Hidden Treasures at Cornell: An Insider’s Guide to Unique Opportunities Inside and Outside of the Classroom
The following is a guide to intriguing things that you won’t want to miss learning about during your time on the Hill.
Ever wonder what went wrong in that last relationship or worry about how the sex has gone bad after a few months? Or wake up on a Sunday morning and lament, “What was I thinking last night?”
Next time you have these questions, turn to Human Development 3620: Human Bonding instead of those relationship crib sheets, Cosmopolitan and Maxim.
Students Drink for Credit
Once a week for two hours, around 700 Cornell students will get credit for imbibing alcohol.
No, this isn’t a cheap trick by the School of Hotel Administration to increase enrollment.
The students are enrolled in the Hotel School’s two-credit Hotel Administration 4430: Introduction to Wines, and they are probably not getting drunk on the six one-ounce wine samples they get in class.
Lecture topics include flavor components in wine, how to pair wine and food and wine etiquette.
Collection for the Fashion-Conscious
Many college students spend a lot of time thinking about their clothing. But even though they may spend hours searching for the right outfit to wear to a job interview or party, they only see the outfit as part of their wardrobe. In the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection, however, clothing has become a part of history.
The costume collection currently hosts approximately 9,000 items.
There is a significant ethnographic collection featuring traditional dress from many different parts of the world as well as a textile collection featuring quilts, tapestries and wall hangings.
However, the majority of the collection is fashion-related. It features clothing dating as far back as the 18th century up to modern times.
Basically, it’s “anything from the skin out that you might wear, or carry, or use as part of dress,” said the collection’s curator, Prof. Charlotte Jirousek, textiles and apparel.
Inside the Particle Accelerator
Something is buried under Cornell’s playing fields. Fifty feet below the surface of the earth, next to Wilson Lab, there is a ring-shaped tunnel roughly half a mile in circumference. Here, scientists work day and night to unlock the secrets of the universe.
Sound like an urban legend or the plot of a science-fiction movie? It’s not. It’s the Cornell Laboratory for Accelerator Sciences & Education’s particle accelerator.
CLASSE, once known as the Laboratory of Nuclear Studies, opened soon after World War II. It has gone through several different phases over the years, and the current facility was constructed in 1979.
The particle accelerator runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the exception of maintenance and improvement periods. The cost of energy, maintenance, equipment and staff salaries is covered by an annual budget of approximately $20 million.
Your Very Own Brain Collection
The display of human brains, particularly those identified with specific individuals, evokes a variety of reactions: horror, distaste, curiosity and fascination.
Experiencing this first-hand only involves a short trip to Uris Hall’s second floor, where a display case features Cornell’s Wilder Brain Collection.
The collection, which at one time featured 1,600 animal and human brains, was established in the 1880s by Dr. Burt Green Wilder, Cornell’s first zoologist. The University stopped accepting additional brains in 1940, and at present, only 70 remain.
One of the brains on display is that of Edward Rulloff, a man hanged in Ithaca in 1871. Rulloff was convicted of beating his wife and daughter to death as well as poisoning his sister-in-law and niece. Rulloff’s Restaurant and Bar in Collegetown is named after him.
A journey through time to the year 2000 B.C., is still beyond the scope of modern technology. However, seeing clay tablets from 4,000 years ago only requires a journey to the library.
The Rare and Manuscript Collections in Kroch Library is open to everyone and includes tablets inscribed with cuneiform writing as well as handwritten manuscripts from the medieval period, an original copy of the Gettysburg Address and everything in between.
According to the Cornell University Library website, the collections consist of “400,000 printed volumes, more than 70 million manuscripts and another million photographs, paintings, prints and other visual media.”
The collection is also home to the Cornell University Archives, which documents the history of the University and the Ithaca area.
With air raid curtains from the 1940s hanging in the windows and decorative pillars left over from the museum that once occupied its place, McGraw 150 is itself a part of history.
The décor is fitting for a room that currently houses Cornell’s anthropology collection. The collection, which has existed in some form since 1868, contains artifacts from all over the world and spans roughly half a million years of human history.
The collection was started by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White and was once housed in a natural history museum at Cornell.
According to Prof. David Holmberg, former chair of the anthropology department, when the museum closed some time during World War II, its displays were either moved to other areas or put into storage.
What hadn’t been claimed by the Johnson Museum or the geology collection then “came under the responsibility of the Department of Anthropology,” Holmberg said.
Although he’s currently most fond of evolutionary biology, Bill Nye ’77 keeps the periodic table close to his heart. Or at least close to his hip, where he always carries a credit card-sized version of it around in his wallet.
Although the public knows him best for his television show Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nye served from 2001 to 2006 as a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 University Professor. During that time, students could spot Nye cycling around campus — his preferred form of transportation — on a bike borrowed from Prof. Jim Bell, astronomy.
After the two met in a chance encounter, Bell invited Nye to become a visiting professor and they have worked together ever since. Nye periodically visits Cornell to guest lecture and meet with students.
Nye still holds high regard for his alma mater. In an interview with The Sun in 2005, he lauded the University’s strengths in a number of areas.
“Cornell planetary science is as good as anybody — we’re exploring Mars,” he said. “The mathematics department seems as good as anybody’s. And another thing: Ezra Cornell, whoever he was, wanted to have women here from the get-go, and the other institutions that we compete with were not that way at all. And I think that tradition of ‘any person, any study’ is still around.”
Fascinated by fungi? Take one of Cornell’s most popular courses, Plant Pathology 2010: Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds.
Taught by Prof. Kathie Hodge, plant pathology, the class, which focuses on how mold and fungi have impacted social and political structure throughout the course of history, has been featured in Rolling Stone.
Despite the seemingly esoteric nature of the topic, the course has grown primarily through word of mouth and its accessibility to non-scientists.
Although its peak season runs from May to September, the Cornell plantations remain open from dawn to dusk throughout the year. Visitors can picnic, hike or play in any of the plantation’s 14 gardens. Some classes even take field trips to examine the beautiful plants.
For those who want to know exactly which flowers and trees they are passing, free guided tours take place in the gardens during certain months.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
161 steps up McGraw Tower, next to Uris library, is the home of the famous Cornell chimes. Chimesmasters play concerts on the 21 chimes three times a day. During these times, visitors are welcome to walk up and request a song. The afternoon concert typically closes with the Alma Mater, while the nighttime concert ends with Cornell’s Evening Song.
At the beginning of each semester, there is a competition in which new chimesmasters are selected.
Chimes concerts also take place to mark special occasions, and people can pay for additional concerts, such as during weddings at Cornell’s Sage Chapel.
Between concerts, a machine makes the chimes go off to mark time every 15 minutes from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m.
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