Greg Pandelis, EEB undergrad, thinks that events like ID Day are important because they bring the public, and especially the young public, into the museum for a hands-on experience that can generate excitement for the biological sciences. Image credit: Kira Berman.

Curiosity was the buzzword of the day at the 20th annual ID Day at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History where scientists and the community convened with mystery items for identification and the sharing of scientific knowledge.

The ABCs of mystery items ranged from agate, bird nest and carp skeleton to a vole skull (from an owl pellet), wolf spider and a zig zag scallop. Over 500 community members stopped in for ID Day between noon to 5 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. With over 50 volunteers, organizers think it was the largest number of presenters in the history of the event. “Each and every one of you makes this a successful event,” said Kira Berman, director of education, Museum of Natural History, who organizes the popular event. This article focuses on the volunteers from the University of Michigan Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, who work at the U-M Museum of Zoology

Bradley Gilbert, an EEB undergraduate student volunteer asked a young boy if he'd like to touch a fox fur, “his eyes widened as he touched it, and he said simply, ‘woah!’ I enjoyed the volunteering experience immensely! It was really cool to show people fascinating things about mammals and watch their reactions. Events like these are especially important for communicating the importance of museums and the value of studying wildlife and nature to the public, specifically the youth.”

Greg Pandelis, EEB undergrad, said, “Volunteering was one of the most fun experiences I've had. Getting to interact with young science enthusiasts and sharing knowledge with others was amazing! I think events like these are important because they bring the public and especially the young public in the museum for a hands-on experience that can generate excitement for the biological sciences. These events are of paramount importance to the future of these fields.”

The event emphasized how scientific collections are used for research and so, in addition to the items that scientific sleuths brought to the museum for expert identification, researchers shared special items from their collections and discussed how they’re used to help make new discoveries.

Anat Belasen, EEB grad student, had fun with the kids at the Reptile and Amphibian Division display. Her favorite part of ID Day was when a little girl was helping little boys overcome their fear of snakes, an unexpected role reversal. "Yay girls and snakes!" she said. Image credit: Kira Berman.

EEB graduate student Shawn Colborn said, “It was absolutely wonderful. I really enjoyed sharing the lab's research with interested kids and parents, as well as seeing their excited faces when they found an animal on one of our images.” Colborn is referring to wildlife camera trap images taken at the University of Michigan Biological Station as part of their citizen science project, Michigan Zoomin. Professor Nyeema Harris was amused by a child who, when asked to identify what animal was in an image that didn’t have any visible animals in it, replied “ants.”  

Colborn said it was a treat to walk around the museum and visiting other tables. “I have to say that outreach is probably my favorite part of what I do. I think it is extremely important to get the general public interested in what we are doing here at the university, as their support is fundamental to all of our work.”

“Whenever I identify certain mollusks species on my display and what they do, it’s always followed by oohing and aahing and ‘wow that is so cool!’ That's one of the most satisfying things about holding events like the Museum ID Day,” said Cindy Bick, EEB graduate student. 

“I've been doing this for several years now as a graduate student in the Mollusk Division. As a scientist, it’s an exercise in trying to reach a broader audience and looking for ways to connect the relevancy of science in people's everyday lives.

“Now more than ever, science communication and literacy are very important. When we communicate ideas more effectively to the public, science thrives. Not only do events like ID Day build support for science but it also promotes understanding of its broader impacts to society. Many of the people that come to ID Day are families with children. I think ID Day promotes science literacy that can inform decision-making at all levels, from government to communities to individuals. Events like ID Day also have an impact in diversity and inclusiveness because it makes science accessible to audiences that traditionally have been excluded from the process of science,” said Bick. 

The event coincided with National Fossil Day and children had the opportunity to earn National Park Service Junior Ranger badges in paleontology. 

With thanks to the following EEB volunteers: undergraduate students: Galen Burrell, Bradley Gilbert, Natalie Greenhalgh, Gregory Pandeli, Victoria Zakrzewski (biology); graduate students: Anat Belasen, Cindy Bick, Peter Cerda, Shawn Colborn, Michael Grundler, Joanna Larson, Paula Matzke, Tristan McKnight, Carlos Muñoz-Ramirez, Pascal Title, Lisa Walsh, Andrew Wood; postdoctoral fellows: Ryutaro Goto, Amanda Haponski, Talia Moore; Collection managers, curators and faculty: Alison Davis Rabosky, Thomas Duda, Nyeema Harris, Janet Hinshaw, Taehwan Lee, Diarmaid Ó Foighil, Barry OConnor, Daniel Rabosky , Priscilla Tucker; intern: Mary Margaret Ferraro.

Other participating museums and departments included: The Museum of Paleontology, Museum of Archaeological Anthropology, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Department of Mechanical Engineering, U-M Library, and several external organizations.

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