Museum collections center a fascinating visit, too

Museum collections center a fascinating visit, too

A short drive from the Illinois State Museum is its Research and Collections Center, a 97,000-square-foot facility holding everything from mastodon bones to a whale rib from the University of Illinois to grains of pollen.

Researchers from a variety of fields use the facility, said Eric Grimm, director of science. Climate change researchers are using the fossils and other holdings — some of them collected nearly a century before — to collect data and see how good temperature and precipitation models are.

Chris Widga, assistant curator of geology, walks through ceiling-high shelves of mastodon bones and other fossils as he describes his work in refining the proteins found in fossils for a more accurate dating procedure.

Some of the fossils he is using were collected in the 1920s, but "they don't just sit on a shelf and collect dust," Widga says.

Down the hall, in another climate-controlled room, curator of anthropology Jonathan Reyman shows a tiny sample of the artifacts in the collection — and explains how it is constantly updated. Items like jewelry had been stored in bags and then in trays, Reyman says, and prevented researchers from seeing an entire necklace without undue handling. A staff member's creative use of ethofoam — and some grant funding — have allowed for the slow updating of storage, improving preservation and research, he says.

"We pride ourselves on the best collections management," Reyman says.

A final stop on the tour is with Meredith Mahoney, assistant curator of zoology, in a roomful of preserved bears, wolves and other creatures that once roamed Illinois. Mahoney says it is a favorite of children who visit when the collections center is open to the public.

Says Jennifer Snopko, external affairs assistant for the museum, "The RCC is only open during special events, or one must make an appointment.

"We have brown bag lectures every Wednesday at noon, and then we also have a Paul Mickey Science Series that happens on the second Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m."

The site also features a Carol Hall Science Series once a year that offers a hands-on, behind-the-scenes science workshop for junior high students, and once a year a behind-the-scenes event for members only.

"One can become a member of the museum via our website, mail it in, or sign up at the museum," she says.

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