VMNH receives over $37,000 in grant funding from IMLS for Scope it Out! initiative, new microscopy lab

VMNH receives over $37,000 in grant funding from IMLS for Scope it Out! initiative, new microscopy lab

The Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) has received a grant of $37,780.32 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in support of the museum's Scope it Out! initiative aimed at bolstering the museum's science education programs and outreach activities. Primarily, the initiative will establish a one-of-a-kind Exploration Lab featuring research-quality microscopy equipment that will foster discovery, problem solving, and critical thinking via eyes-on and hands-on learning opportunities for students of all ages.

"We're incredibly grateful for the generous support of IMLS and its recognition of the impact that the upcoming Exploration Lab will have on the museum's ability to provide one-of-a-kind, hands-on learning experiences for students of all ages," said VMNH Education and Public Programs Manager Christy Deatherage, who also serves as project leader for the Exploration Lab. "Microscopes are invaluable devices for examining various specimens because they open an exploratory window for discovering tiny features that cannot be seen by the naked eye. With microscopes, students are equipped with an exciting and engaging tool they can use to explore previously hidden dimensions of science and the natural world they live in."

At the K-12 level, the lab will primarily be used by VMNH educators for programming targeted at school groups, including homeschool families. VMNH curators will also use the lab to teach groups of high school and college students, as well as citizen scientists, such as participants of the Virginia Master Naturalist program.

Featuring all new, research quality microscopy equipment, the Exploration Lab will consist of 15 student workstations equipped with Leica EZ4 educational stereomicroscopes and three instructor workstations equipped with two Leica EZ4-W and one Leica S9i stereomicroscopes with built-in cameras, Wi-Fi capabilities, monitors, and imaging software. Using the digital capabilities of the EZ4-W and S9i microscopes, students will be able to observe specimens under the instructors’ microscopes, and then repeat the same process at their own workstations. This advanced setup is especially helpful for younger students and students with special needs, who will be more easily able to repeat the actions of instructors in a step-by-step fashion.

"Beyond the desire to implement research-quality equipment, we want to make sure the lab is established in a way that promotes accessibility and provides a learning experience conducive for all age levels and needs," said Deatherage.

Although the Exploration Lab will be primarily dedicated for educational programming, it will also be accessible to VMNH scientists, visiting researchers, and citizen scientists who are conducting specimen-based research.

"While many museums worldwide successfully incorporate 'science labs' in their exhibits, such spaces are often designed to mimic working labs rather than being fully functional facilities," said VMNH Curator of Mammals Dr. Nancy Moncrief. "Rather than act as an extension of the museum's exhibit galleries, the Exploration Lab is unique in that it will be a fully functional microscopy lab capable of accommodating professional scientific research."

The Exploration Lab, which will be located in the research wing of the museum facility, is planned to open during the 2022-23 academic calendar.

To learn more about the museum, including more information about its educational offerings, visit www.vmnh.net.

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