Behind the Scenes Day presents a rare opportunity to see the inner workings at the four museums of the Ruthven Museums Building on the U-M Central Campus each year. The Museums of Anthropology, Natural History, Paleontology, and Zoology welcomed some 350 visitors into collections areas, research laboratories, exhibit preparation areas, and other spaces not usually open to the public, Sunday, January 27, 2013.  They met scientist-curators, collection managers, exhibit preparators, and student researchers, and learned about their work.

The Museum of Zoology contains millions of preserved biological specimens – from miniscule mites to gargantuan whale skeletons. The diversity of life represented in U-M collections is truly staggering. Visitors examined specimens including reptiles, amphibians, insects, mollusks, mammals, fish, and birds, and learned how research on museum specimens contributes to the study of global biodiversity, climate change and evolution.

Tours of the Museum of Paleontology led by curators and research staff took visitors into laboratories where research is conducted on Ice Age mammoths and mastodons, and the evolution of whales. They learned how paleontologists capture 3-D information on the shape and structure of fossils to enhance the understanding of the lives of ancient organisms. They saw actual specimens of species that inhabited our planet many thousands to millions of years ago.

The curiosity of the visitors together with the enthusiasm and expertise of the staff made for an exciting and successful day. Special thanks to the following EEB volunteers: birds: Janet Hinshaw, Sara Cole, Emile Moacdieh; mammals: Steve Hinshaw; reptiles and amphibians: Dan Rabosky, Alison Davis Rabosky, Jay Reed, Daniel Winfield; insects: Mark O'Brien; fishes: Doug Nelson; mollusks: Cindy Bick, Tom Duda, Samantha Flowers, Taehwan Lee,  Jingchun Li, Diarmaid Ó Foighil, Paula Teichholtz. Professor Daniel Fisher led tours for the Museum of Paleontology along with graduate students from Earth and Environmental Sciences and a recent undergraduate student. The event is coordinated by the Museum of Natural History.

If you’re feeling like you missed out, you can go behind the scenes next year!

A photo and caption appeared in the University Record Update, Wednesday, Jan. 30

Captions: (top to bottom) Credit: Dale Austin

Deep in the research wing of the Ruthven Museums Building, Joseph El Adli (right), a paleontology graduate student, reveals secrets hidden within a mastodon skull.

A wide-eyed young visitor inspects tiny dinosaur teeth up close. She was amazed at how tiny some fossils are. Joseph El Adli discusses how difficult it was to separate the little teeth from the dirt.

Taehwan Lee, collection coordinator and assistant research scientist, Mollusk Division, explains the differences between terrestrial and marine mollusks to Kathleen LaJeunesse. Previously, dry shells were kept in the collections but now full specimens are kept in alcohol so that DNA is available.

Steve Hinshaw (right), collection manager, Mammal Division, reveals the contents of one of thousands of specimen drawers.