New science exhibit draws crowds to Cranbrook

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 23, 2011

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BLOOMFIELD HILLS — If you’re looking to get the kids off the couch while they’re home from school this holiday break, head over to Cranbrook Institute of Science. The museum is hosting a new exhibit called “Life on Earth!” featuring “Explore Evolution,” where visitors can learn about biodiversity through the ages.

The purpose behind the exhibit, according to geologist and paleontologist John Zawiskie, is to show people the beauty of diversity in nature and how the impact of human activity could be putting that beauty at risk.

“It is a fact that 75 percent of the ice-free land on Earth has been altered by human activity,” said Zawiskie. “Our resources need to be carefully managed to preserve some for the future.”

The display is split into two parts: “Life on Earth!” which explores changing patterns in biodiversity over time, and “Explore Evolution,” which examines several areas of evolution, from the adaptation and extinction of animals to the progression of humans and even viruses.

Zawiskie has been with Cranbrook for 15 years and spent months sifting through the museum’s collection of more than 150,000 items for the exhibit. The display also features contributions on loan from Wayne State University, the Smithsonian and private family collections. The result is an array of artifacts ranging from rare fossils and specimens to life-sized taxidermy figures and saltwater aquariums with live coral.

Many of the displays are interactive, and some include QR codes for guests who want more information on a topic. For the younger set, there’s a Galapagos Island play area where kids can look through telescopes at exotic animals or play aside a replica of Charles Darwin’s famed ship, the HMS Beagle.

Stephen Pagnani is head of communications for Cranbrook. He said the exhibition, which has been open since mid-October, has only added to the museum’s average of 180,000 visitors a year. He expects that while students are home for the duration of the holiday break, attendance will be especially high.

That’s good news for Zawiskie, who hopes to educate as many people as possible about the importance of biodiversity and how to preserve it as best we can — before it’s too late.

“In the exhibit, you’re introduced to the five periods of mass extinction through history. By the end, you’re presented with the question, ‘Are we in the midst of the sixth?’”

“Life on Earth!” featuring “Explore Evolution” runs through September 2012 and is free with the price of admission: $12.50 for adults, $9.50 for seniors and children under 12, and free for children younger than 2 and museum members.

Cranbrook Institute of Science is located at 39221 Woodward Ave. in Bloomfield Hills. For more information, including current museum hours, visit science.cranbrook.edu.

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