November 11, 2015

Students Explore Bones, Fossils in Snee Hall

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Students and members of the Ithaca community stepped back in time Wednesday night at the “A Night at the Snee Museum” event, which transformed Snee Hall into an interactive museum featuring mastodon bones, dinosaur footprints and fossils.


Students admire a display of rocks in Snee Hall Wednesday during an event hosted by the Science of Earth Systems Student Association. (Hui Tong / Sun Staff Photographer)

The event, which was organized by the Science of Earth Systems Student Association, engaged the Cornell community by allowing visitors to hold and take home fossils from Cayuga Lake and peer through microscopes in order to examine rock surfaces.

“We wanted to show Earth and Atmospheric Science department’s unique collection of mineral and fossils,” said Tanvi Chedda ’16, president of the Science of Earth Systems Student Association. “We wanted to communicate its research in incredibly beautiful, powerful and complex natural systems.”

Snee Hall is home to Cornell’s earth and atmospheric sciences department and houses displays that include an extensive collection of fossils, a seismograph station and the Heasley Museum, which contains minerals and glow-in-the-dark rocks. The event was organized as part of an outreach effort from the department, according to Ming Khan ’18, secretary of Science of Earth Systems Association.

“Our aim is to reignite the spirit of exploration and share our infectious curiosity,” Chedda said. “We hope that reinstating this relationship with our natural surroundings also invokes a feeling of stewardship for the planet.”

Preparations for the event began over a month ago, according to Khan. The organizers worked with Prof. Teresa Jordan, earth and atmospheric sciences, in order to take proper security precautions for the specimens loaned from the Paleontological Research Institute, she added.

“For the rocks, fossils and minerals in particular, tactile properties are just as important as visual properties, so some of our stations are able to engage multiple senses, which is a more effective means of learning,” Frank Tian ’18 said.

The event also featured a talk by gemologist Elise Skalwaold ’82, who talked about her work with rubies and other precious gems and explained the socioeconomic change that gemologists can bring to the countries these gems originate from.

Skalwaold, who majored in animal science as an undergraduate at Cornell, emphasized the importance of events like A Night at the Snee Museum to spark the curiosity of students and expose them to what people are doing in the world.

“University gets you on your path but you may change your path a lot of the times. Through these events you might just introduce something to someone that just clicks,” she said.

Nicholas Kam ’19, an attendee, said he found the event valuable through its hands-on presentation that showcased the intersectionality of multiple scientific fields.

“As a freshman, learning about science in a context a step beyond my major is really exciting,” Kam said. “The great thing about this event is the valuable experience you gain from speaking and interacting with students who are so passionate about earth sciences.”