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Explore the Secret World of Soil in Dig It!: Exhibit Opens Nov. 10 at the Bell Museum of Natural History

October 18, 2012

Within one gram of soil are close to one billion living bacteria, a fact made all the more astounding considering most people know relatively little about soil…but not for long! Dig It! The Secrets of Soil, an exhibit opening Nov. 10 at the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History, reveals the complex world of soil and how this hidden ecosystem supports nearly every form of life on Earth, especially humans.

The popular exhibit gives an up close look into the fascinating world of soil science through hands-on models, interactive displays, soil samples, videos and activities. Perhaps its most ambitious element is a collection of 54 soil monoliths representing every U.S. state and territory and the District of Columbia.

“The monoliths are really a star of the exhibit, showing an amazing variety of colors and textures,” shared Bell Museum curator Jennifer Menken.

Though centered on soil science curriculum, the exhibit covers a diverse array of subjects like nutrition, global food production, chemistry, biology, botany, physics, geology, climate, history and art. Menken has plans for diving deeper into many of these subjects through exhibit-related programming. “We’re going to have a lot of programming with Dig It! There are so many enthusiastic people and resources to enhance the exhibit experience throughout its run into summer 2013.”

For members of the U of M’s Department of Soil, Water and Climate, the timing couldn’t be better, as 2013 will mark the department’s 100th anniversary. Many of the department’s soil scientists, like Carl Rosen, see an opportunity to spread an important message.

“Soil is a precious natural resource,” shared Rosen. “When we raise awareness of soil, we raise the quality of life for all.”

The show includes elements from an exhibition organized by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Now owned and toured by the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), it has ties close to the University of Minnesota. Jay Bell, associate dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences and a soil scientist himself, was part of the original team advocating for the exhibit’s creation and guiding its content.

“The exhibit started as a conversation between the Smithsonian and the SSSA that soil was something important to highlight and fund,” recalls Bell. “It’s wonderful to see this exhibit here in Minnesota – as well as traveling all over – and inspiring visitors to see the beauty and importance of soil.”

The Bell Museum is part of the University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and strives to advance the quest to discover, document and understand life in its many forms and to inspire curiosity, delight and informed stewardship of the natural world. For details, visit

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Dig It! Opens Nov. 10 at the Bell Museum

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