As my 10-year-old looked at the replica of the human skull, she couldn’t tell if it was Caucasian, African, or Asian? How could we find out?

During an afternoon at the Rutgers Geology Museum Open House in New Brunswick, New Jersey, my daughters learned about the impact of meteorites, the importance of protecting marine bays and estuaries, how to drill for oil, and even how to analyze a human skull! This was the first time we went to the free, annual open house at Rutgers University.

IMG_6180-1-300x187We started by checking out the museum which had some nice mineral, rock, and fossil specimens including phosphorescent rocks, enormous ammonites, and even a fish swallowing another fish! There was an interesting case showing how some minerals are used for common household items. Not surprisingly, aluminum is used to make aluminum foil. Maybe less well-known is that garnet is used in making sand paper and calcium carbonate is in a lot of toothpastes. As interesting as these were, I thought the most fascinating part was the unwrapped body of a mummy!

IMG_6179-1-286x300My daughters did a couple of activities in the museum including making a fossil impression in modeling clay which they could wear as a necklace charm after it dried and stamping various dinosaur footprints to see how their feet differed from species to species.

We then went across the street to Scott Hall where we rotated through 4 different hands-on activity sessions that were abbreviated versions of units done by the Rutgers Science Explorer, a mobile, bus-based, math and science education outreach program. The first session was Earth Impact where we learned about the impact different sized meteorites have on the earth. (The girls also learned that meteors are asteroids that fall into the earth’s atmosphere and that if they land on the earth they are called meteorites.) Both my 7 and 10-year-old girls hypothesized about and modeled meteorite impacts of different sized and shaped rocks before dropping them into boxes of sand. They finished by measuring the size of their meteorites’ craters and extrapolated out to earth-sized proportions.

After destroying the earth with meteorite impacts, we went down the hall to learn about Marine Ecology, more specifically, the importance of marine estuaries for filtering water and maintaining biodiversity. Using a small diorama-like model, the girls worked with other children to model how different pollutants including animal droppings, paper and plastic litter, and pesticides and other chemicals wash out into estuaries.

We followed that up by being Skeleton Detectives and examining a replica of a human skull to determine its gender and racial origin. My daughters made many observations and measurements about the shape of the skull, the shape of the orbits of the eyes, the shape and profile of the teeth, and other identifiers to successfully conclude that they were holding an Asian female!

Our last session was Drilling Into Science where we simulated the process of searching for oil. After a brief tutorial about reading maps and how to find oil deposits, the girls got to drill into the earth to search for oil. They selected coordinates from their map and then plunged a skewer into a model of the area. After a couple of misses, they successfully struck oil!

We finished our afternoon by checking out the Mineral Sale which had a variety of samples including some from places as close as the Franklin Mines in New Jersey and even old samples from the Rutgers Geology Museum! We didn’t see any gold there, but as cliche as it sounds, I would say we struck it rich at this event!


Skills: Visual acuity (observing small details), fine motor (measuring objects), curiosity
Preparation: Not really any – just be ready to learn and explore!
Cost: Basically free! There were some basic travel expenses – gas for the car, tolls for the highways and bridges, and parking since we couldn’t find any street parking.
Time & Energy: It’s a 90-minute drive from our house. Make sure you wear comfortable shoes and clothes! We spent about 3 hours there. The hands-on sessions are geared towards children 8 and up, but our 7-year-old daughter understood and enjoyed the activities.
Contact Info: The museum has a website ( This year’s open house is on January 31, 2015. There is a webpage for the event ( as well as a flyer (2015-Rutgers-open-house-flyer).