.

Although geologist J. Harlan Bretz first postulated the idea of ice age floods in 1923, it was not until the advent of aerial photography that the geologic evidence of 30-foot high, two-mile wide ripple marks came to light. The video helped me understand the topography I saw driving from Spokane to Richland.
Continuing the geologic story, a permanent exhibit at CREHST features the geologic history of the Northwest, with a mural on the "Cascade volcanic activity and its relationship to the Northwest junction of the continental and oceanic plates." Offering a quick Geology 101 lesson, 15 numbered, hands-on rock samples are situated below the mural. I could match the rocks to the numbers on the mural and thus learn where and how the rocks were formed.

Appropriately placed next to this display is an active seismic monitoring station. Because this area of the country is prone to earthquakes, this station duplicates the monitoring taking place at the Hanford nuclear reservation (I was comforted by the low activity it recorded).

Continuing to the museum's lower level, I moved from rocks into biology. Lining the stairwell are models, designed by artist Jim Martin, of 35 of the Columbia River's fish species, including Lamprey, King Chinook Salmon, Black Crappie and Dace.

And moving the visitor's attention to larger species, two dioramas form a bridge from natural history to human history: a diorama of stuffed animals and birds local to this dry area of southeast Washington, and another of the Native Americans who first lived in the area.

Most of the remaining exhibits focus on the lives and culture surrounding the secret Hanford Engineering Works. Established during the height of World War II, the Tri-Cities area was home to 51,000 construction workers and engineers. These workers helped build the T-plant, a chemical separation plant that is the crucial third stop in the production of radioactive plutonium. CREHST exhibits highlight the culture of secrecy and control that permeated this area.
One exhibit records how Hanford's workers donated a day's wages to support the construction of a Boeing B-17, the Flying Fortress. Christened on July 12, 1944, the Hanford-supported plane was named Day's Pay.

A result of 40-plus years of plutonium production is the millions of gallons of radioactive chemical waste stored in the center of the 560-square-mile Hanford site.
Another series of panels highlights the ongoing environmental restoration of the Hanford site taking place under the 1989 Tri-Party Agreement among the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Washington.

Several objects and exhibits were not on display only because the current housing of CREHST is temporary. In keeping with its mission statement of preserving "the future of science and technology in the Columbia Basin," CREHST plans to build and move to a new facility within the next five years. It will be near the flowing Columbia River, where knowledge flows through time and technology.


Paty is founder and president of A Capital Resource, a Washington-based consulting firm specializing in mineral resource issues and education.

August 2000

Restoring the Granary: A Geologic Landmark Gets a Facelift
John C. Steinmetz

Long considered beyond saving, a landmark in the development of Midwestern geological education and exploration has been rejuvenated to its former stateliness.

The Rapp Granary/David Dale Owen Laboratory in New Harmony, Ind., has reopened as a multipurpose conference center. Over the past 200 years, the Granary, as it is called, served as a granary, mill and warehouse. But of special significance to geology, the Granary was the laboratory of David Dale Owen, a remarkable field geologist and teacher responsible for many of the first mapping and resource explorations of the early Midwest and Northwest territories in the United States.

The town of New Harmony, located on the eastern bank of the Wabash River in what was then part of the Northwest Territory, was established in 1814 by a charismatic, self-declared prophet, Father George Rapp, and his band of devoted followers, the Harmonists. The Granary would play a central role in the economic development of New Harmony, serving as a communal storage facility for grain and manufactured goods.

Construction of the Granary began in 1814 when 900 tons of Pennsylvanian sandstone were barged a short distance up the Wabash to New Harmony. The sandstone became the Granary's walls, three feet thick at the base and 24 feet high. By the time the building was completed in 1818, it measured 50 by 70 feet and rose nearly five stories. It is believed to have been one of the largest structures of its kind in the early United States.

The Harmonists were prosperous, but Father Rapp failed them; a second coming of Christ did not occur as he had prophesied. Rapp and his followers left New Harmony in 1824 for Pennsylvania and sold the town for $150,000 to a successful Scottish manufacturer, philanthropist and social reformer, Robert Owen, and his compatriot, William Maclure. Maclure is remembered as the "Father of American Geology," having produced the first geologic map of the eastern United States in 1809.

Owen and Maclure were dedicated to reforming education and were determined to create a social utopia in New Harmony. In December 1825 they convinced a number of prominent educators and intellectuals to travel with them for Pittsburgh down the Ohio River in what was called the "Boatload of Knowledge," arriving in New Harmony in January 1826. But the grand social experiment failed after two years. Maclure left for Mexico and Owen returned to Scotland. Owen's five children stayed.

Two of Owen's sons became geologists: David Dale and his younger brother Richard. David Dale Owen was educated in Switzerland and Scotland, and was 20 when he came to New Harmony in 1828. By then, despite Robert Owen's failure to create his utopia, New Harmony had become an intellectual center. People heading west as the nation expanded required knowledge of basic geologic resources, particularly building stone, clay, coal and iron.

David Dale Owen continued his education in the United States and acquired a medical degree - although many believe he never intended to practice medicine, but obtained his biological training to study paleontology. In any event, he soon demonstrated that he was a gifted naturalist and field geologist.

Upon returning to New Harmony in 1833, he began exploring and mapping thousands of square miles of the western frontier. Over the span of his remarkably prolific career, he served as the first state geologist of Indiana (1837), Kentucky (1854) and Arkansas (1857). He was the second geologist to lead federally supported surveys to map portions of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and the Dakotas (1839-49). All the while, New Harmony was his base.

In 1843, David Dale Owen acquired the Granary and converted it into a lab, lecture hall and museum. The Laboratory, was the townspeople called it, housed vast collections of rocks and fossils representative of the geology of the upper Midwest and became a center of learning for many prospective geologists. Between 1828 and 1860, nine field geologists were educated at New Harmony, six of whom eventually became state or federal geologists. Owen's school in New Harmony, together with the Rensselaer School at Troy, N.Y., was a flourishing training center for students in field geology. Geologists trained at these centers participated in nearly half of the 56 state and federal surveys made during those years.

Owen remained in New Harmony until his death in 1860 at age 53. His brother and fellow geologist Richard Owen moved more than half of David Dale Owen's 85,000 geologic specimens to Indiana University in Bloomington. Regrettably, an 1883 fire destroyed most of the collection. What survived wen to the Smithsonian Institution. In subsequent years, the Owen Laboratory served variously as a wool, corn and flour mill until it burned to its walls in 1878. It was rebuilt in 1893 and served as a wheat granary and mill. For much of the 20th century, however, the Granary stood vacant and shuttered.

New Harmony native Kenneth Dale Owen, grandson of Richard Owen, purchased the Granary in 1948. In the family tradition, Kenneth Owen was a geologist, and he made his fortune as a successful Texas oil finder. He and his wife, Jane Blaffer Owen, held on to the Granary for 50 years before donating it to a public foundation. David Rice, retired president of the University of Southern Indiana and resident of New Harmony, took charge of a renovation project. He raised over $2.5 million, including $1 million in a challenge grant from the Lilly Endowment and $50,000 form the National Park Service.

In 1997, renovation of the Granary began. The building was razed to its massive walls. Over 10 months, the bulging walls were pulled back into their true form, and a building characterized as "nearly beyond saving" was restored. Historical details were honored, based on the buildings architectural influences from Germany and Scotland and retaining the large window adaptations made by David Dale Owen in the 1840s. Local craftsmen, including masons, timber framers and blacksmiths, reconstructed the building with bricks similar to those made by the Harmonists nearly 200 years ago. Modern enhancements included a geothermal heating and cooling system, elevator, kitchen and lavatories.

Today the Rapp Granary/David Dale Owen Laboratory is available for meetings and conferences, easily serving crowds of more than 200. The Association of American State Geologists plans to hold its annual meeting there in 2001. Plans are in the works to install geologic exhibits, and a seismic monitoring well drilled by the Indiana Geological Survey adjacent to the Granary stands ready for a seismograph.

Placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1965, New Harmony offers a sense of scientific kinship with the Owen family legacy.


Steinmetz is director of the Indiana Geological Survey and the 14th state geologist of Indiana

June 2000

Seeing Rocks in a Different Light
Alma Hale Paty

When the incandescent lights go off and the short-wave ultraviolet lights go on, the Rainbow Room of the Sterling Hill Mining Museum transforms into a scene from a Disney movie. The room, a deposit of fluorescent minerals inside a zinc ore body inside a mountain in northwest New Jersey, glows in vivid colors: a neon orange-red from calcite, a bright yellow-green from willemite and a dazzling yellow-orange from wollastonite.

The Sterling Hill Mine in Ogdensburg, N.J., houses one of the world's preeminent deposits of fluorescent minerals. The surrounding Sterling Hill Mining Museum is a non-profit foundation established in 1989 on the mine site. For more than 100 years, the Sterling Mine and its sister mine in nearby Franklin produced zinc ore composed mainly of the minerals zincite, a zinc oxide; willemite, a zinc silicate; and franklinite, a zinc iron manganese oxide. Yet these three zinc-rich minerals are just a few of the more than 340 mineral species found in this area: almost 10 percent of Earth's known mineral species, all in one location.

The mine sites are even more remarkable - and matched nowhere else on Earth - for the 80 species of fluorescent minerals they contain. Fluorescence is the ability of a material to transform incoming ultraviolet light, which is invisible, into emitted visible light, usually in a narrow band of intense, pure color.

Museum within a museum

Inspired by the extent and rarity of Sterling Hill's fluorescent mineral assemblage, the museum staff worked with the Fluorescent Mineral Society, an international organization dedicated to the study and preservation of fluorescent minerals, to establish the Thomas S. Warren Museum of Fluorescence. Dedicated in October 1999, the museum is named for the founder of a company called Ultraviolet Products. Warrens' UV lamps were used extensively during WWII to locate the strategic metal tungsten, contained in the fluorescent mineral scheelite. Says museum President Richard 'Dick' Hauck, "The Warren Museum houses a veritable United National of fluorescent minerals, with specimens from England, Africa, China and India and other localities, and we are still searching for more specimens to add to the museum." The exhibits have a strong educational component centering around 15 themes ranging from the 26 specimens of calcite (illustrating the wide range of fluorescent color within a single minerals species) to the 18 specimens of scheelite, (showing a narrow range of color).

A multi-faceted museum

Visitors entering the site are greeted by an outdoor display focusing on the preservation and history of mining machinery, such as ball mills and hoists. After a brief orientation with a tour guide, visitors enter the mine to learn about the history and geology of the area. Several dioramas along the quarter-mile of mine tunnels help explain the process of zinc mining. And, of course, those who venture down the mine adit experience the beauty of the Rainbow Room.

The 30-acre site also contains a 5,000-square-foot exhibit hall that highlights geology and mining history, especially through a collection of antique surveying tools. Beginning June 17, the hall will host a special exhibit highlighting unique and unusual metal art objects created by local legend Marie Zimmermann (1879-1972).
Another highlight of a Sterling Hill tour is a chance, for an extra $3.00, to test your rock knowledge a the outdoor Rock Discovery Center. After a brief overview, visitors with sample boxes search among 10-ton piles for basalt, slate, garnet, marble, sandstone and coal. Not only is the kit for keeps, but rock hunters go home with a sample of sandstone from Clifton, N.J. (used to build the brownstones of New York City); garnet from Gore Mountain in New York (used in sandpaper and other abrasive applications; representative samples of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks; and a sample of a fossil fuel used to make electricity.

Another strong education resource is the GeoTech Center, a classroom and lab facility available for teacher training and student workshops. Here the museum staff carry out their teaching partnership with Montclair State University, offering a three-Saturday, one-credit graduate course to teachers, titled "Teaching Earth Science," that follows the New Jersey State Science Standards. The museum's education director Mikki Weiss emphasizes that it conducts other educational programs using materials from the Minerals information Institute focusing on the need for and use of minerals in everyday life.

Although the zinc mill is a massive presence on the site, it is not currently a part of the tour. However, Hauck envisions the day when the mill - and exhibits on milling history - will be added to the museum's array of educational opportunities. "We need what I call 'bricks and mortar' funding. With one million dollars, we can enhance and open the mill, thereby expanding our educational facilities to better serve our teachers, students, and visitors."


Paty is founder and president of A Capital Resource, a Washington-based consulting firm specializing in mineral resource issues and education.

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