Museum Education and Medicine May Be Closer Than We Think

Author: Erin Patrick

Humans shape the world in more ways than you think. Spraying your hairspray every morning can have a direct impact on the quality of the air for generations to come. I learned about the effect that humans have on air quality through my internship position this semester. In my position at the Anthropocene Living Room exhibition at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I made museum education kits under the direction of Dr. Nicole Heller and Asia Ward. Museum education kits are simply designed informative material that the public can interact with and learn from while inside the museum.

The Anthropocene Living Room is a designated space made for visitors to relax and interact with the idea of the Anthropocene. The term “Anthropocene” describes our current era, a time period in which humans have had a direct influence on the climate and environment of Earth. The Anthropocene concept, coined by Eugene Stoermer in the 1970s, is a novel concept to many visitors, but it should be understood that the era is here to stay. The Anthropocene Living Room includes selected pieces from the CMNH’s prior exhibition, We are Nature, which helped the public to understand the effect that humans are having on the environment. The pieces in the living room include remains of land pollution, birds that are stained from air pollution, and artwork showing the ways that humans have interacted with their surroundings for centuries.

My assignment was to design informative kits that could help visitors to engage with issues around air quality. We were able to design three kits that were put to the test during one of Carnegie’s Super Science Saturdays. The public successfully interacted with the education material that displayed the impact of air quality over time, measure of air quality, and impact of air quality on the body. The visitors learned about these concepts by reading and influencing a Speck air monitor, pumping “dirt” into a simulated “lung” made of a plastic container and a bicycle tire pump. This may seem simple, but it is a useful simulation to show pollutive effects, and cleaning off dirty objects that had been affected by air pollution. Visitors were interested in the material and even shocked by how much air pollution could affect us.

My particular situation with the museum studies internship is unique when considering my future plans. Many people that pursue a minor in Museum Studies will be working in a similar realm, but I hope to become a Physician Assistant. My internship, linked medicine and museum studies with my focus on the impact of air quality on the human body. I examined how air quality has affected and will continue to affect the population with a closer look at the respiratory system and the problems that can develop such as bronchitis, asthma, and certain cancers. I am grateful for my internship because it showed me that there is a strong link between medicine and museum studies. Also, it showed me that scientific and medical information isn’t always as assessable to the public as it should be, even in the museum setting.

Erin Patrick, Museum Studies Intern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Anthropocene Living Room, Spring 2020

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