Visiting UMKC's Geosciences Museum



This year, our family has been learning more about geology. We visited Strataca in Hutchinson, KS, and toured the salt mine. We've toured numerous caves throughout Missouri, including the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, Fantastic Caverns in Springfield, and Meramec Caverns near St. Louis. We participated in glass fusing classes with Truman Art Glass. And, we've been collecting rocks. The highlight of our adventures is a planned trip to visit Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas in hopes of finding some rare gems (it is a finders keepers park where those who find diamonds and other treasures are permitted to keep their treasures).

Before our trip, we wanted to see some rocks, minerals, and gems up close and personal. So, I arranged a tour of UMKC's Richard L. Sutton, Jr., M.D. Museum of Geosciences (Flarsheim Hall, Room 271 at 5100 Rockhill Road, KC, MO). This free museum is open to the public Monday - Friday from 8:30am-4:30pm. You simply pay for parking (metered parking on campus), and visit the collection housed in a classroom. Knowing that merely looking at cases of rocks and fossils wouldn't be that exciting on its own, I contacted the college (816.235.1334) and asked if they offered tours. They responded promptly and we scheduled a tour led by Richard J. Gentile, Ph.D., a retired UMKC Geosciences professor who now volunteers his time at the museum.

One of the things that makes Kansas City special is that our town is filled with passionate people who are willing to take their time to share their passions with KC kids... they spark imaginations, they inspire curiosity, and they pass on a love of learning. You cannot put a price tag on that. Today, we toured UMKC Department of GeoSciences​ Museum, where Dr. Richard Gentile shared his love of learning with some enthusiastic KC kids. 

Upon arrival, we were greeted warmly by Dr. Gentile who shared with us his lifelong love of fossils, rocks, and minerals. We saw some amazing things at the museum, but most of all we spent the morning with a remarkable teacher. Dr. Gentile shared with us that he became fascinated with fossils at the age of six when he visited the local circus and a man in the sideshow act claimed to be a living fossil. Determined to learn how to create a fossil, he tried several failed experiments with apples and potatoes before learning the secret of fossilization. That early interest led to a career in geosciences where he's taught many students over the years and has traveled the world finding rocks, minerals, and fossils. 

The museum opened in 1973, showcasing the initial collection and displays created by Dr. Richard L. Sutton and UMKC Professor Eldon J. Parizek – Dr. Gentile’s predecessors. 

Dr. Gentile is especially passionate about the fossils including the museum’s Crinoid collection. We learned that, "Crinoids, or “starfish on a stick,” were abundant in downtown Kansas City, once ringed by a shallow sea. In 1889, excavators discovered at least 400 specimens at 10th and Grand. One hundred years later, at the urging of Missouri school kids, then-Governor John Ashcroft made the crinoid the official fossil of Missouri." We also learned that Dr. Gentile took many trips to various geological sites where he collected many of the fossils on display.

The collection includes cephalopods (squid-like ocean dwellers).

A mammoth tooth fossil:

A replica saber tooth tiger fossil:

There are many amazing things in this case, but the dinosaur foot fossil on top of the case was a highlight:

The dinosaur egg and T-Rex tooth fossils were favorites for the girls.

In the photo below, he is explaining how you can tell that this fossil is bone.

This shale sample shows the imprint of fish scales as a fossil:

More of the fossils we saw:

My girls were fascinated by the rocks with fluid inclusions where you can see bubbles floating in the rocks thanks to an interactive feature where you're able to move the rock and see the bubble move. When we gently pushed this specimen (shown below) we could see a bubble floating in the center of the rock.

We were especially interested to see a case filled with galena, pyrite, and many gems including diamonds. This is a small sample of what we saw:

We saw many beautiful rocks, these are just a few:

The girls were also fascinated by the fulgurite, or “lightning rock.” Because of the heat generated by lightning (3000 degrees F), the silicon dioxide struck by lighting is formed into a specimen that almost looks like a tube of melted plastic.

We also saw displays showing how rocks can be cut and shaped.

 

Dr. Gentile was generous enough to gift us with a copy of his book, "Rocks and Fossils of the Central United States, with a Special Emphasis on the Greater Kansas City Area." We just started to read it today, but we're enjoying the photos and information telling of discoveries that have been made and can be made in the Kansas City area.  

“I found and named a species of coccoliths in 1971 when they were building a stretch of I-29 near St. Joseph,” said Gentile. “They are the remains of one-celled protozoans, visible only with magnification of x 10,000. They are flat and disc-shaped and resemble tiny waffles. I call them ‘Paleococcolithus missouriensis'."

Today, we spent the morning with a scientist who generously shared his love of rocks and fossils with my children. We learned quite a bit on our tour and the girls are very excited to make their own discoveries on our upcoming adventures. If you are learning about geology, we highly recommend this educational outing.

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