It’s not hard to get kids excited about dinosaurs. Dr. Casey Holliday has used this to his advantage when developing his broader impact activities. As a paleontologist, he has introduced and explained his research to the public for his entire career. As an undergraduate, Holliday worked in the Florida Museum of Natural History and first learned how to interact and talk about science to a general audience. He then became the exhibit, as the public observed him working in a “large bubble” as a Field Museum fossil preparatory at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Holliday currently organizes the annual “Dinosaurs and Cavemen” event, which is a collaborative effort among faculty and students in the department. Activities include making your own cave paintings, a tool-making demonstration, and interactive fossil excavations. This effort is funded by a small amount of startup funds and the volunteer efforts of researchers. The event has attracted more than 700 participants in the past two years. As Holliday mentions, “People are interested in how animals work, the fossil record, human origins and where we come from, in the logistics of how we do science in the lab and what happens in these labs.” A new addition to this year’s event was soliciting feedback surveys from participants. Assessment of the success of broader impact activities will be an important component for future NSF grant proposals.
As Holliday describes it, the Dinosaurs and Cavemen event functions like a “pop-up” museum for the community. It caters to public interest and fills the void of a permanent museum in what Holliday describes as a science-friendly town, “My lab and parts of our group here are like a natural history museum in the middle of the MU campus. Different places on campus fill all these niches, and maybe if we were in a bigger town we’d have a museum of biodiversity.”
In addition to working with the public, Holliday also includes broader impact activities that focus on cross-disciplinary training for undergraduates. For eight weeks over the summer, Holliday invites and trains underrepresented minority students. He hopes to expand this program and bring in more students with future funding. As Holliday explains, the cross-disciplinary approach of his lab provides a unique training experience, “We’re one lab that’s making use of CAT scans, MRI, histology, and 3D computational models to look at biomechanics and the evolution of groups. These basic biomechanics questions are relevant to health sciences, biology, and engineering students.”
The broader impact activities of Dr. Holliday illustrate how researchers can tap into public interest. By collaborating with complementary groups, individuals can create large science outreach events that reach many members of the local community.