UCMP on display: Exhibits for VLSB

by Nan Crystal Arens, Chair, UCMP Exhibits Committee
In 1995, UCMP moved from its former home in McCone Hall to the newly renovated Valley Life Sciences Building. In addition to the physical move, paleontology at Berkeley also stepped onto a new academic stage. In Integrative Biology, paleontology added its unique time perspective to the probing questions of modern biology. With these big changes, it was time to rethink the role of exhibits in our mission of research, teaching and service to the community through public outreach.
Our centerpiece exhibit, the Tyrannosaurus rex and Pteranodon in the VLSB atrium, is a good example of the philosophy driving our plans for future UCMP exhibits. First, the fossils upon which the displayed casts are based come directly from the research of UCMP scientists. For example, curator Kevin Padian studies how ancient animals, like the Pteranodon, learned to fly. Curators William A. Clemens and Nan Crystal Arens investigate the last days of T. rex at field sites in eastern Montana, near where this specimen was unearthed. And graduate research associate John Hutchinson has measured our T. rex’s legs to learn more about how she might have moved.
Second, our exhibits teach. The T. rex is visited by hundreds of Berkeley biology students every year. They use the skeleton to think about how bones change as they become fossils, compare structures between dinosaurs and their relatives, the birds, and discuss how paleontologists put bones back together to understand the once-living animal.
  Visitors stop to see T. rex and Pteranodon
No visit to the Valley Life Sciences Building is complete without stopping to see T. rex and Pteranodon.
Our T. rex is also a popular stop for campus visitors, thereby extending her role as teacher to the larger community.
Finally, both the Tyrannosaurus rex and Pteranodon were constructed through the vision of UCMP friends around the world who “own a piece of the rex.”
As we began planning to fill the rest of our exhibit spaces, we asked an important question: What do biologists need to know about the fossil record? The answers to that question are the seeds out of which our exhibit plan has grown, because our exhibits are more than just a chance to show off our most exciting fossils, they also teach.

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