Lakefront Museum Visitors Will View Rubenstein Research First-hand
Release Date: 10-29-2002
The construction going on around the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory at the base of College Street is a metaphor for what will be going on inside in years to come.
The Rubenstein is being surrounded.
Surrounded by a world-class, $14.5 million science museum unlike anything in the United States.
The new ECHO at the Leahy Center For Lake Champlain museum will literally and figuratively have science at its core. For the first time, an active scientific research team will be part of and contributing to the museum's exhibits.
"It’s not common and has not been done elsewhere, so we hope we can be a model for how museums and research can work together," says Mary Watzin, associate professor of natural resources and Rubenstein director. "It’s going to be a wow when it’s finished."
"While any one piece of what we’ll be doing is not unique, the linkage of an active research lab, a museum and a community is new," agrees Phelan Fretz, the museum’s director. "The concept of an eco-museum is, of course, about the ecology of a particular area." The whole idea behind the concept is to "reinforce the relationship between university-level research and public education," he adds.
Is there an ECHO?
The new facility intends to reinforce other relationships, as well. The ECHO in its name stands for the ecology, culture, history and opportunity of Vermont and the Lake Champlain Basin.
"We felt our mission is so strong we wanted it to be in our name," says Fretz.
The goal is to teach these concepts and demonstrate opportunities to become stewards for the environment and the community by using interactive exhibits.
So far, putting that idea into operation has gone smoothly. "We’re on track, on time and on budget," says Fretz. Last week windows were being glazed. Fretz says the building will be done in December; 10 staff members and some 2,200 creatures, ranging from a five-foot sturgeon to 1,000 emerald shiners, will take up residence in January. In April, Fretz plans to bring in several "test audiences" to make sure things run smoothly before the actual grand opening the week of May 30.
The projection is that about 700,000 people will visit the Center for Lake Champlain each year. The site includes a café and is designed to host special events, dinners and receptions in a setting that at once interprets the science of Lake Champlain — and offers sweeping views of its azure waters.
Through windows, visitors will view university labs where research continues on lamprey, zebra mussels, algae blooms, water quality and more. Sixteen scientists and their assistants work in the building, including two in partnership with St. Michael’s College. Visitors will have opportunities for "appropriate" access to some areas where work is being done, says Watzin. (Some areas, particularly those that are unsafe or that may jeopardize experiments, will be closed.)
The new building has eight labs and a mooring for UVM's research boat, the Melosira, "so we can get our samples and come right back," says Watzin. Researchers leverage the facility's proximity to their subject of study in other ways, as well; for some experiments lake water is pumped directly into the lab. This direct access is a welcome change for the group, which was peripatetic before the Rubenstein opened three years ago, moving from the Aiken Center to Hills to a trailer near the water at various points.
In the same way that the Rubeinstein building has extended the range and ease of scholarly work, Watzin hopes that the new museum (which replaces the Lake Champlain Basin Science Center) will make new experiences possible for visitors to the lake, bringing them into the spirit of the research enterprise.
"What is going to be great here is interpreting the science," says Watzin. "I like to think of [the research/museum visitor experience] as being an eco-detective. The idea is that scientists develop a question or a problem and collect data, which are the clues. Put it together and figure out how it all fits."
And hope that visitors get a "wow."
Related LinksRubenstein Lab: snr.uvm.edu/rubenstn/
ECHO at the Leahy Center for Lake Champlain: www.lakechamplaincenter.org/home.html
For more campus news, happenings and notables, visit the view, the University of Vermont's online newsweekly.