Kids learn to identify found treasures at ‘natural history roadshow’

    A roadshow came to Philadelphia over the weekend–but there wasn’t an antique vase or impressionist painting in sight.  It was a natural history roadshow for kids at the Wagner Free Institute of Science.

    Kids brought rocks, fossils and insects they had found on the beach or in their backyards to be identified by scientists.

    Eight-year-old Jane Cohen came from Moorestown, N.J., armed with a Ziploc bag full of treasures– a shell, fool’s gold, a piece of slate, and a purple rock. The assembled experts told her it was quartz.

    “I learned that what makes it purple is the iron mixed with the quartz,” Cohen said. “So it’s not much different from regular quartz it just has a little iron in it.”

    Museum educator Jessica Bachrach said the event is meant to show kids things they are already doing, like collecting rocks and shells, is in fact science. She also hoped to encourage in kids the same kind of curiosity that the museum’s namesake, William Wagner, showed when he was young. 

    “The story, at least that I’ve heard, is that he kept tearing holes in his pockets because of all the rocks and things that he’d put in,” Bachrach said. “So his mom sewed supports into the bottom of his pockets to keep them from wearing out.”

    Paul Callomon, a mollusk expert at the Academy of Natural Sciences who helped identify specimens, said he hoped he served as more than a walking encyclopedia to the kids.

    “The great value of these sessions is that not so much that kids come in and get an exact identification of the stuff that they’ve found,” Callomon said. “It’s that they come in and get shown how to guess towards an answer.”

    The experts said the best finds of the day were some opal picked up at a rock field on the Arizona-New Mexico border and a 70-million year old fossil of a sea urchin from the South of England. The most disappointing? A lump of coal.

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