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  • Behind the Scenes of Weather to Climate: Our Changing World

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    Tags: exhibit, climate, climate change, behind the scenes

    Created: 3/21/2016      Updated: 3/28/2016

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    weather to climate exhibit logo

    At the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, we pride ourselves on producing self-created exhibits on timely issues that will resonate with our family audience. As we celebrate the rich history of our institution during its 160th anniversary, we are busy putting the finishing touches on our most ambitious exhibit yet, one that puts one of the most consequential issues of our time into perspective for families in a fun environment.

    On April 2nd, the Nature Museum will open Weather to Climate: Our Changing World. The exhibit will present in an accessible way the fundamentals of weather and climate, the science behind climate change, and what actions people can take to reduce our own impact. The exhibit will run through October 23, 2016 and drive a community-wide conversation about climate change.

    behind the scenes of weather to climate

    For the last two years — thanks in large part to a diverse collaboration of subject matter experts including Molly Woloszyn at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center and Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel — we have immersed ourselves in this important issue. By creating Weather to Climate from the ground up, we were able to put a truly personal touch on the exhibit. Throughout this process, we worked hand-in-hand with our education department to make sure the interactive content is presented in a way that is easy to understand. In addition, the exhibit will facilitate ways for visitors to continue discussing climate change after they have left the Nature Museum. 

    This exhibit also represents our biggest foray into multi-media. The exhibit will feature interactive displays, video games, weather simulations, climate labs and more, including an immersive entry experience where guests can experience the sensations of different types of weather. From a design standpoint, it has been fascinating to see ideas initially scratched out on paper be transformed into active, dynamic content.

    behind the scenes of weather to climate

    In addition to the interactive, multi-media elements, the exhibit will also include a selection of animals from our living collections. The animals featured will represent some of the animals that are likely to experience an increase or decrease in population as a result of climate change.

    The Nature Museum is dedicated to creating a positive relationship between people and nature through collaborations, education, research and exhibitions such as Weather to Climate. As Chicago’s urban gateway to nature and science we could not be more proud to bring this global conversation to our own community. Join us on April 2nd as we open Weather to Climate and begin that dialogue.

    Alvaro Ramos
    Vice President and Curator of Museum Experience 

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  • Chicago's Explorers

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, history, timeline, exhibit, Chicago's Explorers, Illinois, Midwest, ecology, education

    Created: 1/14/2016      Updated: 7/29/2016

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    The Chicago Academy of Sciences has been a leader in local ecology and scientific education for 159 years. To commemorate the anniversary of our founding on January 13, 1857, our new exhibit, "Chicago's Explorers," highlights the institution's scientific and educational activities. The exhibit will be on display at the Nature Museum through the end of February.

    Chicago's Explorers timeline and exhibit

    Specimens and photos on display in Chicago's Explorers exhibit

    Specimens on display in Chicago's Explorers exhibit

    Specimens and publications on display

    If you'd like to learn more about the Academy's history, check out our detailed timeline, which will continue to grow as we continue to explore. We hope you enjoy our exhibit and get out to explore nature in Chicago with us! 

    Dawn Roberts

    Director of Collections

    Chicago’s Explorers

     

    The Saloon Building in Chicago, 1839

    The Saloon Building in Chicago, 1839

    (Image courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)

    The Saloon Building is where Chicago’s first city government was formed and oversaw the fastest growing city in the world.  It was also here that a group of forward-thinking scientists, physicians, and business leaders founded The Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences on January 13, 1857.  Some of these founders had been a part of the Smithsonian Institution, which opened its doors just 11 years earlier.  The institution was incorporated in 1859 as “The Chicago Academy of Sciences,” which remains our institutional name today.

     

    Robert Kennicott Kennicott’s caribou shirt

    Robert Kennicott, ca. 1860 (left)  

    (Image courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

    Kennicott’s caribou shirt, ca. 1860 (right)

    The collections of Robert Kennicott formed the core of the Academy’s initial scientific collections.  His expansive studies of Illinois fauna resulted in the discovery of many species new to science, some of which were named after him by other scientists, including the stripe-tail darter (Etheostoma kennicotti) and the western screech owl (Otus kennicotti).  Kennicott also led the first U.S. scientific study of Russian America—the place that eventually became the state of Alaska.  He died there while on expedition, on May 13, 1866.

    1871

    The Great Chicago Fire consumed the city for three days from October 8 to 10, 1871.  On the final day, the fire approached the Academy.  The building was equipped with a fire proof vault and, with this in mind, staff quickly stored everything of importance there, expecting the building to be damaged but their valuable scientific collections and research notes to be saved.  The heat from the fire was so great that it melted the supports of an ornamental limestone cornice at the top of the building, causing it to fall and crash through the roof of the vault.  This structural failure allowed the fire to sweep inside and destroy the vault’s contents, along with the museum and most of the rest of the collections.

    Academy staff were devastated.  William Stimpson, the Academy’s director from 1866 to 1872 and a prominent malacologist (a scientist who studies shelled animals such as clams), lost his life’s work in the fire.  In just a few moments the “the Smithsonian of the West” and the fourth largest scientific collection in the country was gone, and the Academy’s future was in question.

     

    Matthew Laflin Memorial Building

    Matthew Laflin Memorial Building, 1894

    Following the fire, the scientific community and public rallied around the Academy.  Businessman and philanthropist Matthew Laflin was the primary funder for a new building, which opened on October 31, 1894 in Lincoln Park.  In this new space, much of the Academy’s earlier scientific work, including natural history collecting, was able to continue and a new emphasis was placed on community involvement.  This would be the Academy’s home for the next 100 years.

     

    Frank C. Baker in the field around Skokie, 1908

    Frank C. Baker in the field around Skokie, 1908

    At its founding, the Academy was one of only a few natural history museums in the nation.  As such, its purview extended from coast to coast.  As other similar institutions were founded, the Academy narrowed its scientific work to focus primarily on the Midwest and on specific kinds of organisms. Frank Baker, an Academy curator from 1894 to 1915 and prominent malacologist, conducted ecological surveys across Illinois and scientifically described many new species of snails.  Among his significant publications are The Mollusca of the Chicago Region, several papers on anatomy of Lymnaea (a group of common pond snails), and a taxonomy of the family Muricidae (a diverse group of sea snails).  Many of these publications are still relevant to malacological research today, and the historical record provided by Baker’s surveys gives us high-quality comparison data to assess how our local ecosystem has changed in the past hundred years.

     

    Academy staff developing a photographic enlargement for a diorama, ca. 1915

    Academy staff developing a photographic enlargement for a diorama, ca. 1915

    Traditionally, animal specimens were preserved as study skins or as crudely stuffed mounts.  Then, in the early 1910s, a man named Carl Akeley pioneered new specimen preparation techniques that enabled him to create more realistic displays.  The Academy also began to experiment with these ideas, and devised large, meticulously detailed dioramas as a new way to represent local species and natural areas.

    Frank Woodruff, an ornithologist, curator, and director at the Academy from 1896 to 1926, oversaw the development of the “Chicago Environs Series,” a group of exhibits that presented natural areas around Chicago.  His first life-size diorama, depicting the dunes ecosystem and the Calumet River, used photographs that were enlarged up to 11 feet high by 10 feet wide for the backdrops.  Here, Woodruff (in suspenders) and other Academy staff process one of these diorama backdrops.

     

    Academy field trip to Starved Rock State Park, ca. 1915

    Academy field trip to Starved Rock State Park, ca. 1915

    Field trips, like the one pictured here, were among the many ways the Academy actively included the Chicago community in its scientific work and promoted the appreciation of nature.  Students who accompanied Academy naturalist Henry Cowles to the Indiana Dunes gathered data that eventually resulted in his theory of ecological succession—the idea that a habitat naturally progresses (e.g. from pond to wetland to shrubland to forest) as certain species dominate resources and then die off.  In addition to offering field trips, the Academy’s innovative teacher training programs helped make Chicago’s teachers some of the most scientifically literate educators around, while lectures, films, and nature walks were popular with the broader community.  For local naturalist groups, the Academy provided a home with space to meet and experts to interact with.

    Leonara Gloyd in Arizona with a badger, 193Howard K. Gloyd in Arizona, 1937

    Leonara Gloyd in Arizona with a badger, 1937 (left)

    Howard K. Gloyd in Arizona, 1937 (right)

    Continuing efforts to document and study biodiversity, the Academy conducted several faunal surveys of the American Southwest between 1937 and 1946.  The specimens, photographs, and motion film brought back to Chicago were shared through public lectures and publications, providing many Chicagoans with their first look at this desert environment.  Spearheading the Arizona expeditions was Howard Gloyd, a herpetologist and director of the Academy from 1936 to 1958.  Among many other scientific advancements, Gloyd published “The Rattlesnakes:  Genera Sistrurus and Crotalus” and so defined North America’s most iconic snakes, including Illinois’ now-endangered Massasauga.  His wife, Leonara, studied dragonflies and accompanied him on at least one of the Arizona expeditions.

    William J. Beecher at a local beach along Lake Michigan with a reporter looking at birds killed by a major storm, 1969

    William J. Beecher at a local beach along Lake Michigan with a reporter looking at birds killed by a major storm, 1969

    During the 1960s and ‘70s, the Academy revitalized its exhibits and expanded its education and outreach programs to further focus on Midwestern ecology.  Under the leadership of William Beecher, director from 1958 to 1982 and an avid ornithologist and photographer, the Academy increased its involvement in local environmental issues, from preserving the Indiana Dunes to monitoring bird collisions with windows.  Beecher also implemented the Junior Academy of Sciences, a program aimed at middle and high school students to provide extracurricular learning opportunities for young people interested in science.  Today we still have active volunteers who began in the Junior Academy fifty years ago.

    Academy symposiums, 1988 to 1990

    Academy symposiums, 1988 to 1990

    Throughout its history, Academy lectures and symposiums have provided a venue for the community to learn about and be involved in scientific discussion.  From the 1970s to 1990s the focus shifted away from taxonomic research to address pressing environmental issues, science education practices, and urban biodiversity.  Among the influential meetings hosted by the Academy:

    • “The Chicago Urban Environmental Conference” (1977) helped coalesce the land stewardship movement in Chicago.
    • “Understanding Chimpanzees Symposium” (1986) and “Understanding Chimpanzees: Diversity and Survival” (1991) were attended by Jane Goodall and later credited by her as influencing to her work.
    • “Science Learning in the Informal Setting” (1987) highlighted the importance of experiential learning.
    • “Sustainable Cities Symposium: Preserving and Restoring Urban Biodiversity” (1990) was an early recognition of the role that urban habitat plays in conservation.

    Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 1999

    Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 1999 

    (Photo credit Dan Rest)

    After 100 years in the Laflin Building, the Academy opened the doors to its new, larger home in Lincoln Park, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, in October 1999.  The Nature Museum provided the Academy a fresh venue through which to engage its audiences and continue to address the local environment in its exhibits, programs, and research.

    Examples of Academy conservation work, 2001 to 2015, including butterflies, fieldwork and squirrels

    Academy conservation work, 2001 to 2015

    Since 2001, the Academy has been leading conservation efforts for a variety of local, threatened species.   In the Istock Family Butterfly Conservation Lab, thousands of rare butterflies are bred for release, including the Swamp Metalmark (Calephelis muticum) and Regal Fritillary (Speyeria idalia).  Partnering with the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, Academy staff have raised and released 236 baby Blanding’s turtles into the Chicago Wilderness region.  Just this past fall, an Academy scientist found a hatchling Blanding’s turtle in the wild—the first one recorded within the project area since 1998. 

    Conservation efforts at the Academy include both animal husbandry and wild population monitoring, the success of which is largely due to the active participation of volunteer citizen scientists.  Today, the Academy leads several citizen science initiatives: the Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, Project Squirrel, and The Calling Frog Survey.  Award-winning lesson plans, teacher development courses, and public programs build on and support the Academy’s conservation efforts.

    Explore nature in Chicago with us!

    Chicago is an urban area, and yet, nature exists all around us.  What kind of nature is in your backyard or neighborhood?  How do you interact with nature?  Share your urban nature experiences with us through social media, #urbannature.

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  • The Endangered Species Print Project Brings New Attention to Rare Animals

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    Tags: Endangered Species, endangered species print project, jenny kendler, molly schafer, exhibit, rare nature

    Created: 9/26/2014      Updated: 8/24/2015

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    This week's post was contributed by artist Molly Schafer. Her work, along with that of her friend Jenny Kendler and other artists, can currently be seen at the Nature Museum as part of the "Rare Nature" exhibit (open through October 19). The exhibit features limited edition prints of endangered species, with proceeds going toward conservation efforts. In this post, Schafer describes the Endangered Species Print Project's origin story.

    Jenny and I met in graduate school at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We were both making art about the natural world. We talked about wanting to make more of a contribution to conservation efforts, but we were somewhat at a loss as to how since our skill set revolved around drawing and painting.

    Rare Nature exhibit

    "Rare Nature" exhibit currently on display at the Nature Museum (Photo by Jim Schafer)

    As children we both were obsessed with these illustrations of endangered species in outer space that decorated our folders and binders. The message of these images was that endangered species were magical and rare. As kids, that made them much neater to us than “regular” animals. As artists, it made us think of how monetary value is assigned to art objects. One of a kind, rare pieces are considered more desirable. The less endangered an animal was, the less precious it seemed, at least to our nerdy younger selves.

    Seychelles Sheathtailed Bat print

    Seychelles Sheath-tailed bat (Print by artist Molly Schafer)

    This unsettling thought gave us the concept for the Endangered Species Print Project (ESPP). ESPP creates art prints of endangered species with limited editions to mirror the small number of individuals remaining in the wild. For example, the Seychelles Sheath-tailed bat is critically endangered with only 37 individuals remaining, so the print-run is limited to 37 prints. Once all 37 prints are sold the edition is sold out. Proceeds from the sale of prints benefits the animal or plant represented in a print.

    We started the project in 2009 with Jenny and I creating the artwork for the prints. Today ESPP has raised almost $12,500 for conservation with 26 prints by 14 different artists. All contributing artists donate their time and finished work to bring attention to the extinction crisis.

    Visit Rare Nature at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to see the prints and learn about the amazing variety of plants and animals that are endangered like the Vaquita (the world’s smallest porpoise), the Javan rhino (who is so rare it has barely been photographed), and the Guam Micronesian Kingfisher (a bird that is currently extinct in the wild but still has a chance thanks to a breeding program right here in Chicago).

    Molly Schafer and Jenny Kendler

    Molly Schafer & Jenny Kendler (Photo by Michael Czerepak)

    Molly Schafer

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  • Exploring Antarctica with J.J. L'Heureux

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    Tags: exhibits, exhibit, antarctica, leheureux, penguin, penguins, southern ocean

    Created: 9/22/2014      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    The following post was contributed by artist and photographer J.J. L’Heureux. L’Heureux’s prints of Antarctica and the Southern Ocean are currently on display as part of the Nature Museum’s exhibition “Faces from the Southern Ocean.” In this post, she describes visiting Antarctica’s Snow Hill Island Emperor Penguin Rookery and some of the snowy challenges she and her group encountered.

    I was raised in Michigan and I am not unmindful of harsh winter conditions. The trip to the Snow Hill Island Emperor Penguin Rookery added some new twists on winter. In order to visit the rookery we had to helicopter from the ship to a landing site about two kilometers from the rookery and behind a grounded iceberg. The first day we did this the day was lightly overcast, a little windy and just a bit cold.

    Weddell Seal Pup

    Weddell Seal Pup (J.J. L’Heureux)

    Antarctica is all about snow and what 100,000 years of snow looks like in all its forms. There is an enormous amount of ice that was really snow that did not melt. Antarctica is also the driest continent on Earth and yet it has most of the fresh water of Earth locked up in the ice that can be miles thick. The ice is created by snow falls that generally do not melt. From year to year, these snow falls build up on one another and ice is created by the pressure of each new layer covering the thousands of previous snow falls. The skin on top is often crusty snow or ice particles. When a wind comes up blizzard conditions can develop almost immediately, even if there are no clouds or fresh falling snow. The wind-driven snow then acts like a Zamboni on a hockey rink. The ice that lies beneath the crusty skin becomes extremely smooth and slippery. The higher the velocity of the wind, the harder it becomes to walk on the very smooth, slippery ice. These conditions briefly describe the second and third days on the ice south of Snow Hill Island. It was challenging to walk upright; the high wind and slick surface were difficult for everyone including the penguins. In fact, most of the Emperors were tobogganing across the ice rather than walking to the open sea to fish seven or eight miles away.

    Emperor Penguin Chick

    Emperor Penguin Chick (J.J. L’Heureux)

    Drifting snow/ice crust builds up when the sun melts the surface covering and it then freezes during the night and stays frozen until the sun comes out again or there is a new snow fall. There were drifts to be negotiated on the back and forth treks across mostly barren slippery ice to the rookery. Since the crusty surface of the drifts had been wind swept away one sometimes found themselves in knee deep or waist deep drifts that would not support your weight. The smart thing then was to play follow the leader, just like the penguins, and make a path through these drifts. These paths are always blazed by a lead party that checks for crevices or other hidden dangers and they lay out a red flag marked trail. At one point I stepped one foot off the path and went into the drift such that I could not free myself. Fortunately, right behind me was Russ Russell, a mining engineer from Guernsey, who is easily 6' 6" and capable of Superman feats. He just reached out and like the cranes that bring the zodiacs aboard, lifted me effortless from my snowy prison. Keep in mind that we were working against high winds and vertical snow. The second and third days were the most difficult for me because the cloud cover contributed to colder conditions and much darker lighting.

    This provides a sense of the conditions for the three particular days of the Snow Hill Island Emperor Penguins Rookery landings, and under these conditions many wonderful and special events took place that one can only marvel at in their uniqueness.

    J.J. L’Heureux

    J.J. L’Heureux

    J.J. L’Heureux

    Read more about J.J. L’Heureux’s experiences in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica by visiting her blog. You can also learn more about her work by visiting her site, Penguinspirit. Get a glimpse into the world of the Southern Ocean by visiting the “Faces from the Southern Ocean” exhibition, now on display.

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  • Bird Collections -- Looking Up Close

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, ornithology, bird, specimen, exhibit

    Created: 7/27/2013      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    Bird watching is a popular activity and one where there are few barriers to participation. Both young and old can participate and from any geographic location; you can watch birds in your backyard through kitchen windows or venture out to more wild areas. With this ready access to living birds, what role do bird collections play?

    One of the greatest advantages is that specimens allow for up close inspection, for as long as desired. This can be particularly helpful when you want to study a species that is difficult to find in its habitat, when you’re just learning how to identify a species, or when you want to compare features from different individuals.

    Eastern bluebird study skin

    An Eastern bluebird study skin, Sialia sialis, collected from Diamond Lake, Illinois in 1904.

    Bird collections are used for all sorts of research. For instance, museum oology collections were used to identify the effects of DDT on bird egg shells, which lead to banning the use of this hazardous substance.  Specimens are used to track changes in a species’ range – check out the range maps the next time you open an identification book; data from museum collections are often used in the creation of these maps.

    Northern Shoveller nest and egg specimens

    Here is a nest and egg set of a Northern Shoveller, Anas clypeata.

    Specimens that are taxidermied in a behavioral posture are utilized frequently for exhibits. These specimens help illustrate behavior and bring them to visitors who may not have the opportunity to see them first hand in the wild.  In order to successfully convey the true nature of an animal, taxidermists need an understanding of how musculature works, but also have an understanding of the animal. Extensive observation of living animals aides in the understanding of a particular species’ behavior, how an animal moves and balances as its walks, and how it interacts with other animals.

    Gambel’s quail mounted specimen

    Gambel’s quail, Callipepla gambelii, mounted specimen.

    The next time you visit the Nature Museum, take a little extra time to study the specimens on display. Note their particular features – the shape of their beaks, the differences in the shape of their feet, the coloration of their feathers.  What can you impart from these features about their diet or their activities? Through this observation, you may gain a more thorough understanding of the animals living in this urban nature environment and even spot them more easily in their natural habitat.

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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