Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dr. Vreeland Coming Back to Hutchinson

Dr. Russell Vreeland, one of the scientists who discovered an ancient bacteria still living in salt in New Mexico, will be conducting similar research in Hutchinson, according to Linda Schmitt, Director of the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.

Vreeland was here a few weeks ago for the opening of an exhibit at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum featuring his work. The bacteria he and his colleagues discovered is the oldest living thing on Earth.

Vreeland recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to sample salt in several mines to look for fluid inclusions that might contain bacteria. He will be coming to Hutchinson about once a month to research at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum.

The salt under Hutchinson is about 270 million years old, about 20 million years older than what was sampled in New Mexico. So, if bacteria is found here it would be even older than what was discovered earlier.

The exhibit at the Kansas Underground Salt Museum includes the original piece of salt from which the bacteria was taken and the petri dish in which it was "revived." If you're in the area, I urge you to go see the exhibit if at all possible. It's fascinating just to lay eyes on such things.

In the weeks since I interviewed Dr. Vreeland after his lecture here, and have had more time to think about it, I have come to appreciate him even more as I remembered him saying,  "The feeling we had when we saw it was humility. ... That is the oldest living thing on earth. Here's an organism that was alive 100 million years before the dinosaurs, you've got to respect it."

It's wonderful to see someone who still has a sense of awe about their work. I'm so thrilled he will be conducting research in Hutchinson. What a great opportunity for this community to have the chance to interact with a mind like his.

Museum staff are also talking to Dr. Vreeland about hosting some kid's dig camps next summer. They will probably be 3-5 days long and would entail mine safety training, digging for salt samples underground and classroom and lab instruction. 

Details are still being worked out, but it would possibly mean 1-2 days in class covering safety and mine layers, one day to examine crystals to see what they're looking for, and then a day to dig and another day to break the rocks and select some for samples.

Oh to be a kid... I wonder what the age limit on that is going to be...

(Photos from - taken during Vreeland's visit a few weeks ago)
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