Forces that shape the bay
Legacy of LHS director will include outdoor exhibit on Bay Area’s great natural resource

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs


Ian Carmichael, director of the Lawrence Hall of Science and associate dean of the Graduate Division, sits atop a boulder to be used in a new outdoor science exhibit, "Forces That Shape the Bay." Using this hands-on display, visitors will be able to build mountains, create landscapes and explore the twisting and folding of the Earth's crustal layers.
Peg Skorpinski photo

10 April 2002 | Fifteen thousand years ago, during the last ice age, San Francisco Bay wasn’t here. The shoreline was 25 miles west of San Francisco, beyond the Farallon Islands. Sea level was 300 feet lower than it is today and temperatures were colder by as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit. Large camels, mammoths, ground sloths and other mammals, now extinct, roamed broad inland valleys that later became the bay basin.

But as the ice age ended, the ocean flooded through the Golden Gate, says geologist Ian Carmichael, director of the Lawrence Hall of Science and former associate dean for academic affairs in the Graduate Division. Over thousands of years, sea level rose to its current level, creating the San Francisco Peninsula and filling the bay.

To illustrate the forces — such as water, plate tectonics and mountain building — that created and continue to shape San Francisco Bay, there’s no better vantage point than a site that overlooks that picture-perfect stretch of the Northern California coastline. So Carmichael’s brain child — a permanent outdoor learning lab with hands-on, interactive displays of nature’s giant sculpting tools — is taking shape on the south terrace of Lawrence Hall of Science. Four years in the making, the new $2.5 million exhibit is appropriately named “Forces That Shape the Bay.”

Window on the campus
“Lawrence Hall of Science has the most magnificent view of San Francisco Bay, and yet, when you stand there, there’s nothing to tell anybody how the bay came to be or how it’s going to evolve,” Carmichael says. “The fact that you can walk out there and see 12,000 years of geological evolution is not obvious to anybody at all.”

To a geologist, that void was especially troubling. Since he became director of the hall in 1996, Carmichael has felt that the science education museum, with its wealth of talent and educational outreach programs, should serve as a window on campus science and engineering research – and to do that should tap the talents of faculty and students in developing novel interactive exhibits that appeal to kids.

“Our exhibits program can only flourish with continued extramural support and should reflect most of the exciting new developments in math and science in the world,” he says. “…I want everyone to know Lawrence Hall of Science as a place where children experience science and nature in creative and inspiring ways.”

A science exhibit for all
Foreseeing the potential appeal of such an exhibit – not only to the young, but to Bay Area residents, tourists and students of all ages — Carmichael floated the notion to Class of 1948 members interested in contributing to the Hall’s educational program.

“Few people, even those who call San Francisco their home, have any idea how the San Francisco Bay was formed,” he says. “Still fewer know that there have actually been three bays. The present bay is, in fact, a relatively new geological feature — it’s only about 15,000 years old.”

With $500,000 in seed money from the Class of ’48, LHS sought private and public support for the one-acre outdoor exhibit. It secured a generous donation from the East Bay Municipal Utility District and last year received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for its educational programs and exhibits.

Carmichael, who has served as chair of the Department of Geology and Geophysics during his 38 years on campus,plans to step down as director of the Lawrence Hall of Science at the end of the year, with ideas to resume his research on volcanoes. “Forces that Shape the Bay” — scheduled to open this fall — will be his legacy for the hall.

“We have a magnificent state university sitting at the apex of a public school system that needs its support,” says Carmichael. “Forces That Shape the Bay” will be but one of many ways in which UC can enrich science curricula statewide.”

Lawrence Hall of Science


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