Time travel may be reserved for science-fiction movies and novels, but an exhibit being displayed around the Oval at the University of Montana allows campus-goers to walk through the 4.6 billion-year history of Earth.
"A Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us" is an interactive exhibit that features 90 panels depicting different points in time throughout the evolution of the planet.
The panels display a short description of the events of a given time or era, along with illustrations and photos as well as a number in the top-left corner detailing how long ago it was.
For example, on a panel near Main Hall, the poster read "600 million years ago ANIMALS ARISE: The first animals arise when marine protoctists curtail reproduction in favor of specialization. They are very small, with only soft-body parts, so they may swim with their protoctist cousins for millions of years before circumstances are favorable for their preservation in the fossil record."
The project, put together by physicist Sidney Liebes, was funded by Hewlett-Packard and given to the Foundation for Global Community upon its completion on Earth Day in 1997.
Starting at west end of the Oval, near the Payne Family Native American Center and going counter-clockwise, the "walk through time" starts in the present day. To fit the project around the Oval, time was squeezed, with each step representing 1 million years on the south side and about 10 million years per step on the north side of the Oval.
Originally, "the walk" was depicted over a mile-long stretch with each foot representing 1 million years of time. At that scale, human existance relative to the history of the Earth is only 0.001 inch.
While most students gave the placards only a glance as they walked by, Tom and Sally Daer took the time to stop at each post. Reading each one, Tom said he was learning a lot of stuff.
"You get hung up in the Jurassic Period and you kind of forget about the mass extinctions they had. It's all about the dinosaurs," said Daer, who was accompanied by his 13-year-old Lab Daisy. "I mean, you just kind of get the sense how fragile mankind is."
Psychology student Oscar Grey stopped near the Davidson Honors College and said he was fascinated by the history of the Earth.
"Evolution, period," Grey said when asked what piques his interests about Earth's history. "Just the timescale on which things have had to evolve is just incredible and mind-boggling."
Grey said it was the first such exhibit he'd seen and that he enjoyed its linear order.
The exhibit will remain up all week, until Earth Day on Sunday. "Walk Through Time" is also available online at http://www.globalcommunity.org/wtt/walk_menu/.