‘Tree of Life’ opens Feb. 22 at Morrill Hall

How are humans related to other life forms? What traits do bats share with bananas? Do beetles share a common ancestry with fish? Explore questions like these and the complex evolutionary relationships of more than 70,000 species with the touch of a finger on the "Tree of Life," a new exhibition opening Feb. 22 at the University of Nebraska State Museum in Morrill Hall.

The Tree of Life exhibit, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, offers information about life on Earth using touchscreen technology. The exhibit spans 3.5 billion years of evolutionary history. A finger swipe allows users to zoom through the phylogenetic tree to see how all life on Earth is related by common ancestry.

The Tree of Life is the result of a multi-institutional collaboration including Judy Diamond, professor and curator of Informal Science Education for the University of Nebraska State Museum. Diamond served as co-principal investigator with Chia Shen, Harvard University; Mike Horn, Northwestern University; Margaret Evans, University of Michigan; and postdoctoral fellows Florian Block and Brenda Caldwell Phillips.

The project was developed through a three-year, $2.3 million NSF grant. The exhibit will be featured in four museums across the United States — Morrill Hall, Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, Mass., California Institute of Sciences in San Francisco, and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

“The tree of life is a central organizing principle for all of natural history, but it is not easy to understand. This exhibit gives users the opportunity to playfully explore the tree of life and learn how all life on Earth is related,” said Diamond.

The Tree of Life will be incorporated with the museum’s educational programs for schools and the general public to teach evolutionary concepts such as common descent and natural selection. It will also be integrated into a new course sequence for students in UNL's School of Biological Sciences in fall 2013. Students will use it to simulate evolution — connecting genes to individuals, populations, and evolution.

For more information on the Tree of Life, including images and video, go to https://lifeonearth.seas.harvard.edu.

The University of Nebraska State Museum is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Wednesday and Friday-Saturday; 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays; and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sundays. Admission is free (with a valid NCard) for UNL faculty, staff, students and immediate family members. There is an additional charge for planetarium shows.

For more information, go to http://www.museum.unl.edu or call 402-472-2642.