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Visitors Enjoy Earth Science Day at the USGS Campus in Menlo Park, California

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USGS Director Marcia McNutt works with brothers Nathan, Ryan, and Ethan Chi to match rock samples to outcrop areas on a geologic map.
Above: USGS Director Marcia McNutt works with brothers Nathan (far left), Ryan (second from right), and Ethan Chi (right) to match rock samples to outcrop areas on a geologic map. Third from right is USGS scientist Dan Mosier, who created and hosted the activity. Photograph by Paul Laustsen, USGS. [larger version]

The rumble of the Quake Cottage could be heard all over campus on Earth Science Day, when approximately 1,000 schoolchildren explored displays and hands-on activities at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, California. Students in grades 2 through 6 and their teachers and chaperones enjoyed 30 presentations set up especially for the event, held April 22, 2010, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

The students created human seismic waves, put together plate-tectonic puzzles to "Reunite Gondwana" (a "supercontinent" in the Southern Hemisphere 225 million years ago), drove a remote-controlled rover designed to explore Earth and other planets, matched rock samples with outcrop areas on geologic maps, compared the eruptive styles of Mount St. Helens and Kilauea, and, yes, got shaken up in the Quake Cottage, a Mobile Earthquake Simulator demonstrated by the Safe-T-Proof Disaster Preparedness Co. USGS scientists hosting the event spent the day talking with visitors and teaching them about the Earth through a range of activities.

Among the displays with coastal or marine themes were:

  • "Fly Over the Sea Floor," hosted by Pete Dartnell, in which students took virtual flights over underwater terrain as revealed by USGS bathymetric data.

  • "Microfossils and Tree Rings, Age and Climate Change," hosted by Mary McGann with assistance from Holly Olson and John Barron, in which students examined tree rings and the microscopic shells of single-celled marine animals called foraminifera, and learned how their characteristics are used to determine ages and past climate conditions.

  • "Coral Reef Ecosystems," hosted by Nancy Prouty with assistance from Susie Cochran, in which students played a coral-reef "I Spy" game and used coloring pages to learn about coral and coral-reef ecosystems.

  • "Topographic Salad-Tray Models," hosted by Mike Torresan and Carol Reiss with assistance from Tracy Conrad, in which students stacked clear plastic trays with a contour line on each to create 3D models of Angel Island (in San Francisco Bay) and Monterey Submarine Canyon in Monterey Bay.

  • "How Clean Is Clean?", hosted by Brent Topping and James Kuwabara, in which students used a conductivity meter to guess which water was which (ocean water, bay water, tap water, bottled water, high-purity lab water).

A special guest at this year's event was USGS Director Marcia McNutt, in town to address employees at an all-hands meeting the following day. Director McNutt explored each exhibit, speaking with presenters and visitors, and trying her hand at the interactive exercises.

Director McNutt looks on as USGS geochemist Jim Kuwabara helps young visitors use a conductivity meter to determine the origin of various water samples. Students inspect a round from a coast live oak Tree History poem
Above left: Director McNutt looks on as USGS geochemist Jim Kuwabara helps young visitors use a conductivity meter to determine the origin of various water samples. Photograph by Francis Parchaso, USGS. [larger version]

Above center: Students inspect a round from a coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) approximately 130 years old. Labels mark interesting events, such as scars caused by fires and narrow rings caused by droughts. Photograph by Francis Parchaso. [larger version]

Above right: At the Poetry Corner, where students were invited to write poems about science, a student wrote a poem inspired by the tree-ring activity.

The enthusiasm of all who attended made it clear that the day was a hit, and thank-you e-mails received afterward by Earth Science Day Coordinator Christy Ryan confirmed the general thumbs-up. Here are excerpts from teachers' e-mails:

"Thank you for the very best field trip I have ever been on (and I have been teaching for 10 years)…." Amy Reeber, Buchser Middle School, Santa Clara, California.

"…It was awesome to witness the excitement and interest that our kids displayed as they toured the exhibits. We would like to express our gratitude to you and all the others who helped make this day a great success." The Second Grade Team, Cherry Chase School, Sunnyvale, California.

"The sun came out, the temperature rose—the day was SPECTACULAR!!!! Our parent chaperones were so impressed, and the kids just couldn't get enough of the exhibits…." Susan Smyth, Monroe Middle School, San Jose, California.

And here's a thank-you note from a homeschooling mom:

"We had so much fun at Earth Science Day! We spent a long time at the table where the boys placed rocks where they are found on the map of CA. It made us curious about the rock collection that the boys have in our backyard. We liked the topographic salad trays so much that we brought home the Angel Island map to make one of our own. We also enjoyed the volcano exhibits, especially the one that demonstrated what happens when a volcanic lake is saturated with carbon dioxide. The boys had fun driving the robotic rover over rocks, checking water purity, and trying out the earthquake machine. After several games of Jeopardy in the library, I managed to convince the boys it was time to go. By this time it was two o'clock and we hadn't had lunch yet. However, we had to stop at the interesting exhibits outside. We were really impressed with the turkey baster with sand in the bulb, and the ping-pong-ball examples in the exhibit about liquefaction. After learning about fault lines and safer buildings, we finally left at 2:30 p.m. As you can see, we had a great time! We really appreciate all the work USGS put into making Earth Science Day, and all of the friendly scientists who patiently answered our numerous questions. Thank you!" Erica Chi, mom to Ethan (age 9), Ryan (7), and Nathan (5).

To learn more about Earth Science Day at the Menlo Park campus, please visit http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/about/edu/esd/2010/.

Related Sound Waves Stories
Earth Science Day 2008 Delights Visitors to the USGS in Menlo Park, California
December 2008

Related Web Sites
USGS Menlo Park Science Center Earth Science Day 2010

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cover story:
Coastal Erosion at Cape Hatteras, NC

Geological Impacts of the Feb. 2010 Tsunami in Chile

USGS Tracks Sediment on Molokai's Reef

ResearchSignificant Natural-Gas Potential in Nile Delta

Outreach Girl Scouts Explore Geology

Earth Science Day in Menlo Park, CA

Meetings Knowledge Management Workshop

Awards David Rubin to Receive Pettijohn Medal

Staff Students Contribute to Modeling Morphologic Change

Publications July 2010 Publications

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