The Pioneer Museum

Amy Loeffler

Amy Loeffler

The goal of the Science on the Move collection is to expand science outreach both to and from incarcerated audiences.

Amy Loeffler works for the Institute of Arctic Biology at UAF as a science communicator.
Maizie woke to a blue-gray twilight. It was like that on Mars in the morning. She'd seen pictures of Earth, where her parents were born, of bright sunny days. But she was fine with the muted blue hues of the dust-soaked Martian sunrise. She liked to draw pictures of it in watercolors using tones ranging from the brightest blue to the darkest gray.

She was excited. Today was the day she and her classmates were going to the museum. 

"Get ready, Maizie. We need to leave soon," said her mom, Maria, a soil scientist employed by NASA's Interplanetary Space Secretariat.

On the way to the museum, Maizie and Maria pass a small park where a bronze statue dedicated to a small Earth mammal, the Arctic ground squirrel, was recently erected. Maizie didn't really know so much about why there was a monument to a squirrel in her town. 

Once inside the museum, a docent, or guide, welcomes them. Her burnished nickel name tag has embossed letters that read, "Celestia Cohagen." 

Maizie and her classmates sit down on a fuzzy rug.

"First, children, let me see by a show of hands: how many of you are pioneers?"

Pioneer. That was the word they used for those who were Martian born but also human. (About a thousand at this writing.)

Five kids raise their hands, including Maizie.

The docent continues, "Now who knows what biomimicry means?"

The docent gets blank stares. "It means imitating something's biological function, or something found in nature, and studying it to solve challenges in the human population."

Video footage of an Arctic ground squirrel foraging for food appears above the students' heads and floats in 3-D over the class. The squirrel moves in stop-motion like abruptness, moving from spot to spot in tall grass saying, "Sik sik."

"How many of you have seen the squirrel in the square?" Everyone's hands shoot up.

"Well, he's an Arctic ground squirrel just like this one," says the docent. "And they have a very special talent. They can survive very cold temperatures. Their own bodies on Earth can go as low as 27 degrees Fahrenheit. Who knows how that would be helpful to humans in space travel?"

"Moving from planet to planet," Maizie says without raising her hand.

Maizie contemplates this. A tiny mammal helped her parents travel from Earth to Mars? And that's how she ended up on the Hebron Ridge inside her room painting with watercolors?

"Very good, yes that's right. We used biomimicry to learn how to hibernate like other animals which made interplanetary space travel possible for humans."

The docent brings out a tiny furry mammal like the one in the video. It's motionless.

"Now see, children, this squirrel is in torpor. His metabolism has slowed way down, just like ours in space when we travel."

Maizie and the other kids gather around to touch the squirrel. He's cold to the touch, like the freezer where Maizie and her family keep their foodstuffs.

"Ok children," says Celestia. "Who wants a treat? We just started harvesting wheat at one of the food research stations and the museum chef has made cupcakes!"

The kids erupt in excited chatter. "What's a cupcake?" one of them asks.

"Let's go to the café and then we can see some other exhibits about Earth. We have so much left to explore before the sol ends."

Maizie takes one last glance at the squirrel and puts her still chilly hand to her cheek. She can't wait to get home and paint a squirrel under the blue Martian sunset.
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Science on the Move Collection
The UAF Department of English
1747 S Chandalar Drive Gruening Suite 850
Fairbanks, AK 99775

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