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Soil Exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History


The “Dig It! The Secrets of Soil” exhibit opened in summer 2008 at The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History on the Washington Mall. Through objects, media, and hands-on interactives, visitors learn what soil is, what soil means to their lives and cultures, and how soil links earth’s land, air, and water. The exhibit occupies a 5,000-square-foot hall near the main rotunda and will run for 18 months. During that time 10 million people are expected to visit the museum. In 2010, the exhibit will begin a 4-6 year tour of major museums in North America. It has been in planning stages since 2002.The effort is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Soil Science Society of America in cooperation with numerous private donors.


Exhibit Stops Include:


1. The Skin of the Earth

What on Earth are soils and why are they important to us? Find the answers to these questions, and uncover the dynamic roles soils play in supporting life on Earth. Look under the trunk of an oak tree at a cut-away mural and close-up videos to see and hear what’s happening in soils.


2. Sizing Up Soils

See how a soil forms. Discover what various soils are made of and what gives them their special characteristics.


* Color It Wet or Dry. Study soils like a scientist by comparing six soil samples with Munsell color test cards.

* Where in the Soil World Are You? Follow the clues to figure out where three mystery soils come from.

* Hidden Horizons. Touch the layers in a column of soil, and put together puzzle blocks to see how soils stack up.

* Texture Matters. Flip tumblers of “giant” soil particles to see how water moves through sand, silt or clay.

* Find Your Home Earth. Do you know the name of your state soil? Check it out in a gallery of 54 slices of real All-American soils. At the interactive Home Earth kiosk, meet scientists who study soils from the U.S. and even from Mars!

* Chef’s Challenge. Watch as two wacky soil chefs, armed with a pantry full of environmental ingredients and 6,000 years, go head-to-head in a competition to “cook” up a unique soil.


3. Matters of Life and Death

Soils are alive and teeming with millions of living things. Take a peek into the life, death and decay beneath your feet.


* Soil Emissions Inspection Station. Touch two modeled soils; then activate two soil “breathalyzers,” and watch the simulation as they detect carbon dioxide emissions from soil microbes.


* Matters of Life and Death theater. Watch this edgy and gripping detective story that takes you into the underworld of life, death and decay in the soil food web.



4. The Big Picture

What do soils have to do with clean drinking water and climate change? Find out in this section,

and unearth the roles soils play in Earth’s processes. Visit our global map to see the 12 basic types of soils found around the world. Then take our Big Picture computer quiz to learn about global connections between soils and life on Earth..


5. What’s Soil Got To Do With It?

How do soils affect where you live, work and play? What’s your personal relationship to soils? Explore the many ways we use and benefit from soils and how we affect their health. Touch models of two very different urban soils found in Washington, D.C.


6. Our World, Our Soil

How close are you to soils? In this section, take steps to uncover the many ways soils touch your life every day. Touch a model of a dark earth Amazonian rainforest soil.



To learn more about the exhibit or to find educational materials go to http://forces.si.edu/soils/.


-- Linda Madl, CASMGS, Kansas State University




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