Many who have passed room 271 in Flarsheim Hall have likely been hit by a sudden wave of curiosity and wonder.
After all, most doors in the building are locked with hazard signs posted nearby; and many of the ones that are open simply possess cramped desks and dry-erase boards. Fortunate instructors may find a dry erase marker or two.
Celebrated as the Richard L. Sutton, Jr. Museum of Geosciences, it has welcomed more than 10,000 students, faculty, primary and secondary school children, teachers, amateur rock and fossils clubs and Boy Scout troops.
Touring the facility, visitors may be amazed by a giant ammonite fossil shell, which measures 30 inches across and is estimated to be about 80 million years old.
In 1973, the Department of Geosciences opened the museum as a platform for precious findings of its faculty. Then, much of the collection was provided by the late Dr. Richard Sutton Jr. and Professor Eldon Parizek.
Two years ago, the museum was renamed in honor of Sutton.
Dr. Sutton, a distinguished dermatologist and adjunct geology faculty member, donated more than half of the museum’s fine specimens and all the museum’s double-level display cases.
Today, combined with large additions from emeritus professor and museum curator, Richard J. Gentile, and others, the museum boasts a world-class collection of more than 3,000 minerals, gems, fossils, and ores.
New materials are constantly coming in, including mammoth hair 40,000 years old recovered from the tundra of Siberia, an amethyst quartz crystal, a replica of a saber-toothed cat skull, and mammoth teeth from the sand bars in the Kansas River.
Throughout the years, museum administrators and visitors have been particularly astonished by its crinoid collection.
The crinoid became Missouri’s official state fossil on June 16, 1989, after a group of Lee’s Summit school students worked to promote it as a state symbol. Crinoid’s etymology traces back to Greek translation, meaning “sea lily.” Still, the crinoid is a mineralization of an animal, named after its plant-like appearance.
Related to the starfish and sand dollar, the crinoid lived in the sea that once covered Missouri. In 1889, excavators discovered at least 400 specimens at 10th Street and Grand Boulevard.
According to Gentile, things remain buried in regional sediment and lake beds for a geologist to find and get excited about.
“I found and named a species of coccoliths in 1971 when they were building a stretch of I-29 near St. Joseph,” he said. “They are the remains of one-celled protozoans, visible only with magnification of x 10,000. They are flat and disc-shaped and resemble tiny waffles. I call them ‘Paleococcolithus missouriensis.’”
The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.