One of the best kept secrets in the Middle Tennessee area is no secret to Middle Tennessee State University students and alumni.
Sparkling rocks, amazing fossils and a toothy T. rex await visitors at Earth Experience: The Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History, located at 816 Old Salem Road in Murfreesboro.
At any given time, three MTSU graduates, seven or eight active students and three retired employees will be working or volunteering at the museum, says MTSU geosciences lecturer Alan Brown.
The brainchild of Brown and the late Lewis Frank Elrod, Earth Experience is the region’s only natural history museum.
Brown, who served as the second director of MTSU’s Mineral, Gem, and Fossil Museum until it closed a few years ago, formed a nonprofit organization, asked support to sponsor display cases for the items in the collection and opened it to the public in September 2014. (You can read more about Brown’s earlier adventures in paleontology here.)
“The collection has grown every year by huge amounts because people find out that there’s an actual museum here, and they say, ‘Well, I have my grandfather’s rock collection,’ or ‘Hey, I’ve been finding these fossils in my back yard,’ and so people are bringing stuff to us now,” Brown said.
Novella Greer, a geosciences major from Nashville, makes replicas of artifacts in the museum. The former computer network administrator for the state of Tennessee returned to college for business classes, but she’s discovered her bliss in geology.
“My intention is to get my master’s degree, go to work for a while, get my doctorate in paleontology, and, eventually, I’d like to become a professor and come back to work here,” Greer said.
She started volunteering for Earth Experience when it was a mobile museum, before Brown secured a brick-and-mortar location.
“You only learn a certain amount in the classroom,” Greer said. “I think it’s made me a better scientist.”
The showpiece is an exact replica of a Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur. The 38-feet-long creature is a copy of the real one on display at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. It took 10 months to assemble part by part.
Other wonders include display cases filled with real fossils, including a skull of a saber-toothed cat from the LaBrea Tar Pits in California and a fossil of a red panda only found in China, as well as Elrod’s vast multicolored mineral collection that features zinc from the Elmwood Mine in Smith County, Tennessee.
Because visiting children, among others, love to touch the exhibits, some of which are too fragile to handle, Brown said they’re making certain that there’s something visitors can touch in every room of the museum.
There are even beautiful, wearable minerals, thanks to Bill Jackson, a former MTSU mass communication faculty member who retired in 1993 and has been making jewelry with beads, polished rocks and his soldering iron in his home studio for about 20 years. If you don’t catch Jackson crafting jewelry in the museum, you’ll find his creations on display in the gift shop.
Admissions and gift shop sales pay for utilities and rent, along with some small donations. Most donations Brown receives are in-kind items.
Earth Experience: The Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History is open Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission is $7 for ages 12 and up, $3 for ages 4-11 and free for those under 4 years old. Contact the museum at 615-900-8358 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Gina K. Logue (email@example.com)