Field Trips

Quantum Leap Field Trips took Hoosiers inside fascinating sites of discovery, problem-solving and innovation. These indelible adult field trips, co-led by scientists and humanities scholars, combine tours with short literary readings in order to help us think, read and talk about how new frontiers of inquiry reshape our understanding of what it means to be human. Each trip concluded with a snack, drinks and discussion.


Past Field Trips

Explore the final frontier at Mooresville’s Link Observatory (July 28, 2017) | Recap

When it was built in 1939, Morgan County’s Link Observatory was the eighth largest telescope in the nation. From the late 1940s through the late 1960s, more than 90 percent of all new asteroids discovered worldwide were found by the Link Observatory! On this Field Trip, we stepped onto the observation deck of a research-grade facility and used the giant telescope to peer into the night sky, something humans have been doing and writing about for thousands of years. We paired the latest information on space exploration from NASA with timeless literature that helps us consider our place in the universe, then settled in for a truly far-out discussion.

Consider what separates humans from animals at the Indianapolis Zoo (Aug. 25, 2017) | Recap 

For a long time, biologists considered the use of tools to be a major marker of difference separating humans and animals. But recent research, including that conducted at the Indianapolis Zoo, has complicated that binary. If orangutans can talk, elephants can feel emotions and dolphins can use tools, then are humans really so different than other forms of life? On Aug 25 we went on a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour of the Indianapolis Zoo, where we got up close and personal with the animals and talked with scientists whose cutting-edge research is radically reshaping the field of zoology. Along the way, we read short literary texts that invite us to reconsider our human-centered view of the universe. 

Investigate the origins of ecology at the Indiana Dunes (Sept. 16, 2017) | Recap

We usually think of the Indiana Dunes as a spot for recreation or artistic inspiration—but can we think of them as a lab, too? The pioneering botanist Henry Chandler Cowles discovered many new plant species and proved the theory of ecological succession at the Dunes. That makes the Dunes one Indiana’s most important places of scientific inquiry and investigation.

On this Field Trip, we explored the Dunes and considered how Cowles’s ideas—the interconnectedness of all living things—have shaped not only scientific but also humanistic thinking over the last century. Along the way, we helped present-day scientists collect samples and learn about trail monitoring. Afterwards, we gathered around a campfire for beers, food and discussion.

Quantum Leap Field Trip to New Harmony  (Aug. 18, 2018) | Recap

This tiny Indiana town was once the center of the American scientific community. It was from here that early and significant surveys of North American flora, fauna and geology were conducted; one of the famous Owen brothers then went on to found the Smithsonian Institution. During this one-of-a-kind tour of New Harmony, we met with geologists, archaeologists and historians helping to tell this story today, and saw some of the original specimens and maps collected and created more than 150 years ago. We’ll made stops at the Working Men’s Institute, the Harmonist Cemetery and walked out to the Wabash riverbed to spot fossils before quaffing our thirst with a beer brewed from an 1823 New Harmony recipe.


Quantum Leap Field Trip to Purdue Bee Labs (Sept. 15, 2018) | Recap

Emily Dickinson once wrote “To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee / One clover, and a bee / and revery. / The revery alone will do / If bees are few.” Unfortunately today, in the era of colony collapse, we may soon be testing Dickinson’s theory of whether we can create a prairie (or sustain agriculture, or enjoy a beautiful garden) if bees are few.

Thankfully, Indiana is home to scientists and ecologists valiantly working to save bees and help them become more resilient. On Sept. 15, we traveled to Purdue’s Bee Labs and research gardens, where we learned about efforts to create an “Indiana Queen,” how to counter colony collapse and the reasons why humans and bees need each other. Along the way, we read short literary texts that helped us think and talk about these and other questions, followed by sweet honey-themed snacks and drinks.