All Over the Map

The following story is contributed by The Saint Louis Science Center, one of Natural History magazine’s Museum Partners. Members of any of our partner organizations receive Natural History as a benefit of their museum membership. The Saint Louis Science Center is a three-building complex (the main building, the Montgomery Bank Exploradome, and the James S. McDonnell Planetarium) located in St. Louis, Missouri. It features more than 700 hands-on exhibits. In the Science Center galleries you can visit a life-sized animated Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops in the Ecology and Environment Galleries, unravel the mysteries of genetics in DNA Zone, climb in a giant kaleidoscope in the Human Adventure Galleries, play a laser harp or create a "virtual fish" in Cyberville, explore the science of engineering in Structures, cross over the interstate and watch the cars go by on the Bridge, visit the new Flight! Gallery in the tunnel between the main building and the Planetarium, and enjoy innovative live Amazing Science Demonstrations. In addition, the 11,000-square-foot Science Park outside the McDonnell Planetarium includes not only seating areas but also outdoor exhibits that let you experiment with the properties of sound, motion, and light. These exhibits include the Roller Coaster Gravity Race, Friction Slide, Color Maze, Whisper Dishes, Gears, Echo Tube, Giant Kaleidoscope, and Prizms. For further information, visit the Center’s Web site,

From Mt. Rainier to Mt. Everest, from polar bears to penguins, the Saint Louis Science Center is all over the map in 2009. You can travel to the ends of the earth without leaving the comfort of your favorite science center, or, you can literally travel to the ends of the earth by joining one of our international travel programs. And while you’re at it, you can get some answers to your questions about earth science, astronomy, archaeology, climate change, and other science issues in the news today.

Jim Koch (left) and Saint Louis Science Center friends in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park And while you’re at it, you can get some answers to your questions about earth science, astronomy, archaeology, climate change, and other science issues in the news today.

“Every location we go to is selected and our experiences are designed with the goal of exploring science,” says Ron Giesler, Director of Travel Programs. “I never get tired of seeing people’s reactions when they find their first fossil or identify Anasazi pottery during an excavation. It’s those moments of discovery that are so great. Those real hands-on science experiences that you usually only read about or see pictures of.” His 2009 trips include Yosemite, Hawaii, Denali, and the Grand Canyon, all part of the Science of National Parks Program.

Giesler emphasizes that you don’t have to be a science center member to join a trip and he welcomes referrals from other museums. Through the Science Beyond the Boundaries museum network, led by the Saint Louis Science Center, you can also join trips from museums all over the country. For example, check out the Timeless Tanzania safari from the Museum of Science, Boston.

“In visits to Tanzania, we witness dynamic forces that affect change in our world. We begin to understand our complex environment and how geologic, climatic, living and nonliving forces influence change in all life,” says Ken Pauley, Giesler’s counterpart in Boston. “We might not notice or understand the importance of these forces of change without the distance, the difference, the time, and the attention that safaris allow.”

Similarly, Saint Louis Science Center President Doug King recalls his Everest trek: “The world gets a whole lot clearer. You can walk all day long and not hear anything except yak bells and children laughing. It’s peaceful.” But it certainly wasn’t your average travel program. In 2007, he was one of 204 volunteers who were part of Caudwell Xtreme Everest scientists’ experiments on how the human body reacts to low oxygen levels. Their goal: saving more lives in intensive care units. On January 8, 2009, one of their studies, measuring the lowest human blood oxygen level ever recorded, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. If you would like to volunteer for one of their upcoming treks, email King enthusiastically recommends that you do! But if that’s a little too adventurous for you, visit the Science Center this spring and you’ll be able to conduct the same tests on yourself that are being done on Everest and see how you measure up. It’ll be a lot easier at sea level, where you’ve got plenty of oxygen, than at 29,000 feet. And watch for a new MacGillivray Freeman giant screen film, Return to Everest, currently in production.

Everest trek

For more travel on the giant screen, how about plunging down the Colorado River on a raft and seeing the Grand Canyon without leaving your seat? Grand Canyon Adventure is playing at the Science Center’s OMNIMAX® Theater through September 7, 2009. Or if you’d rather visit Africa, try Wild Ocean, playing April 17 through October 31, 2009.

Senior Vice President and Associate Director of the Museum Carol Valenta attended the Science Center’s Travel Program to Yosemite and taught watercolor classes in the National Park. “Whether I am painting a beautiful Yosemite wildflower or seeing the sobering vista of water loss from Lake Powell on the giant screen, I cannot forget how important it is for us to take care of the world we live in,” says Valenta. “At the Science Center we help people stay informed about issues like climate change, species preservation, and the looming water shortages on our planet. We provide a setting where you can ask questions and think these things through. That’s why we’re excited to bring an important exhibition like Polar Bears to Penguins to St. Louis.”

Ends of the Earth: From Polar Bears to Penguins will be in the Exploradome from May 14 to September 3, 2009. It is a traveling exhibit and multimedia experience that takes you from one end of the globe to the other to explore the fascinating—and cold!—worlds of the Arctic and Antarctic. Ends of the Earth explores the uniqueness of the earth’s polar regions and the current science being undertaken there. Find out about how these regions are indicators of climate change on our planet, without having to put on your snowshoes.

“I love to think of the world when dinosaurs ruled or imagine what it would be like to explore another planet,” says Ron Giesler. “I’ve always been an explorer at heart.” He and the entire Saint Louis Science Center staff extend a warm welcome to all fellow explorers!

St. Louis Science Center Travel Program

Koch and his bison skull

I saw the end of a boney object extending from an eroded bank and started to dig, not really knowing how much was still there. It took about an hour or so to get it out. It was a bison skull, almost totally intact. We strapped it onto my pack and I carried it back to the vehicles, a distance of about two miles. It is difficult to determine the age of the skull but it could be from the Pleistocene Era. —Jim Koch recalling the Saint Louis Science Center’s 2006 Paleotrek to Montana

If you're thinking about joining a Saint Louis Science Center travel program, the person you need to talk to is Jim Koch. He’s been on eight trips so far.

“I was born with a curiosity that pushed me toward trying to understand everything I saw,” explains Koch. Travel is one of the ways he satisfies that curiosity. When Koch says, “Travel gives me an opportunity for gaining knowledge and understanding of the world,” he means it. Koch has been on the Paleotrek trip to Montana twice and the Ancient Americans Cultures of the Southwest trip three times. He has also been to Greece on the Search for the Kings of the Trojan War trip, the Archaeology of the Pacific Northwest trip, and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park trip.

Maybe this spirit of adventure and discovery started back in New Wells, Missouri, a small town just north of Cape Girardeau where Koch grew up. “Living in a rural area, I was close to the natural world and was driven, even at a very young age, to understand it,” he explains. “My greatest interests were paleontology, archaeology, astronomy, and the earth sciences. However, I earned degrees in chemistry and later in business because that seemed a better route to a secure financial future. Many of the earlier interests were put on hold during my working life. I am now retired and have the opportunity to travel, observing and learning what I can. The Saint Louis Science Center Travel Programs are part of that mix.”

“Our nation is losing its preeminent position in the world in science, technology, and mathematics,” Koch states. “During the 1950s, 60s and 70s, after the launch of the Soviet Sputnik satellite, our country perceived a threat that was answered with renewed emphasis in these areas. But since then, that emphasis seems to have decreased.” Koch believes that it is important for the Science Center to continue to promote knowledge in science, technology, and mathematics, and his opinion is certainly consistent with the Science Center’s mission to ignite and sustain lifelong science and technology learning. “The Science Center gives many people the opportunity to be exposed to science in a way they could not if it weren’t for the programs and exhibits there,” he says, “and that includes travel.” To find out how to join one of the trips Koch enjoys, see the Travel Programs page at the Science Center’s Web site.