Media Packet

News release
When: 9:30 a.m. Sept. 10, 2005 open to public
Where: NU State Museum (Morrill Hall) 14th and Vine Streets

Explore Evolution permanent exhibit opens Sept. 10 at NU State Museum

Lincoln, Neb., Sept. 7, 2005 -- Using cutting edge research, a new exhibit at the University of Nebraska State Museum gives a modern shine to Charles Darwin's 146-year-old theory on evolution. The permanent exhibit, Explore Evolution, which opens to the public Sept. 10, was developed by a consortium of six partner museums led by the NU State Museum and prominently features the work of two UNL scientists.

The project is made possible by a $2.8 million, three-year grant from the National Science Foundation's Informal Science Education program and consists of nearly identical permanent exhibit galleries at six partner museums in the Midwest and South -- regions where evolution education is controversial. Other components of the project include a Web site, inquiry-based activities for middle-school children in the form of a book titled "Virus and the Whale, Exploring Evolution in Creatures Small and Large," and collaborations with five statewide 4-H programs.

"Interested 4-H'ers will have the opportunity to explore exciting scientific concepts and cutting-edge research methods," said Bradley Barker, UNL 4-H.

Priscilla Grew, director of the museum, said the exhibit is a big win for Nebraska.

"By funding the Explore Evolution project, the National Science Foundation has elevated UNL's State Museum into a national leadership position in museum science education," she said. "Evolution has been called the cornerstone of modern biology. The scientific understanding of evolution is fundamental to advances in modern medicine, agriculture and biotechnology. It is essential both to scientific research on the biodiversity of today's world, and to the scientific interpretation of the fossil record through geologic time."

The museum exhibit features seven current research projects, each presenting a major discovery about the evolution of life by a leading scientist or team of researchers. Through graphics and interactive displays, museum patrons explore evolution in organisms ranging form the smallest to the largest.

UNL's contributions to the project are significant. While the exhibit galleries were built by the Science Museum of Minnesota, a team from UNL played major roles in the creation of the artwork and content. Judy Diamond, professor at the NU State Museum, wrote the original grant request for the project and is the team leader on the project. Research from two UNL scientists -- virologist Charles Wood and geologist Sherilyn Fritz -- is featured in two of the seven sections of the exhibit.

Wood's research takes him to central Africa to study how the HIV/AIDS virus is transported from mothers to their infants. Wood's research showcases the virus and how it evolves rapidly in newborns, with new strains being produced that are resistant to the infant's immune system.

Fritz, working with Edward Theriot from University of Texas at Austin, used core samples from Yellowstone Lake to investigate the evolution of an organism called a diatom. Sampling tracks the diatom's evolution from the lake's formation 14,000 years ago and shows how diatoms -- which are good barometers of climate change -- developed within the first 4,000 years of the lake.

Other scientific endeavors featured in Explore Evolution include Cameron Currie's work on farmer ants and their coevolving partners; Kenneth Kaneshiro on sexual selection among Hawaiian flies; Rosemary and Peter Grant on Galapagos finches; Svante Paabo on the genetic ties between humans and chimps; and Philip Gingerich on fossil discoveries of walking whales.

Museums partnering with the UNL State Museum include the Exhibit Museum of Natural History of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; the Kansas Museum and Biodiversity Center at the University of Kansas in Lawrence; the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma in Norman; the Texas Memorial Museum at the University of Texas at Austin; and the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.

"Explore Evolution features the latest science museum technology including multimedia and interactive exhibits that show how research is being done on evolution by scientists working today," Grew said. "It offers visitors engaging opportunities to learn about some of the most exciting recent discoveries and scientific questions in biological evolution. It brings Morrill Hall right up to date with the latest in natural history."

For more information on Explore Evolution, go online to
Museum Partners | Project Credits

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation
under Grant No. 0229294. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations
expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect
the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

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