Starting this spring, Villanova University and the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia are co-sponsoring a traveling exhibition titled “Gregor Mendel: Planting the Seeds of Genetics.”
“The partnership with the Academy, such a well respected museum in Philadelphia, is an enormous opportunity for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” said Kate Szumanski, Director of Communications for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The exhibition traces the development of genetics as a branch of scientific study, with special attention to the contributions of Gregor Mendel.
Mendel was a 19th century friar and science teacher who designed an experiment with pea plants through which he ultimately revealed fundamental laws of heredity. Mendel’s results were published in a local scientific journal in 1866, but the significance of his work remained unrecognized for several decades.
Finally, in 1900 botanists Carl Correns, Hugo de Vries, and Erich von Tschermak each referred to Mendel’s experiments in their own articles on hybridization. At last, thirty-four years after its publication, Mendel received the recognition that his discoveries had earned.
“So many of us know Mendel only as “the Father of Genetics,” a quick one liner in a science textbook,” said Szumanski. “The exhibit… delves deeper into the life and work of Mendel, and how he meticulously devised his scientific experiments, which serve as the foundation for the rise of genetic research.”
Artifacts from Mendel’s home, the Augustinian Abbey of St. Thomas in Brno, Czech Republic, will be on display. Visitors will see Mendel’s hand-written notes, personal correspondences, botanical specimens, scientific instruments, and more.
In addition to the rare artifacts that will be on display, the exhibit also features interactive technology which will help to acquaint visitors with the story of Mendel’s life and works as a scientist and Augustinian friar in the 17th century.
Five videos and ten hands-on activities make the fundamentals of genetics accessible to everyone. Visitors can recreate Mendel’s experiment in several easy steps, compare what scientists saw through microscopes in different eras and use DNA to create a bird family tree.
As the only Augustinian University in the country, Villanova has a special connection with Mendel. “Our very own Mendel Science Center, which bears Mendel’s name, serves as a lasting and living tribute to this great Augustinian scientist,” Szumanski said. “Students who experience the exhibit at the Academy undoubtedly will walk away with renewed appreciation for Mendel’s work and may even look at our own Mendel Science Center in a different way.”
While the main thrust of the exhibit is to educate visitors about Mendel’s enormous contributions to Genetics, it will also provide insight into the developments which occurred in genetics after Mendel’s work.
Visitors will learn about the rediscovery of Mendel’s research, the naming of the gene, T.H. Morgan’s experiments with fly mutations, Watson and Crick’s discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, and the Human Genome Project.
Along with the scientific affects of Mendel’s work, the exhibition will display contemporary art inspired by the advances in genetics and human heredity.
The exhibit will also feature “Profiles of ‘Modern Mendels,'” presentation of present-day scientists who apply Mendel’s theories to their fields of interest such as conservation, evolution, and biodiversity.
This must-see exhibit will be open from May 24 to September 28 at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia at 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
The exhibit was first developed by Chicago’s Field Museum in partnership with The Mendel Museum, which is located in Mendel’s hometown, Brno, Czech Republic. It made its North American debut at The Field Museum in September 2006.
When its tour in Philadelphia ends, this traveling exhibition will only be making four additional stops across the United States: Chicago, Washington, D.C., Columbus, and Memphis.
“This rare opportunity to learn more about the life and work of Gregor Mendel…is one not to be missed by Villanova students. Mendel’s contributions to science, particularly to our collective knowledge of genetics and the human genome, are groundbreaking,” Szumanksi said. “His work built the foundation upon which many scientific advances were made.”
Villanova’s participation in bringing this exhibit to Philadelphia is part of the University’s commitment to bringing scientific education to a wide array of people. In line with this mission, Villanova maintains a large body of “Core Requirements” which requires even Arts students to complete science courses with weekly lab sessions.
While the exhibition is running, admission to the Academy of Natural Sciences is free for all Villanova students, faculty, and staff with a valid WildCard.