The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology recognized Dr. Thomas J. DeVries with the Alf Award for Excellence in Paleontological Research and Education at the annual Peccary Society dinner, held on October 21, 2017. The award honors a paleontologist who demonstrates exceptional achievement both in original scientific research, as well as in education and outreach at the primary and secondary school (K-12) levels. Continue reading
Imagine being a teenager, and learning about the history of life with actual fossils at your fingertips; or the thrill of discovering a species new to science; or publishing a research project in an internationally-recognized scientific journal. These aren’t just hypotheticals at the Alf Museum. They are at the core of an innovative and unique high school program.
The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology at The Webb Schools is the only nationally accredited museum in the United States located on a high school campus and the only museum in the world that engages secondary school students in all aspects of it program, particularly fossil collecting and research—an opportunity unique to The Webb Schools. The museum is active in the international scientific community and also provides educational programming for the public.
Webb biology teacher Ray Alf’s early interest in fossils led him to conduct a student expedition to the Mojave Desert in 1936. Fortuitously, Alf and Bill Webb ’39 found a mammal skull belonging to a new, 15 million year-old species of fossil peccary, or pig, a discovery that inspired Alf to undertake a life-long quest to study the history of life. Over the next thirty years Alf led numerous fossil collecting trip or “Peccary trips” where he and his students amassed a large collection of scientifically significant specimens. In 1968, the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology was constructed to house and exhibit Alf’s collections and public tours began. Over the next three decades, there was a drive to bring the museums programs and operations up to professional standards, and in 1998, the Alf Museum was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums—a distinction earned by less than 5% of museums nationwide.
*Federal specimens shown were collected under permit from the Bureau of Land Management and US Fish and Wildlife Service.
In true Hollywood fashion, “rock” stars of the Alf Museum were on hand for the world premiere of Disney/Pixar’s latest animated movie, The Good Dinosaur. Continue reading
One of the most important facets of the Alf Museum is its integration into The Webb Schools, and the extensive opportunities that students have to work with real paleontologists. This is a powerful educational model, and one that deserves to be used more widely. Yet, it is difficult to implement because professional paleontologists are often hesitant to engage in these kinds of efforts with K-12 students for a variety of reasons: lack of time, lack of recognition of its importance by universities, or a shortage of funding, among others. In order to encourage and recognize endeavors outside of Webb, the trustees at the Alf Museum have implemented the Raymond M. Alf Award for Excellence in Paleontological Research and Education. It honors a paleontologist who pursues outstanding original scientific research as well as outstanding education and outreach at the primary and secondary school (K-12) levels in the spirit of Ray Alf. Continue reading