The 21st annual PaleoFest at Burpee Museum of Natural History March 6-8 promises prehistoric adventure for adults and children alike.
“It’s a celebration of all things prehistoric,” says Anne Weerda, executive director of the Burpee Museum at 737 N. Main St., Rockford. “We bring in speakers from around the world to talk about their research. These speakers are internationally known scientists currently active in the field of paleontology.
“We have speakers who will talk about dinosaurs, and also some who will talk about reptiles of the sea. It’s not just dinosaurs.”
For example, one speaker will talk about amber, or fossilized resin from ancient forests, says Weerda.
“We’ll have a station where you can see some of the speaker’s research and learn about why things get trapped in amber, how they get fossilized, and how research is done on amber,” Weerda explains.
The entire museum becomes transformed during the weekend of PaleoFest. Stations are set up throughout the museum for both children and adults, making the event family friendly. Each of the stations reflect different types of research currently occurring in paleontology.
The event also offers family-friendly lectures and workshops where scientists discuss their research in a more consumable way for children, Weerda says. Last year, one speaker spoke on Triceratops, and how researchers can tell how old the Triceratops is just from inspecting its bones.
Another interesting and relatively new workshop revolves around paleo art.
“It’s kind of a crazy, cool field because they’re looking at recreating a world we’ve never seen,” Weerda explains. “They’re using clones and fossils and information we have about what plants were like, and trying to recreate these scenes of what the prehistoric world might have looked like.”
One session available involves learning how a paleo artist creates such art. Visitors get a chance to try their hand at some of the techniques to create a “Jurassic World.” The paleo art was new last year, and a huge success.
“The thing about paleontology is it’s a hook,” explains Weerda. Though a child may not become a paleontologist when they grow up, they may become an engineer or a doctor. The museum’s goal is to get them excited about science while also getting them excited about the fact that there are many unanswered questions out there.
“We’re working hard as a community to come up with answers,” says Weerda. “This is a great way to get kids involved in the process of scientific thinking.”
A student symposium takes place Friday, March 6. A members-only reception is at 6 p.m. A keynote presentation will follow at 7 p.m. March 7 and 8 are the official festival days. For more information, visit burpee.org. ❚