Creating a Fun and Educational Experience
BY Therese Dunphy
Imagine an environment where children play among rocks and a waterfall, cool off in an erosion stream, explore sandstone caves and—along with their parents—learn about the region’s geology. That’s exactly what can be found at the Earth Moves exhibit, which opened in 2019 at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina. The exhibit is partially funded by Martin Marietta. The company not only provided $100,000 over a five-year period, but also produced an in-kind donation with materials from a dozen quarries throughout its Mid-Atlantic region.
The donations align with Martin Marietta’s focus on sustainability, which the company views through its four pillars of sustainability: safe operations, environmental stewardship, employee well-being, and community well-being, said John Gillan, head of sustainability. “This really fits largely in the community well-being pillar,” he added. “We want to be a responsible neighbor, and we understand we operate under a social license. We also get young minds engaged in science that’s related to our business.”
“We’re so grateful for Martin Marietta’s support for the construction of Earth Moves,” said Carrie Heinonen, the museum’s president and CEO. “Their partnership with the museum helped us create a fun, immersive, one-of-a-kind experience that helps a new generation of visitors better understand our changing planet.”
She said the goal of the exhibit is to inspire kids to see the practical, fun, and engaging side of science and math, as well as enhance critical thinking. Rather than giving kids the answers, Heinonen said, the museum encourages them to discover answers for themselves.
Creating a vision
The partnership between the two groups began in 2018 when the museum reached out to Martin Marietta.
“The museum’s leadership had some requests, and we thought it would be great to partner with them,” explained Lynn Dixon, manager, process excellence.
Over the following months, museum and company officials engaged in communications about the vision for the project and what kind of materials would create the best display. The result is an educational exhibit that covers approximately one acre and showcases the area’s diverse geology of materials.
“When we started talking about it, we were talking about the main types of rock: sedimentary versus igneous or metamorphic,” said Josh Kirby, Martin Marietta’s senior manager of geological services. “They were very excited about it, and about Martin Marietta’s ability to contribute materials toward their overall goal.
“I think they had a good understanding of what they wanted to do education wise, and were pleasantly surprised by the diverse geology our many regional operations offer,” he added. With the company’s presence in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, the collection of samples was highly successful.
With a clear vision in place, Kirby reached out to plant managers throughout the region to gather boulders and other samples that met the size, dimension, and weight requirements the museum outlined for the exhibit. It needed boulders that children could touch and climb on without creating a fall hazard, but they also had to fit on a four-by-four pallet so they could be moved around the site without the need for additional equipment.
Martin Marietta geologists worked with the plant managers to prepare samples, paying particular attention to gathering unique and interesting specimens such as coastal limestones that were full of fossils and samples with unique structural features.
Kirby said the company provided documentation that described its interpretation and geological knowledge of the materials it donated, including rock type, the original location, and other relevant background details.
Once the boulders were gathered, the company staged them at a local site until the museum was prepared to take ownership. Soon after, the materials were delivered, and the museum’s landscape architect placed them around the site. Donated materials can be found throughout Earth Moves. Exhibit features include a sandstone exploration cave, sculptures, stone walls, and a sheltered classroom space where children can participate in geology-related workshops. A waterfall and erosion stream not only cool participants but also teach them about how water and rock react to one another. To ensure safe enjoyment of the exhibit, it was built with fall surfaces in areas where children are likely to climb.
Earth Moves opened to the public in 2019 and quickly became a popular fixture for the museum’s approximately 500,000 annual visitors. Kirby and his family attended a soft opening for the exhibit and saw firsthand how well received the interactive display was.
“They loved it. I think the outdoor exhibits at the museum are among the most popular for parents and children. There were rocks to climb on and water to play in,” he said. “It was pretty clear, from my perspective, that it was going to be one of the favorite exhibits for both the kids and adults.”
While providing a fun experience for families, the exhibit’s educational aspects are every bit as important.
Kirby noted that he knows many people in the Raleigh-Durham area and has been a member of the museum. As a result, he received plenty of feedback from attendees regarding the wide range of geologies used to produce construction materials.
“It’s important to be educational for children, but it’s informative for adults as well,” he explained. “It really brings awareness to our business.”
Martin Marietta donated 14 samples from 12 operations including:
- Belgrade—Coastal Limestone
- Bessemer—Spodumene Pegmetite
- Rock Hill—Gabbro
- Kings Mountain—Marble & Schist
- Cumming—Quartzite & Amphibolite
- Midlothian—Granitic Gneiss