GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 41-5
Presentation Time: 2:35 PM


LEVITON, Alan E., Institute of Biodiversity Science and Sustainability, California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118 and ALDRICH, Michele, California Academy of Sciences, 24 Elm Street, Hatfield, MA 01038,

Too often we think of museums as display centers, not places where basic research takes place. But that’s not true. Museums bridge the gap between research scientists and exhibitors and, on balance, have managed well. This is true for many of the world’s major museums, the California Academy of Sciences included, where geology also has played a significant role in its research and outreach programs since its founding in 1853.

In 1886 the Academy undertook construction of a building to replace the ramshackle church that had been its home for some years. It would now have space for public exhibits and its core research activities. For some of its exhibits spectacular materials were purchased from Ward’s natural history establishment, but for others it drew upon its own collections, notably rocks and minerals. Regretfully, not long afterward, building and contents, collections as well, were lost in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. But the Academy rebounded and constructed new facilities in Golden Gate Park where, for many years, its exhibits consisted mostly of habitat dioramas. There was a mineralogy hall and, in time, a fossil hall, Life Through Time. The mineral hall played to the human urge to collect and classify, embodied in the “rockhound” approach of youngsters who fill their rooms with natural materials. And expanding research activities resulted in many publications on stratigraphy and molluscan and micropaleontology by its curators.

In the late 1980s, confronted by seismic concerns, the Academy had to replace its buildings. And because of exciting new developments, geology exhibits now focus on an eye-catching globe with text about the earth’s crust and panels on earthquakes, the bugaboo of California, that reinforce the educational aspects of the Academy’s public outreach, as well as exhibits that focus on drift and plate tectonics, with specimen cases of fossils and rocks to show the impact of drift on the global distribution of plants and animals, and, of course, interactive exhibits. Arguably, the new exhibits combine aspects of the Ward approach of spectacular and the rockhound approach for classification and interpretation. We suspect that for the Academy, as elsewhere, the pendulum has begun to swing to a better balance of education, entertainment, and inquiry, and basic research continues unabated.