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February 14, 2006 > A treat for all ages

A treat for all ages

by Todd Griffin

A million years ago, the east bay was low-lying, marshy savannah, marked by rivers, lakes, and extensive wooded areas. It was home to such beasts as mammoths, saber-toothed cats, camels, and giant bears. In the 1940s, a fossil site of considerable scientific importance was discovered in Irvington, near Hwy 680 and Washington Blvd., containing a wealth of fossil remains from these and other ancient animals.

The Math Science Nucleus, founded in 1982, is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and displaying these fossils as part of its overall mission to provide science information and education to students, teachers, administrators, and the community at large. To promote this mission, the Nucleus offers an excellent science curriculum that is utilized in classrooms worldwide, the Wes Gordon Museum housing fossils and related natural science exhibits, and a broad array of other activities and programs.

In addition, a lecture series focused on paleontology is being offered this year for the first time. The material is appropriate for serious students aged seven and up, as well as interested adults, making it a fun and educational family outing. Dr. Joyce Blueford, Nucleus co-founder and President of the Board of Directors, delivers these "museum lectures" the second Saturday of each month. Each one-hour session consists of a 30 to 40 minute lecture followed by a hands-on experience.

"The lectures are trying to put these fossils in some kind of perspective," explained Dr. Blueford. "I want to tell the whole story, starting locally and moving outward. I'm trying to create an understanding of how they fit into the whole scheme of things." In January, Dr. Blueford presented the story of the Irvington Fossils to a group ranging in age from eight to 85. On Feb.11 she spoke on Fossilization to another eager and appreciative audience. Future lecture dates and topics are listed below, with Dr. Blueford's descriptive comments.

Looking to the future, the Nucleus will continue to build curricula for primary and secondary education, as well as hosting three to five groups of school children weekly at the museum. It is hoped that someday the museum will expand to include the entire building where it is currently located on Eggers Drive and Fremont Boulevard in Fremont; donations are gratefully accepted. Museum personnel have also engaged in discussions with the city of Fremont aimed toward preserving the Bell Quarry, source of the Irvington fossils, as an historic park.

Success of the museum lecture series bodes well for similar events and seminars in the future. Dr. Blueford has agreed to deliver lectures in conjunction with Fremont's 50th anniversary celebration this year. She says that after 24 years of building the Nucleus, her motivation has not diminished. "I like seeing people learn. They get all excited about something they may have walked right by and never noticed. Just opening their eyes is definitely a good feeling."

The following is a listing of future lecture and hands-on sessions at the Math-Science Nucleus and Wes Gordon Fossil Museum:

  • March 11: Mammoths and Mastodons. The American mastodon roamed North America from at least 3.75 million to 11,000 years ago. Mastodons, along with mammoths and modern elephants, are members of the order Proboscidea. Three species of mammoths lived on the mainland of the United States at the end of the last Ice Age: the Columbian mammoth, Jefferson's mammoth, and the woolly mammoth.

  • April 8: The Hayward Fault and the Irvington Fossils. The Hayward fault is part of the complex plate boundary system in central California and is a major branch of the San Andreas Fault System. The uplift exposes the fossils in the Fremont area. Clues from the fossils and gravels help to unravel some of the mysteries of ancient California.

  • May 13: Fossils of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Fremont Irvington Fossils are not the only fossils in the East Bay. There are older mammal faunas from Mt. Diablo, marine shells near Mission Peak, ammonites in Castro Valley, as well as giant oysters. This lecture and lab will look at these localities and specimens and what they mean in unraveling ancient times.

  • June 10: California During the Ice Age. Even though the Ice Age presents to mind large glaciers covering large landmasses to the north in Canada, California was not cold in many places. We will look at how northern and southern California were really vacation spots for many species.

    All lectures begin at 4:00 p.m. at the Eggers facility. Cost is $2 for Nucleus members and $3 for non-members. Register at or (510) 790-6284. Walk-ins are accepted on a space-available basis.

    Science Lectures
    Math Science Nucleus
    4074 Eggers Dr., Fremont
    (510) 790-6284
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