The UCMP has hosted several Flat Stanleys this year, as part of the Year of Science 2009. Flat Stanley is a fictional character from a children’s book, written by Jeff Brown in 1964. In the original story, Stanley is a little boy who is flattened when a bulletin board above his bed falls on top of him. He finds that, in his new flattened state, he is able to have many great adventures by being mailed from place to place in an envelope. Inspired by this story, the Flat Stanley projectbegan as a classroom exercise in an elementary school in Canada and has now grown into a communication network among primary school students around the world. In a variation of this idea, students in Piedmont, California made paper Flat Stanleys and sent them to Berkeley to learn about scientific research on campus. Three of these Stanleys came to visit the UCMP.
The first Stanley to visit in 2009 was hosted by Kaitlin Maguire, a member of the Barnosky lab. Kaitlin showed Stanley the skull of a Columbian mammoth from the Pleistocene of California, and took Stanley’s photo next to one of the mammoth’s teeth. You can check out Stanley’s full adventure with Kaitlin and the mammoth here.
The next Stanley was hosted by Jann Vendetti, a member of the Hickman Lab. Jann took Stanley with her to one of the classes taught in Integrative Biology, called Principles in Paleontology.Stanley got to see a lot of invertebrate fossils, and learned how paleontologists measure the size and shape of animals in the fossil record. See Stanley’s full adventure with Jann here .
The last Stanley to visit the UCMP was hosted by Susumu Tomiya, who is also a member of the Barnosky lab. Susumu introduced Stanley to Flat Darwin, whose real-life counterpart would have celebrated his 200th birthday this year! Flat Darwin took Stanley on a grand tour of the UCMP collections, with a special emphasis on the fossil mammals of South America. One of the highlights was the glyptodont, a giant, extinct relative of the armadillo. You can read about Stanley’s visit with Susumu, Flat Darwin, and the mammals of South America here.
This isn’t the first time Flat Stanley has visited the UCMP — to read about his previous adventures, click here.
A few months ago, the UCMP’s Tyrannosaurus rex broke a nail. The right claw mysteriously went missing. We needed to replace it, but obviously the standard-issue drugstore press-on nail just wouldn’t do. We had to re-construct a new right claw by making a copy of the intact left claw.
Danny Anduza, a UCMP volunteer, carried out the claw restoration. First, he mixed up a rubbery substance and painted it over the T.rex’s left claw, to make a mold. Once the rubber hardened, he carefully sliced it and removed it from the claw. Next, Danny used the mold to make a new claw. He mixed up some resin and poured it into the rubber mold. Once the resin had set, Danny painted the new claw with brown paint — the same paint that was used to paint the rest of the T. rex in 1995. Danny attached the new claw to the finger bone using a special kind of hot glue, formulated to bond plastic to plastic.
Now that its claw has been repaired, the T. rex can resume hunting prey after we’ve all gone home for the night. Or sneaking into the classrooms and scratching the chalkboards.
In 2005, Roger Castillo found the fossilized bones of a juvenile mammoth in the Guadalupe River near San Jose. Roger was walking his dog along the river, which he did frequently as a volunteer for the Guadalupe-Coyote Resource Conservation District, when he saw the tusks of the mammoth's skull poking out of the soil along the riverbank. At the time he wasn't exactly sure what he was looking at but recognized their importance and contacted the UCMP. The fossilized mammoth has been named Lupé, after the Guadalupe River. The San Jose Children's Discovery Museum (CDM) will open a new exhibit in 2011 about Lupé's discovery. The exhibit will focus on how Lupé lived in the past and how scientists have pieced together evidence to understand her life.
I am a graduate student in the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley, and I have been working with the UCMP and CDM on the mammoth exhibit since February. At Berkeley, I study mammals from the past, their evolution, how they lived and their relationship with the environment. I got involved in this project because of my research interests. I mostly help the CDM team answer questions about mammoths and other Pleistocene mammals, as well as show them how paleontologists figure out the past from fossils and rocks. The CDM team visited the UCMP twice this spring to look at the collections and get a feel for what a typical day is like as a paleontologist. We also went on a field trip to the coast to look at fossils and learn about the local geology. I really enjoy sharing my experiences with the CDM team and love how excited everyone is to learn more about mammoths and paleontology.
But it's not just me teaching the CDM team! I have been learning quite a bit about how a children's museum designs exhibits for all ages. I attend CDM's brainstorming meetings and have been astonished by how creative a process it is. How do you design an exhibit that holds the attention of a 4 year old and her 12 year old sibling!? It's not easy, but with a lot of brainstorming and testing, the team comes up with fantastic exhibits.
Luckily, the project team also includes a group of researchers from UC Santa Cruz, led by Maureen Callanan. They focus on understanding how children learn science. One question the team has had during development of the exhibit is when do children understand the concept of time? Do they know that dinosaurs lived before mammoths? The UC Santa Cruz team is currently running experiments at the CDM to better understand what children will be able to learn from the exhibit. Their research has really helped guide the exhibit development.
I am very excited to be part of such a dynamic team of researchers and professionals. As we all learn from each other, great ideas unfold and the exhibit design moves forward. Over the next few months, I'll be updating you on our progress as we design and construct the mammoth exhibit. And I'll let you know when the exhibit opens in 2011!