Hosting the 2023 Natural History Education DemoCamp

Jen here – 

I am a member of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) Education Committee. One of our primary annual activities is to host a virtual Natural History Education (NHE) DemoCamp. This year was our third iteration of the DemoCamp. The goal of the NHE DemoCamp is to share, discover, and discuss educational materials that have a framework in natural history. This is building upon our previous iterations of the ‘education share fair’ that were hosted at the in person SPNHC annual meetings from 2018–2019.

Educational materials that were shared by presenters varied widely in scope, audience, format, and topic from how to engage audiences with virtual natural history collections resources to how to build engaging in-person public programming. You can find short descriptions and links to each educational resource on the event’s abstract volume. You can also find recordings for all of the demo sessions on the DemoCamp website — these will soon also be available on the SPNHC YouTube Channel. This year’s NHE DemoCamp had over 150 registrants with 14 different live demonstrations and discussions that took place over the two days. 

Banner with a series of logos for organizations that partnered with the education committee to host the event
Banner with logos of the various organizations that assisted in recruiting presenters and participants for the 2023 Natural History Education DemoCamp

We are encouraging all of our presenters to share their resources as Open Education Resources (OER) on the SPNHC Natural History Education Portal. This portal is also open to anyone! We welcome anyone to add their education or outreach materials to this community space. It only takes a short amount of time to create an OER and it will increase your resource visibility. The portal is hosted on QUBESHub, which also gives your resource a DOI and allows others to duplicate your content and make modifications while linking back to the original resource. It also tracks metrics that are easily reportable. If you’re interested but aren’t sure how to get started, contact our committee at our gmail account: educationdemocamp @

A huge thank you to all of the organizers from the SPNHC Education Committee and to all of our partners that helped us spread the word! Stay tuned for announcements for next year’s NHE DemoCamp! We are also always looking for new partnerships and members. Please fill out our interest form for more information, or reach out to us through email!

Kniya’s SciComm for SciOD Reflection

Science communication is an often overlooked aspect of science, with most scientists focusing on the research rather than sharing their findings. When they do share it, it is often coded in difficult-to-understand jargon which limits who can understand what is being explained to them. This is not good. What is the purpose of doing science if what you are discovering is not accessible to be shared with others? 

The main problem when it comes to science communication is that most scientists will act as their mentors when it comes to teaching and leading. This is not necessarily a bad thing if their predecessors were focused on being good science communicators, but if they were shown to “gatekeep” and only share with those who they think are useful there is a high chance that they will not be the best science communicators. Thankfully I have been able to be mentored by great science communicators who make it a priority to share not only their science but that of their colleagues as well.

This semester I had the privilege of taking Dr. Adriane Lam’s science communication course, where I have been able to learn how to be a better scientist, not just in the lab but in the real world. Her class gave me more insight into how to talk to my friends and family about what I do for research and the importance of it. Talking with the guest lecturers, like Dr. Sarah Sheffield, opened my eyes to the importance of science communication by giving me more insight into how just by changing your language and tone, you can communicate science to those who are a little bit more reluctant to listen. Before, I felt it was too difficult to explain what I do because it is not “revolutionary” and geology is not always seen as a primary science, meaning it is a bit unknown to the general public. So explaining glacier mechanics did not seem like the best use of time but now I will try to take caution when explaining my work by using easier-to-understand language and when met with resistance to change my tone so that my work comes across as more understandable.

Halima’s Science Communication for Scientific Ocean Drilling Class Reflection

This post was written by Halima Ibrahim, a graduate student at Binghamton University in the seminar Science Communication for Scientific Ocean Drilling (SciComm for SciOD), Spring 2023. 

Throughout this course, I have had the privilege to explore and reflect on various concepts and ideas related to science communication. One of the key takeaways for me has been the vital role of effective communication in conveying scientific ideas and findings to a broader audience. Through this class, I have learned about the best practices in science communication and the various strategies and techniques that can be used to engage with diverse audiences.

The class discussions on the science communication book, “Getting to the heart of science communication: A guide to effective engagement” by Faith Kearns, were particularly fascinating. The author did an excellent job of sharing her career experiences and challenges as well as other science communicators in communicating science to the general public. The book also highlighted the need for scientists and researchers to be transparent and clear in their communication with both scientific and non-scientific communities. Our discussions over each chapter of the book were enriching, as they provided me with different perspectives and opinions from other people’s points of view.

I also appreciated the opportunity to listen to the five invited speakers who shared their research work, experiences, and how they communicate their science to a broad range of people, from the classroom to the general public. Most of the speakers had an extensive background in scientific ocean drilling, which is the area of my research interest. Some of them were involved in outreach programs to communicate science to non-experts as well as the younger generation, which was insightful to learn about their achievements. The peer review process was another aspect of the class that I enjoyed. Reviewing another person’s webpage and providing constructive feedback was fun, and it presented an opportunity to learn about other expeditions.

One of the reasons I took this class was to improve my science communication skills and contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge through creating web pages of past International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expeditions on the Time Scavengers website. These web pages will eventually be consumed by the Flyover Country app. It is fulfilling and humbling to know that someone may find the write-up that I produced in this class useful at some point in their life. The knowledge and skills I have gained from this class will enable me to effectively communicate scientific ideas in the future. I plan to apply these learnings to communicate scientific concepts and research findings more clearly and transparently to both scientific and non-scientific audiences. Furthermore, I intend to engage with different science communication strategies and seek feedback from various audiences to improve the effectiveness of my communication skills.

I appreciate Dr. Adriane Lam, our instructor, for doing an excellent job, especially as it was her first time teaching the class. From curating the course outline and choosing the book for the class to carefully selecting the invited speakers who had a wealth of knowledge to share with the class, she was amazing. I particularly liked the engaging and hands-on nature of the class. Dr. Lam is an excellent science communicator, which was evident in how she made in-class communication a two-way process by transmitting information to us students and receiving our feedback and opinions. The in-class exercises were helpful, and Dr. Lam was readily available to guide us and answer all our questions.

In conclusion, this class has been immensely valuable in enhancing my knowledge and understanding of science communication. I feel much more confident and better equipped to effectively communicate my research to people who do not have a scientific background. I have also come to appreciate the role science communication plays in shaping public opinion and understanding of complex scientific concepts such as climate change, oceanic drilling programs, and various scientific policies. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in science communication, be it to learn how to communicate their scientific knowledge to folks from different knowledge backgrounds or to venture into a science communication career.

Yiran’s SciComm for SciOD Reflection

This post was written by Yiran Li, a graduate student at Binghamton University in the seminar Science Communication for Scientific Ocean Drilling (SciComm for SciOD), Spring 2023. 

For me, one of the key takeaways from graduate school was learning that being able to effectively communicate and share your research with others is just as important as the research itself, and that it is a crucial skill for integrating oneself into a collaborative research environment such as the one we have in the geosciences community. Participating in the SciComm seminar was an eye-opening experience for me. As a student of observational seismology, I had a general idea of what the International Ocean Discovery Program is through course works, but was completely unfamiliar with the aspect of community culture that advocates and invests in mentorship opportunities.

Many topics explored in this course were very new to me. It was really interesting to hear about journal studies that evaluate the effectiveness of different pathways in scientific communications, whether that’s interactions on social media or through outreach programs. I also empathized with the experiences of students who are just starting out in earth sciences, and how they discovered a community by participating in research opportunities – I had no idea that these literatures existed, and really appreciated the fact that there are published works highlighting the emotional aspects of pursuing careers in geoscience research. It helped me reflect over my own experiences as well. I hope to get more involved, and further explore more opportunities in science communication in the future.

Charlotte’s SciComm for SciOD Reflection

This post was written by Charlotte Heo, a graduate student at Binghamton University in the seminar Science Communication for Scientific Ocean Drilling (SciComm for SciOD), Spring 2023. 

Here’s a picture of me presenting my research at the spring 2023 regional Southeastern/Northeastern Geological Society of America conference and it’s an example of what I think of when I imagine science communication but casually talking about research at the dinner table with family and friends can also be considered science communication as well!

I decided to take SciCommSciOD this semester because I had some free time in my schedule and I wanted to show my support for a new class. I am so glad I decided to because I have learned so much about science communication that I was not aware about before. Science communication is a growing area of interest in the scientific community and I definitely think it should be talked about more and prior to the formation of this class my university lacked a curriculum like it. SciCommSciOD opened me up to new perspectives about sharing science, such as how science communication can be used as a tool to connect with people directly affected by science and it shifted my perspective to think more about the people I want to share my science with. I think sometimes I struggle with SciComm because a lot of the time I’m sharing my science with people with strictly science backgrounds such as at conferences or seminars but it is really important for me to make my research accessible to the public. The work that I do directly pertains to climate change which impacts a ton of different people within different communities and backgrounds (both in science and in public audiences) so it’s necessary to be able to have a discussion about it in an accessible way. Overall, I hope that learning about science communication becomes more of a standard in the scientific community, and as scientists I believe we have a responsibility to effectively communicate our findings in accessible ways.

Geology from the air

By Stephen Hill and Amanda Fischer. Stephen wrote the text and Amanda provided the images.

The geology you can see from an airplane is truly spectacular- the sights of the world below have enchanted most everyone who has taken an airplane. In this post, we walk you through the geology behind some of the sights you might see from the skies going across the western United States. Next time you take a flight, look out the window and learn more about the geology all around us! 

Most people are aware that there are volcanoes in the western United States (U.S.) thanks to the frequent headlines of some of the large strato-volcanoes (e.g., more cone-shaped volcanoes, like Mt. Saint Helens) in the Cascades of Washington and of course the “doomsday” headline-maker, the Yellowstone caldera or “super-volcano.” What many folks are not aware of are the many smaller volcanic fields that dot the South-Western U.S. including Arizona and New Mexico, even though they are often responsible for some of the iconic mesas and plateaus associated with those states. The 8,000 square mile (about the area of Vermont) Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field of New Mexico is one such example. 

The first occurrence of volcanism at the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field in New Mexico is thought to have occurred around 50 million years ago and has had sporadic eruption events to as recent as 30,000 years ago. Image 1 was taken while flying over this volcanic field. Visible in the center of the frame is a textbook example of what geoscientists call a cinder cone (or scoria cone) volcano: this one in particular is called Capulin Volcano. Cinder cones are the most common type of intraplate volcano (i.e., a volcano not located on the boundary of a tectonic plate) and are formed when fountains of lava erupt from a volcanic vent. As the lava is ejected into the air, it cools into rock and ash and begins to collect around the vent. Over a period of constant or spaced-out eruptions, this accumulation will form the cone shape you see. Capulin represents some of the younger activity in the field, estimated to be 30,000 years old which is why it retains its textbook shape–– it hasn’t yet been weathered away, like some of the older features of the field.

View from airplane of topography and some meandering rivers of light-colored rocks. In center is a cone shaped volcano.
Image 1. Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field (New Mexico, USA). In the center is the cinder cone volcano, Capulin Volcano

The older a feature is, the more time it has spent exposed to the weathering processes of Earth’s surface; this can drastically alter the way some volcanic features look. If we look at Image 2, we can see an expanded view of Image 1. Now, a second cinder cone is visible at the bottom of the frame. In between the two cinder cones, we can see two features that look like squiggly outlines with flat tops. These are called mesas now, and they’ve been worn down over many, many years of weathering and erosion, primarily from wind and rain. 

View from airplane of topography and some meandering rivers of light-colored rocks. In lower left corner is a cone shaped volcano. A lot of the topography has been worn down from erosion, so features are flatter than they were when they would have formed
Image 2. Another view of Capulin Volcano (lower left) in the Raton-Clayton Volcanic Field, with mesas throughout, formed from weathering and erosion

Weathering and erosion are also responsible for some of the most spectacular aerial scenery you will see over the Western US (e.g., the Grand Canyon). Visible in Image 3 is Glen Canyon, which, just like the Grand Canyon, has been cut by the mighty waters of the Colorado River. The geology of this area is primarily dominated by sandstone (i.e., Navajo & Wingate sandstones) which have been eroded by the flow of the river over the course of millions of years. The meanders of the river are cut into the sandstones and leave traces of the river’s path from years gone by: this produces many spectacular views. Viewing erosive patterns from a bird’s eye view can also help inquisitive minds better understand runoff and the creation of rivers/watersheds, as seen in Image 4.

Canyon- features formed from a river- evidence of the river is currently still there, winding around and evidence of where the river was years ago is, too, as evidenced by the rock patterns where water cut into them
Image 3. Glen Canyon, formed by water of the Colorado River
patterns of water run off cut into rocks from a bird’s eye view: water ran down the tops of higher topographic features and cut into them, leaving behind patterns of how the water moved down it.
Image 4. Patterns of erosion from wind and water movement leave behind these gorgeous views that we can appreciate from above

Meet the Museum: Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum

Figure 1: This large diorama showcases elephants, zebras, lions, baboons, guinea fowl and much more, all in natural poses. The longer you wander around and look at it, the more you discover.

Linda and guest blogger Blandine here, for a little museum visit report! 

Figure 2: Deep in the tropical jungle you find these two chimps, a grown up and a baby, hidden between the bushes. A video is projected on the floor nearby, showing typical chimpanzee behavior.

Last year we visited the Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum or Museum Koenig for short,  located in Bonn, Germany. The museum is part of the Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change

Its main focus is the rich, high-quality taxidermy collection used to educate people about animals and their habitats, as well as environmental issues. The collection is also – as the name and affiliation of the museum implies – heavily used for biodiversity and zoology research. The museum was named after its founder Prof. Alexander Koenig, who worked on zoology with an expertise in bird biodiversity in the 19th and early 20th century. The museum still hosts many specimens that were collected by Koenig himself (for example two giraffes and many bird eggs).

Upon entering the building, visitors are greeted by a quite impressive diorama of African savanna fauna and flora ensembles, with naturalized pieces in dynamic poses (Fig. 1). Each animal seems almost alive, with real water dripping out of  the mouth of a zebra drinking in a pond, while a leopard bites an antelope’s throat. 

Figure 3: The desert room not only exhibits taxidermied animals, but also has a strong focus on geology related topics, for example it explains how dunes form and wander. Visitors are also encouraged to investigate different sands under the microscope to discover the diversity of sediments!

In addition to telling interesting stories, the diorama scenes allow the spectators to learn more about animals’ habits and behaviors. Often, audio tracks of both animal and environmental sounds are played in the background and many information sheets and panels (in German and English) are displayed on a variety of scientific topics. 

Figure 4: This exhibit on the history of the museum hosts a large variety of specimens, all of them older than 100 years! This includes a taxidermied pelican, the skull of a giraffe, several european fishes, sand boas, a beaver skeleton and much more.

In the next room you find yourself in a tropical jungle, where light effects play a huge role in the display of the naturalized specimens (Fig. 2). Here, the interactions between animals, plants and their environment are the main focus of the dioramas. The extremely realistic appearance of plants inside the cases is fascinating, as each and every of the hundreds of thousands leaves and twigs are actually plastic replicas that were hand painted by skilled artists, no two leaves are the same. In the dark forest, you can sit and watch short documentaries about apes or listen to an audio guide explaining interactions between ants and mushrooms in the tropical forests. The day we visited, on the first floor, we couldn’t visit the canopy of the rainforest, as the displays were still under construction. It has since then been opened to the public: A massive forest canopy diorama and multiple activities educating visitors further about the impact humans have on the rainforest, and people taking action to protect it. 

Figure 5: The interactive ‘consumer’s table’ allowing visitors to see the effects of their lifestyle choices immediately.

The museum then takes you along on a trip around the world, from Antarctica (seemingly the oldest part of the permanent exhibition, that maybe needs to be updated a little bit from a public outreach point of view, especially when compared to the brilliantly done new tropical forest exhibition) to the deserts, which has surprising and very educative, interactive displays (Fig. 3).

A substantial part of the permanent exhibition is dedicated to the history of the museum and the problems associated with it (e.g. colonialism), and its historic specimens (Fig. 4). This section also tackles the role of humans in the disappearance of species and the destruction of natural habitats. These themes, along with other important topics such as climate change, are brought up in several instances all across the museum. Visitors are invited to sit at the ‘consumer’s table’ interactive display, a great (but also eye-opening and saddening) tactile table with graphic representations that estimate and illustrate your use of natural resources and your impact as a consumer on deforestation. As you select lifestyle choices such as updating your phone for the newest model, selecting a car or public transport, choosing exotic woods over locally produced items, selecting your food choices, you can watch the forest deteriorate or heal with every choice you make (Fig. 5). On the other side of the first floor is an exhibition dedicated to the beautiful and colorful world of insects (Fig. 6). This area also gives insights into research work including an interactive exhibit of a taxonomist’s lab, including microscopes, maps, games and many many books. 

Figure 6: A large number of beetles are shown in this exhibit, of which we only captured this small section to showcase the diversity in color and shapes that beetles can have! Beetles are the most diverse order of animals on this planet, roughly ¼ of all living animal species discovered so far are beetles!

Then, there’s the more ‘ancient’ part of the collection, displaying naturalized specimens in glass cases with a systematic approach (for example showing a large number of birds together regardless of their habitat), and some more amazing, though old, dioramas that transport you to the seaside, into the forest or into a field, with a focus on the local german fauna. 

Figure 7: A replica based on the CT-scans of a Eurohippus specimen from Messel. This way of presenting it allows the visitors to look at the specimen from all sides.

The museum’s top floor is dedicated to temporary exhibitions. At the time of our visit, one side consisted of a huge photograph exhibition, highlighting the beauty of nature through the seasons. The other side was dedicated to an exhibition showcasing horse evolution and especially the eocene horses of the Messel pit (Fig. 7). The main element of this exhibition was an exquisitely preserved specimen of Eurohippus; an extinct genus of a relative of modern horses, discovered in Messel. The Messel pit is an eocene maar lake in which hundreds of fossils from a large range of plant and animal species have been preserved exceptionally well  (a location comparable in age, fossil assemblage, environmental conditions and depositional setting as the Eckfelder Maar we already wrote about, though much larger)  – including several specimens of Eurohippus –  allowing paleontologists to have a good insight into these extinct animals’ biology and life. Several specimens have been preserved so well, their internal organs could be investigated and at least 6 specimens are known to have been pregnant when they died. 

In this exhibit, Eurohippus was shown both as a replica of a fossil, as well as as a reconstructed version.  An entirely white model was used as a canvas, the visitors could play with different patterns and colors of light being projected on the model, mimicking extant animals’ fur patterns to show possible colorations the extinct horse relatives could have had. As the color and patterns of Eurohippus’ fur is still a mystery, this is still up to imagination (Fig. 8).

Figure 8: Visitors could project a variety of coat patterns onto a white Eurohippus model, here we set it to resemble the coat of a baby tapir, but many other stripes, spots, shadings and colors were possible. This exhibit was not only meant to be interactive but also to show the general public that certain properties shown in reconstructions are educated guesses rather than facts.

One of the previous temporary exhibitions of the Museum Koenig was called ‘Big, bigger, dinosaurs’, and because this was not only very cool, but our local paleontological preparator Blandine also got to help dismantle it in the end, we will cover this exhibition in a separate post very soon! Until then, you can already find a post on her instagram about the dismantling (together with a large range of various dinosaur-related content) @dinosaur_forensics 

A bit more than half of the informative text appearing on screens and panels in the permanent exhibition is also available in English, as well as much of the audio and video content. Apparently, the museum is working on translating their content from German as they redesign display areas. 

In addition to their efforts in making the museum accessible to english-speaking, we also noticed a large amount of available seating throughout all of the rooms, lifts in addition to stairs, and playing areas for children, making the museum a very welcoming environment. 

We highly recommend a visit! 

Here are some more impressions of our visit (Figs. 9-12):

Figure 9: Visitors were encouraged to compare the digits of a variety of small reptiles in this exhibit. Some geckos (on the right) have wide and flat finger and toe tips while fringe-fingered lizards (bottom left) have – you guessed it – fringed fingers and toes.


Figure 10: This Pleistocene Irish elk (Megaloceros giganteus) greets visitors upon entering the building. Irish elk were first described by Irish researchers, but have since been found in many places ranging from western Europe to central Russia.


Figure 11: The tropical jungle diorama is so incredibly detailed, they even included individual ants, or in this case an Orb-weaver spider in its web.


Figure 12: Since this is a zoological museum, only few exhibits focus on extinct species. This replica of one of the world’s largest ammonites (Parapuzosia seppenradensis) was quite impressive, so Blandine decided to pose next to it. Most of the biggest ammonites ever found have been discovered in the vicinity of the city of Münster in Germany!

GeoMinKöln 2022 – ECR events, geochemistry and a questionable poster

Michaela here – 

Thanks to the generous support of the Tilly Edinger Travel Grant, I was able to take part in the 2022 annual meeting of the German Geological Society (DGGV) in Cologne (or Köln). In many ways, this conference was unlike any other I attended thus far. It was the first conference that I went to without the support of my supervisor and subsequently I had to navigate the shallow waters of networking on my own. It was also the first conference after I got involved with the young scientist section of the DGGV and thus I was busy organising ECR events, distributing merch and meeting all the people I had only known from endless zoom sessions, since the group was founded in midst of a global pandemic. However, the most significant difference was the work I presented – I have no other way of stating this: I pulled a bold move and the results were unexpected.

But let us start at the beginning.

Conferences are nicer in a comfy sweater.

It began with a pre-icebreaker for students and early career researchers on Sunday (September 11th.), that I missed, because I was stuck in Cologne’s unforgiving traffic. Great start – especially given that I am part of the group that organised the event, the JungeDGGV (YoungDGGV). Luckily, I was still received with a warm welcome afterwards – probably because I brought with me a box of t-shirts and hoodies that we designed for the JungeDGGV and were eagerly awaited. Wrapped in our new attire we were more than ready for the “grown-up” ice-breaker.

Organisig ECR events on a conference is a fun way to meet fellow students.

Networking without my Ph.D.-supervisor by my side who knows and is loved by everyone and everything in the German geoscience community, was harder than I expected. I have to admit that I felt a little lost at times. Although I had made a plan of who to talk to beforehand – I realised that a crowded ice-breaker was not the ideal place to find these individuals. However, the efforts of the JungeDGGV to make the kick-off less awkward for young scientists paid off well and while getting to know the PIs had to wait, I met lots of inspiring people from my own career stage.

My time to present came during the poster sessions on Monday and Tuesday evening and boy was I nervous. My poster on Tuesday was titled “What beachrock can and can’t do as a sea level indicator” and a wrap up of all the work I did during my 4 years as a Ph.D. student. The conference was very mineralogy heavy, which meant that there were not a lot of sedimentologists and no sea-level researchers present. Under these circumstances I am more than happy with the turn up. Everything I did during the last four years was talk about beachrock – so, you guessed it, this was not the poster I was worried about.

The second poster I presented on Monday, titled “Shards of glass” was a shot in the dark. Being at a point where my Ph.D. is finished and searching for postdoc opportunities, I currently focus on future research. Apart from the idea, the most critical aspect of this is acquiring funding and finding a PI who is willing to support you during the process. During a Summer School in May 2022, a fellow student and I had an idea to investigate anthropogenic materials like plastic, glass and plastitar that we found cemented into a beachrock on Eleuthera Island (Bahamas). We want to find out where the trash comes from, how it is transported around the island, if it influences the beach rock cementation process and if cemented coastal sediments function as an effective sink for trash and thus keep it from drifting off into the open ocean. Beautiful idea – but who to work with and how to get funded? We thought why not produce a flashy poster that describes the idea even though we haven`t produced any data yet? When I found myself standing next to a poster that looked pretty but had essentially no content apart from “please hire me”, I asked myself more than once: is this a good idea? Turns out: it was. I have never presented a poster that attracted so much attention. People wanted to discuss the idea, gave tips on what methods to use and how to structure fieldwork, and left so, so many business cards.

Even a poster without the biggest scientific findings can attract attention.

So what is my take away from the GeoMinKöln2022? I’d say: put yourself and your research out there even if it is just an idea and go and join a scientific society, because it helps.

background: Poster session seemingly occurring outside. Foreground: Michaela standing on the left with her poster about shards of glass and trash.


Meet the Museum: Waloseum in Norden, Germany

Linda here, 

I recently visited the Waloseum, a museum organised by the seal sanctuary Nationalpark-Haus Norddeich in Norden, on the German North Sea coast. While the seal sanctuary has its own exhibition, focussing on everything related to seals, the Waloseum showcases the local fauna with a strong specialisation on cetaceans and shore birds. Even though their name sounds a bit like it, they have no live whales, they show models, skeletons, videos, and audio recordings of whales. But since the Waloseum is part of the local seal sanctuary, the ground floor of the building also hosts the quarantine station for baby seals which were found sick, injured or abandoned on the beach. The visitors can spend some time observing baby seals; though to be honest, while very cute, a sick baby seal is not really doing a lot of interesting activities, so let’s move on, so they can rest and recover. Other live animals exhibited here include an aquarium with local fish that live close to the sea floor such as catsharks or flatfish, and benthic invertebrates like echinoderms, allowing visitors for example to closely observe the complicated anatomy of sea star locomotion in action (fig 1). Also included in this area is a wonderful collection of mollusc shells such as cone snails, fearsome predators. 

Figure 1

The lower floor of the Museum hosts the whale exhibition, beginning with whale evolution (fig 2) and anatomy, for example showing a life size model of a blue whale’s heart (fig 3), which is illuminated in red light pulsating with the same frequency as a blue whale’s heartbeat. Across the museum and between the exhibits, hand painted wall decorations illustrate whale behaviour or anatomy, such as for example the feeding mechanism of baleen whales (fig.4). I especially enjoyed the displays showing the different extant whale species grouped by geographic area in which they live, such as this display of species of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica (fig. 5). 

Exhibit display of whale evolution. There is a sign explaining the small reconstruction of an ancient whale. There is a drawn tree of relationships on the lower right arcing to the upper left showing how whales have changed to what we see today.
Figure 2
A museum exhibit of a life size model of a blue whale's heart. There is a sign with information in the foreground and a heart with different parts lit up.
Figure 3
Exhibit display that details the feeding mechanism of baleen whales. Behind a pane of glass there are four small models of whales showing how they feed and what the brush like teeth looks like up close.
Figure 4
exhibit dispay showing the species of the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. There are scaled models of the different species mounted to the wall with a small screen in the foreground with more details.
Figure 5


But everyone agrees that the absolute highlight of the museum is the 15m (~50 feet) long skeleton of a male sperm whale that is exhibited in its own room (fig. 6). The skeleton is shown together with a replica of a human skull for size comparison, as well as a giant squid model, an important prey species for sperm whales. What is extra special about this specimen is the fact that the skeleton comes from a sperm whale that was washed up dead at the German coast in 2003 just a few kilometres from the museum. The whale weighed about 40 metric tons! Pictures of the washed up specimen are included on one of the walls, together with information on migration routes and many other interesting details. The entire room is very dark, only the whale is illuminated, the entire atmosphere feels like the deep sea. Sperm whale songs are played in the background. Everything about this is very impressive, the first step into the room takes your breath away. 

Display of a male sperm whale, with a human skull and other objects below it to aid with understanding scale. a giant squid is in the background.
Figure 6

A small side room branching off here shows very special deep sea ecosystems: hydrothermal vents! Lots of information about the geological processes leading to hydrothermal vents are shown in figures and illustrations, but the nicest part of this section is the hydrothermal vent model, which even includes tiny vent crabs and tube worms (fig. 7).

An exhibit display that is a hydrothermal vent model, which even includes tiny vent crabs and tube worms
Figure 7

Following the natural environmental sequence, one floor above the sea floor and open ocean exhibit, sea and shore birds of the local area are showcased (fig. 8). Just like in the sperm whale room, the background is full of animal sounds, in this case seagulls’ and other birds’ calls. The upper floor also includes important information about human-environment interactions, a big topic is environmental destruction through pollution but also the importance of the local Lower Saxon Wadden Sea National Park, which has a size of almost 346,000 hectares (~1,300 square miles) and is the largest national park in Germany.

Sea floor and open ocean exhibit, sea and shore birds of the local area are showcased in a room. The scene is set up like a portion of a beach with signage to explain the different animals.
Figure 8

Even though this museum is very small, through modern exhibits, the very smart use of light and background sound, detailed models and illustrations, the museum creates the perfect atmosphere for learning about marine and coastal life. I highly recommend a visit, especially if you’re looking for something fun to do on one of the many, many rainy days this area gets.

A Brief History of the Trials and Tribulations of Teaching Evolution

Faith Frings, Ohav Harris, and Kaleb Smallwood 
*Authors listed alphabetically; all contributed equally to this piece

The teaching of evolution has always been a polemical topic. People often consider evolution and religion to be in direct opposition to one another, when in actuality the two are concerned with separate realms of reality. Many teachers, and even college professors, often feel nervous about bringing up the topic because they worry about how not only students will respond, but also, in the case of K-12 educators, how their parents might react. In fact, a survey conducted in 2007 and published in 2010 concluded that roughly 532,000 students in Florida were taught by teachers who either felt uncomfortable teaching the subject or refrained from teaching evolution entirely (Fowler and Meisels, 2010). This discomfort with discussing evolution has been present since before Darwin published his theory in On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859. Darwin himself feared how religious and scientific authorities would respond, as scientists such as Georges Cuvier, a lauded naturalist of the time, decried the belief that the extant species had changed much since they first came into being. This caused him to delay his publication after his return to England in 1836 (Pew Research Center, 2009). The controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution reached a head in the United States in 1925, during the Scopes trial.

The Scopes Trial of 1925 (also called the Monkey Trial) is one very infamous example of the aggravation evolution can bring about in the classroom. John Thomas Scopes, a Tennessee high school science teacher, was accused of teaching evolution, which was against Tennessee law at the time due to the Butler Act, which outlawed any philosophy that opposed creationism and taught that mankind descended from animals (Arnold-Forster, 2022). Scopes did so intentionally, as he was working with the ACLU to defy this law as the defendant. Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan aided the prosecution. Citizens acted as chimps to mock the defense. Unfortunately, since Scopes himself was on trial and not the law he acted against, the defense was not allowed to call scientists in to provide testimony and Scopes was found guilty of breaking the law and fined $100. The verdict was overturned in 1927, but this was only on a technicality. This means that for two years, it was illegal to teach evolution in schools in Tennessee. Two years may not be much in hindsight, but ideas can become entrenched in a person’s mind in that amount of time. Numerous people would have been ignorant of evolution or told that it was a lie in some cases, breeding a lack of scientific literacy that would have made it more difficult for people to accept evolution or science in general in the future. Worse still, laws of this nature persisted in places such as Mississippi and Arkansas (Arnold-Forster, 2022).

While the thoughts and feelings that led to events like the Scopes Trial may seem like a thing of the past now, such vehement sentiments against evolution have flared up more recently than one might think, leading to yet another court case regarding the teaching of evolution in 2005, this time in Pennsylvania. Kitzmiller et al. v Dover Area School District et al. differed from the Scopes Trial in two crucial ways. First, the issue was not a law banning the teaching of evolution, but the school district teaching evolution alongside intelligent design, a philosophy often used as an alternative to creationism. Second, the defense was allowed to call expert scientists as witnesses, turning the trial into something of an educational seminar for those in attendance, showing them that there is plenty of evidence in favor of evolution and that a scientific theory differs from a theory in the colloquial sense (Humes, 2008). Rather than a denial of science in favor of religion, this trial showed not only that evolution is valid, but also that it can be accepted while holding religious beliefs. Many opponents to the teaching of evolution, due to religious beliefs, came to understand the evidence for evolution over the course of the trial and came to accept it without sacrificing their religious values. While the significance of this trial and its subsequent ruling cannot be understated as they allowed the legal teaching of evolution to continue, the most important note to take from this trial is the masterful teaching put on display. Rather than chide the crowd and opposing litigants for their lack of comprehension of science, the scientists brought on by the defense were considerate, respectful, and humorous. There are important lessons to be learned from this trial by those who aspire to teach evolution or subjects such as paleontology or biology where evolution is integral to a comprehension of the subject.

For example, one important point established by the defense in the Kitzmiller case is the fact that science and religion are not mutually exclusive, but they deal in different areas of reality. Religious explanations of phenomena and other things observable in the world often tend to be supernatural, going outside of the confines of what science can and should be used to explain. Science deals strictly with the natural, observable world. Science uses what evidence exists in the natural world to come to conclusions best supported by that evidence. As such, scientific explanations of processes observable in the world do not rule out the existence of a god or other greater power. Science cannot broach the subject at all. Consequently, acceptance of evolution does not require a rejection of one’s faith, nor are the two in conflict at all. It may be helpful to point out this fact for those in a class who feel strongly about their religious affiliations to ease their worries in that regard. Additionally, this trial shows the significance of preparing thoughtful and clear  answers for any questions  raised by students in class. One outlandish argument brought up during the trial was that of irreducible complexity. It was argued that cars and planes are made using similar parts, but neither a car nor plane came from the other. Additionally, if one vital part of a car or plane was removed, the object would cease to function. It was argued that the same went for organisms. Ken Miller’s response was complete and used the relevant example of the multipurpose proteins in bacterial flagellum, which was something discussed ad nauseum in the trial, to show that organisms are not irreducibly complex (Humes, 2008). The proteins that make up the flagellum can also be used for various other functions, so it is not accurate to say that the system is irreducibly complex. In another setting, those proteins can be seen performing completely different functions. Being ready to address questions and detractors is crucial to getting an audience to listen to and respect you. Doing so while respecting people’s lack of knowledge or their skepticism is equally crucial. Through proper teaching, evolution can transition from the controversial topic it is sometimes seen as into being well-accepted as the scientific theory that it is by the public, similar to the theory of gravity or cell theory. Calmly explaining to students that we did not come from monkeys, assuaging their worries regarding religion, and encouraging scientific thinking are all important steps along this road. Evolution is just as important a scientific subject to understand as any other to allow people to understand the natural world around them and how it functions.

Works Cited

Arnold-Forster, Tom. “Rethinking the Scopes Trial: Cultural Conflict, Media Spectacle, and Circus Politics.” Journal of American Studies, vol. 56, no. 1, 2022, pp. 142–166., doi:10.1017/S0021875821000529.

Humes, Edward. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul. Harper Perennial, 2008.

“Darwin and His Theory of Evolution.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, Pew Research Center, 4 Feb. 2009,