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 Cal Day is the only day the public can oooh and ahh over giant bird skeletons like this and other Museum of Vertebrate Zoology treasures, dead and alive. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Meet the (flesh-eating) beetles - performing one day only
That would be Cal Day, naturally, a multi-species extravaganza of science, art, awesomeness, and just plain fun for the whole Cal family

| 02 April 2008

Tree frogs, live bats, stuffed and skeletal remains of extinct species - the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology is bringing out lots of treasures to thrill and amaze visitors on Cal Day. And if all that sounds old hat, the museum promises that one special creepy-crawly display will thrill even the hardest-to-impress 9-year-old (and her parents and college-bound sib): flesh-eating beetles, snacking busily.

The dermestid beetles, which perform skeleton-cleaning work essential to the museum's research, will be out for a rare public viewing all Cal Day long during Berkeley's annual campuswide open house, which takes place this year on Saturday, April 12, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The beetles, and their larvae, will be hard at work, stripping a carcass that has been dried to the jerky-like texture they prefer.

Natural science is just one of hundreds of subjects ripe for exploration on Cal Day. The program is jam-packed with more than 350 lectures, exhibits, films, concerts, and demonstrations of the fascinating, the awesome, and the fun. Faculty, staff, and students will be on hand to guide, enlighten, and delight some 35,000 visitors, among them prospective students (all of them future Nobel laureates), parents, kids, neighbors, and the merely curious.

Hidden corners all over campus will let the sun shine in - including the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, one of several Berkeley research museums that allow the public to view their collections this one day each year.


Cal Day offers fun for people of all ages, from the Cal Band's annual performance at Sather Gate to hands-on science shows like "phun with physics," enjoyed here by young Arthur Freed at a past campus open house. (Peg Skorpinski photos)
 

This year, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of its founding, the museum is putting on its biggest Cal Day show ever, according to Allison Shultz, a museum scientist and coordinator of MVZ centennial activities.

The beetles are part of that, and they're probably the smallest critters performing that day - in a tightly enclosed aquarium.

"We don't want them escaping and eating our exhibits," Shultz says. (Nibbling on live guests isn't to their taste, she adds reassuringly.)

In the museum's main gallery, rare items on display will include the giant skull of a Steller's sea cow, an extinct sea creature many times bigger than a manatee; a stuffed albatross, the bird that has the widest wingspan in the world; a sperm-whale skull that's longer than any human is tall; and others from among the museum's 640,000 stuffed, pickled, or skeletized critters. The museum studies all creatures with backbones - vertebrates - except for fish.

"We'll focus on our research and what we do," Shultz says, describing Cal Day events, so people understand that the museum's work "matters in terms of what's going on in the world."

An example is the Grinnell Resurvey Project (mvz.berkeley.edu/Grinnell) named for the museum's first director, Joseph Grinnell. MVZ scientists are going back to several locations in the Sierra that were first studied 100 years ago, to record how animal life has changed. Among its findings so far are indications that warming temperatures are forcing some species to higher ground - including the pika, or rock rabbit, which lives in the mountaintops with "nowhere to go," Shultz says.

In addition to the tree frogs and bats, other live animals that will be out for the public to touch or see include some of the museum's colony of South African rodents called tuco-tucos, plus more reptiles.

However, at the lizard-noosing station, where visitors will be able to try the method scientists use to catch such creatures in the wild, all lizards will be plastic, Shultz says.

Outside in the Berkeley Natural History Museums' tent, the action will include spiders, carnivorous plants, puppet shows, and a series of 30-minute talks by staff, faculty, and graduate students on things like monkeys, DNA, and the dermestid beetles (1:30 p.m.).

Natural scientists could spend the whole day without leaving that spot. But elsewhere, there will be lots to do, and to learn, for all kinds of people, from nerds to sports fans to the super-cool, from people who like to sit back and be entertained to those who seek nonstop action.

For fun-seekers, student-made robot cars will be racing (10 a.m. at Cory Hall), magnetic-levitation researchers will do their imitation of Harry Potter (also at 10 a.m. at Cory), and physicists will show off some of their favorite tricks with "sparks and explosions" (1 p.m. in 1 LeConte Hall).

Artsy types have a multitude of options, including guided tours through Enrique Chagoya's "Borderlandia" exhibit at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Berkeley Art Museum.

Student films will roll at 10 and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in 142 Dwinelle Hall. Visitors can learn computer animation at 11:30 a.m. in 306 Soda Hall. And five faculty historians will discuss "Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Movies" starting at 2 p.m. in 145 Dwinelle.

Musical offerings start at 10 a.m. with the Cal Band performing at Sather Gate, range through a University Symphony Orchestra performance of three concertos at 11 a.m. in Hertz Hall, a Campanile carillon recital at noon, and an antique keyboard demonstration at 3 p.m. in Hertz. Taiko drumming and African drumming are also on tap.

For media hounds, the campus radio station, KALX, and the independent student newspaper, the Daily Cal, will hold open houses, and CalTV will do live interviews of visitors on Sproul Plaza from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Looking to catch up on the latest developments in science, math, and technology? Still not sure what nanotechnology is? Faculty and students will talk at Cal Day about Berkeley's dozen ventures into nano-land at 10 a.m. in the Bechtel Engineering Center.

You can train your brain at the Brain Gym in Doe Library from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and get all your burning math questions answered at "Ask the Mathematician" from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Evans Hall.

Bookish types can tour the campus libraries all day, and scour the $1 book sale from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Doe.

The environmentally minded have a wealth of choices, including testing local tap water against various kinds of bottled water (noon in 141 McCone Hall), getting the real scoop on carbon sequestration and climate change (2 p.m. in 110 Barrows Hall), or checking out solar- and hydrogen-fuel-cell cars.

For the starstruck, a live video feed will show off the new Allen telescope array all day at Campbell Hall. You can also learn about supernovae at 11 a.m. in Wheeler Auditorium or hear about black holes at LeConte Hall at noon.

And traveling types can hear about llama caravans in Peru (10 a.m. at the Archaeological Research Facility), get a half-hour lesson in Scandinavian languages (starting at 11 a.m. in 33 Dwinelle), or sample life around the world with food, crafts, exhibits, and children's activities (11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at International House).

To make the most of Cal Day, visitors should plan ahead - as if they were taking the family to Disneyland for the day. The full program is online at calday.berkeley.edu.

But just as rewarding is a different approach: Stop by and see what catches your interest.

Either way, it's the best day of the year to find out what Cal is all about.