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“Alchemy, Science and Magic”

SOLON– The Solon Public Library has a new display with a science theme: “Alchemy, Science and Magic.”
Dedicated to science teachers, the window coordinates with the library’s summer reading program “Fizz, Boom, Read!”
Youth Services Librarian Carey Major said the science-focused program inspired library window dresser Antonia Russo to create an imaginative tableau that will enchant and engage all ages.
Viewers enter the parallel universe of Harry Potter for a potions class at Hogwarts. Based on the “Half-Blood Prince,” book six in the Harry Potter series, the display recreates the dungeon classroom of Professor Slughorn. Breakfast in the Great Hall is over, as the owls deliver mail and the students file into a classroom full of vapors, bubbling cauldrons, scales, and potions ingredients. A battered copy of “Advanced Potion-Making” by Libatius Borage sits on Harry’s desk beside his glasses and quill pen.
Mice, snakes, and spiders crawl over musty spell books and around old scientific instruments and oddly shaped bones. Some will see old friends like Ron’s pet rat, Scabbers, and Hedwig, Harry’s beautiful white owl.
Alchemy was a medieval philosophy and an early form of chemistry that sought to turn metal to gold, to cure disease, and to find an elixir for eternal youth. The imagined substance capable of turning metals into gold was called the philosopher’s or sorcerer’s stone. J.K. Rowling titled her first Harry Potter book, “The Philosopher’s Stone,” for her British printing.
The display scene provides a setting for a wonderful exhibit of vintage scientific instruments– microscopes, telescopes, a compass, timepieces like sand or hourglasses, and even an astrolabe. Although these old instruments are beautifully crafted, often in brass, they were developed for use, not decoration. They reveal the intellectual skill and achievement of the era in which they were made.
The window also displays some unique skeletons and other objects on generous loan from the University of Iowa (UI) Natural History Museum, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Cindy Optiz, collections manager at the museum, was pleased to bring museum specimens to add to the display.
“Our mission is educational,” said Optiz. “When Toni approached us about using some of our items, we were thrilled to get it in front of the broader community.”
Included in the display are horned sheep skulls, a Macaque monkey skeleton, several species of snakes, a few owls and other surprise guests garnered from the museum. Explanations about the animal species within guide viewers to learn more about them.
“We don’t exhibit the animals as trophies, but as part of the display for educational purposes,” said Russo. “Having the museum as a resource takes it to a whole new level.”
Russo has utilized the museum’s collections in previous window displays and praises the facility as a local treasure.
“It’s akin to having access to a museum like that of Chicago’s,” she said. “It’s a huge resource for the community, and we are so grateful to them.”
Optiz, who authored “Window to the World,” a book on the UI Natural History Museum’s 100 years of operation, said she hopes that as people see the museum artifacts, they will be inspired to visit and take advantage of the museum’s many exhibits, programming and special activities for all ages.
“We hope people will be curious,” she said, “and come and see what is available.”
Major hopes the window will inspire young readers to be curious as well. The library’s summer reading program kicked off May 29. Children’s story times include activities for children to explore scientific concepts like sink-and-float, living and nonliving things, and the five senses. Adventure Afternoons for kids in first through fourth grades also offer science-based experiments and activities such as gross biology day and aerodynamics. Upcoming family events include visitors from Blank Park Zoo and the Science Center, as well as next week’s Bubble Night. Teen programs occur on Tuesday afternoons at 2 p.m., when teens will delve into scientific mysteries and enjoy games and myth-buster types of experiments.
The library thanks the family of Dan Daly, Richard Sjolund, Nancy Wehrheim, and Thomas Garbutt of New York City, for their support, with a very special thank-you to Carie-Ann Rasmussen for loaning objects from her Harry Potter collection.
The display will run through July 18. The summer reading program runs until July 26. For more information, visit www.solon.lib.ia.us and click on the Summer Reading 2014 link.