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SUNY Cortland’s Bowers Science Museum to formally open Sept. 28

By Journal Staff


CORTLAND — SUNY Cortland announced that its updated Ross E. Bowers Hall Science Museum and Greenhouse will formally open Sept. 28 with a ribbon-cutting event in the science complex’s first-floor lobby.

The recently renovated museum will offer a massive, interactive periodic table of elements, an ornithology exhibit featuring preserved passenger pigeons, and a mural that lets visitors “see” what the hills behind Bowers Hall looked like 17,000 years ago, the university said in a news release.

“Our guiding principles were that whatever was displayed needed to have an interesting story to it, have an educational component to it and it needed to look good,” Christopher McRoberts, professor of geology and curator of the museum, said in the release. “Our goal is to use that space both for our current students who walk through it, even for teaching in some regards, but also as a space that prospective students and people in the community can visit.”

Campus officials and other dignitaries are scheduled to offer remarks at the 11 a.m. ribbon cutting. A reception and facility tour is set to follow the ceremony.

McRoberts worked with faculty members from SUNY Cortland’s biological sciences, chemistry, and physics departments to decide what to showcase in the museum. Julio Torres Santana, who worked as a project coordinator in the university’s facilities planning, design and construction office during the Bowers Hall renovation, helped shape the design of the displays.

The “focal point” of the museum is a 15-panel mural, “Dreaming of our Ancient Land,” painted by Trumansburg–based artist Barbara Page. The mural portrays an ice-age view from the site of Bowers Hall, looking north toward Tully Valley. The flora, fauna, and glaciers in the painting are said to represent what would have been found in the region 17,000 years ago.

The mural, created as though there is a picture window in the building that lets visitors see back in time, serves as the background for the geology display case, the release stated. A pair of “erratics,” large rocks left when the glaciers melted at the end of the most recent ice age, lie in front of the mural. These geological specimens were collected locally. Geologic studies show that the rocks were originally plucked up by a glacier in Canada and moved south as the glacier grew.

Other items in the geology section of the Bowers Science Museum include a display on the area’s stratigraphy — the study of rock layers — and a “real-time” seismograph station that monitors earthquake activity.

McRoberts completed much of the work on the geology displays, writing descriptions for placards, drawing illustrations and mounting samples in display cases.

“I’m a paleontologist, so I’ve worked in museums an awful lot all around the world,” he said in the release. “I understand the value of collections in museums and that was one of the reasons why I was chosen as curator. I have no formal training in museums but I research in museums all the time.”

SUNY Cortland’s biological sciences department has displays focusing on the evolution of birds and modern microscopy. The college’s “renowned collection” of birds includes endangered and extinct species and was a focal point of the museum before the renovations. The collection includes a green jay, a Blackburnian warbler, an eastern screech owl and a red-headed woodpecker, among others.

The physics department’s main contributions include technological equipment through history. The chemistry department added a large touchscreen monitor that includes an interactive periodic table of the elements as well as posters from recent undergraduate research projects.

A new greenhouse facility outside Bowers Hall was completed this summer, the university said. The greenhouse has three growing areas for tropical, desert, and research flora. Steven Broyles, professor and chair of the biological sciences department, acquired about 100 rare and unusual plants from the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. to kick-start the college’s collection.                  

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