Peabody reveals renovated Hall of Minerals

Next week the Peabody Museum of Natural History will unveil the final piece of a major renovation project on its third floor.

The addition, called “Human Impact,” will display how minerals are used in modern society, completing the five-year renovation of the Hall of Minerals, Earth and Space, which was last updated in the 1970s, Peabody Museum director Derek Briggs said. In addition to two new rooms, the Peabody Museum has expanded its gem and mineral collection while making displays more interactive, said geology and geophysics professor and Peabody Museum curator Jay Ague.

Faculty members at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies proposed the addition, industrial ecology professor Thomas Graedel said. The addition, he added, was funded with about $9,000 from the National Science Foundation and $7,000 from A-1 Specialized Services & Supplies, a private recycling company based in Croydon, Penn.

While museums traditionally display minerals in their unprocessed form, Graedel said, the new addition draws attention to challenges related to recycling metals that are used in man-made devices, such as the platinum used in a car’s catalytic converter. The addition also includes a display about the availability of metals such as copper and iron in the future, Ague said.

“We have a lot of iron, but copper might start to become more scarce and more expensive,” Ague said.

Geology professor Karl Turekian ’65, who has been a curator at the Peabody Museum since the 1960s, said the renovations give a more coherent flow to the displays. While specimens were previously displayed primarily in cases with small labels, the hall now contains digital displays, updated specimens and signs that encourage visitor interaction, he said. For example, a giant copper nugget once covered in a case is now placed on the wall with dramatic lighting to catch people’s attention, said Laura Friedman, an exhibit designer working on the addition.

The hall now also contains a more extensive space science display, such as the display of carbonaceous chondrites, or meteorites that contain organic matter, Turekian said. In addition, the hall includes materials that were previously placed in storage, such as a specimen from the first documented fall of a meteorite in the New World, which was collected in 1807 by Benjamin Silliman, class of 1799, Yale’s first chemistry professor. There is also a preserved lightning stick on display, consisting of sand that was fused together by the heat of a lightning strike, Ague said.

Also new are exhibits about the history of Connecticut’s geology, Ague said. Although most of Connecticut is relatively flat, Ague said, the state was once filled with mountains that slowly eroded due to rain and wind. As they eroded, swampy areas were buried in the rubble from the mountains, forming what became coal deposits, he said.

Gems have also received a larger focus in the new hall, due to specimens Benjamin Zucker ’62 lent to the museum, Ague said. The gems on loan include old diamonds with few facets that illustrate the difficultly of cutting diamonds in the past, he added. Zucker, a New York City-based gem dealer, was a major financial contributor to the renovations of the Hall of Minerals, Earth and Space. The first phase, which opened in spring 2006, focused on meteorites and space, Ague said. The second phase, which opened in fall 2008, focused on minerals and the geology of Connecticut.

The Peabody Museum next plans to renovate its fossil halls, which have not been updated since the 1940s.

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