Natural History Museum Celebrates Earth Science Week

Scientists and researchers at Harvard’s museums shared their knowledge of fossils, gems, and other geological artifacts with the public this week as a part of Earth Science Week, a nationwide effort to raise awareness about and spark interest in the earth sciences.

On Tuesday, visitors had the opportunity to explore the gem collection at the Harvard Museum of Natural History with Dr. Raquel Alonso Perez, the curator of Harvard’s Mineralogical and Geological Museum. The next day, which was National Fossil Day, a few paleontology graduate students and volunteers led hands-on activities for visitors, including elementary school students, and showcased bones, teeth, footprints, and other prehistoric fossils at the Natural History Museum.

Wendy Derjue-Holzer, the education director at the Museum of Natural History, emphasized the role of the week as a “bridge” between Harvard and the public.

“It’s really important these days, as a scientist, to be able to communicate why your research matters. Whether it’s just for getting the information out there, or, very honestly, [for] public funding. The public needs to understand and value why we should fund these sort of things,” she said.

In partnership with the National Park Service, the American Geological Institute has organized Earth Science Week every year since 1998, reaching an estimated more than 50 million people each year, according to the AGI’s website. This year’s theme is “Earth’s Connected Systems.”

Those involved with the week said they hope it will inspire an interest in the earth sciences beyond the usual oohing and aahing at gems.

“People should be aware of how we are using our planet and what our planet can offer us,” said Alonso Perez, who showed visitors the museum’s gem collection at Tuesday’s event.

The week will wrap up on Sunday with a family event at the Museum of Natural History focused on better understanding life on Earth and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Mary Blue Magruder ’69, director of communications and marketing at the Museum of Natural History, said that Earth Science Week fulfills multiple goals.

“The objective of Earth Science Week is to engage students in discovering the earth sciences, to remind people earth science is all around us, to encourage earth stewardship through understanding, and to motivate geo-scientists to share their knowledge and enthusiasm about the earth,” she said.

She added that, given increased focus on environmental issues, scientific literacy is valuable for both those who do and do not study science.  

“We need to have people understand these issues way better so that they can be [capable] citizens in a much smaller world,” she said.

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