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Geology faculty open mini-museum for the community

By Allison Brace ’22

It might be hard to imagine, but the Dayton area was once submerged under a vast tropical ocean.

A new exhibit in the University of Dayton’s Science Center displays major geological events in Earth’s history as a timeline, and also showcases important rocks and minerals. The exhibit plans also call for a weather station, seismometer and display of Dayton’s native fossils to be added to the third floor of Wohlleben Hall.

The goal of the mini-museum is to engage current and prospective students in the geosciences, and educate them about the major events that shaped our planet, said Dan Goldman, geology professor and former department chair.

“First, we were interested in using the great aesthetic appeal of geology to deepen students’ interest in the subject,” Goldman said. “Second, we wanted to increase student learning about the geosciences interactively, inside and outside the classroom. Finally, we would like to have K-12 students visit campus, learn about geology, and hopefully become the next generation of outstanding geoscientists.”

Goldman came up with the mini-museum concept nearly a decade ago, but creating the geological timeline sometimes moved at a glacial pace. Faculty needed to find the right space, construct a plan and commission artists. He credits professor Shuang-ye Wu, who became department chair in August, for defrosting the project.

“The geology department has been excited about this project for a long time,” Goldman said. “And Wu deserves a lot of credit for getting things moving again.”

Wu has been pushing for progress on this project since assuming the role of department chair. Allocating funds, finding space for the displays and installing the completed artwork were the most time-consuming.

“Once everything was in place, it only took a month to get things printed out and installed,” she said.

The artwork was commissioned from two artists who specialize in geological and paleontological imagery, Kyle Hartshorn and Douglas Henderson.

Currently, the timeline includes the formation of the solar system; Earth’s childhood in the Precambrian Era; the Ordovician Period, including the radiation and then mass extinction of marine life; the approaching asteroid impact and death of the dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex in the great Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction; and a roaming woolly mammoth in the Pleistocene Epoch. The project spans from 4.6 billion years ago to as recently as 11,700 years ago.

Goldman and Wu hope to continue growing the exhibit into something that can be enjoyed not only by the University community but also by students from Dayton-area schools. They would like to add more artwork to the walls, depicting additional significant geological events, including the end Permian mass extinction, during which 95 percent of the world's species disappeared.

Including geological events impacting the Dayton region will make the experience even more significant for area students. Wu said that during the last ice age the North American ice sheet extended across Dayton and terminated near Cincinnati. This event led to the naming of the Dayton suburb, Moraine, after the technical term for the mass of rocks and sediment carried down and deposited by a glacier, typically as ridges at its edges or end.

Ohio is also considered a famous region for trilobites, brachiopods and horn corals — fossils from the Paleozoic Era, which will be an asset to the exhibit as well.

“The abundance of these local fossils mean that over 400 million years ago our region was a tropical shallow ocean, like the Bahamas,” Wu said.

Combining geology education via the timeline with teaching young students about the ancient environment of their home as both a tropical ocean and a glacial landscape can help give perspective on the history and evolution of the Earth. The hope is that having an open platform for local students to visit campus and learn about geology with hands-on experiences will generate interest in younger generations and provide them with positive feelings about the field and the University.

“We started with five paintings because that’s what our limited funds permit and then we will see if we can get people interested and maybe generate some more funds to expand,” Wu said. “We want this to be a resource for not just UD students but also local schools and the community.”

For more information, please visit the Department of Geology website.

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