Monday, April 30, 2012

Stories from Harvard : Jeff

We're still working on submitting our final exhibit papers.  Updates about exhibits and our event are coming!

In the meantime, we've all started our internships.  The class of 2012 is spread across the globe from Vancouver to London, sharing science with the world!

Jeff sent us this story from Harvard :


   I have been looking for Ivy on the historical halls of Harvard University (where I am doing my internship) but I haven’t found any yet.  Perhaps I am a botanical anti-talent.  It’s there and I just can’t see it.  Or perhaps Ivy is an endangered species, threatened by some invasive species of beetle?
   Having to write about working at Harvard is a daunting task, rather like having to write about Martians after H. G. Wells.   
   Jeremy Lin and Natalia Portman are not the only famous Harvard students.  Many famous writers have been here, from Cotton Mather in the 17th century, through Thoreau and Emerson in the 19th, to 20th century writers like T. S. Eliot and John Updike.  And even writers who were not students here have written about Harvard – Ann Patchet’s recent novel Run is set, in part, at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, where I work.  So I am on well travelled verbal ground. 
   The Museum, MCZ for short, (yes Americans really say Zee rhymes with tea, not Zed rhymes with bed) has a lot of history itself.  Louis Agassiz, the Swiss scientist, founded it, in 1859.  Agassiz was a student of the famous French scientist Georges Cuvier, before coming to America. 
   Among his scientific achievements, Agassiz discovered that ice ages exist, though the most famous geologist of the day, Darwin’s friend Charles Lyell, opposed the idea.  1859 saw, not only the opening of the MCZ, but also the publication of Darwin’s Origin of the Species
   One of Agassiz’s colleagues at Harvard was the botanist Asa Grey.  Grey was, like Lyell, a close confidant and friend of Darwin.  Shortly after the MCZ opened it was the scene of a famous debate between Grey, who defended Darwin and his evolutionary ideas, and Agassiz, who opposed them.
   I am now working in Room 151 of the MCZ.  This office previously belonged to the paleontologist Steven Jay Gould.  A few years before Gould died, he decided to redecorate his office.  So all the paint was stripped off the walls.  What they uncovered were the original signs from when the museum opened in the 19th century.  The public galleries are now on the third floor, but were originally here on the first.  Rather than have the walls painted over, Gould left the old signage on the walls.
   I don’t know if a museum sign, like a picture is worth a thousand words, but here is one of the original signs from the days of Louis Agassiz and Asa Grey.  Perhaps there was Ivy on the walls of the MCZ way back then?

 - Jeff