Cedar Falls — The University of Northern Iowa’s UNI Dome loomed large to the north as RAGBRAI riders rolled into town. Domed white clouds seemed to copy its look, and even the fields of purple and gold wildflowers seemed to take cues from the school’s colors. Clearly, this was Panther country.
“It’s all about building community, about building relationships,” said UNI Assistant Vice President Jan Hanish.
She was helping at an information booth bedecked with purple tablecloths and UNI swag: buttons, temporary tattoos, purple chapstick and the like. Purple flags flapped nearby.
But way down in a parking lot at the bottom of the hill stood a Hawkeye bus, which looked at least a little out of place. It was the University of Iowa’s mobile museum, which has been following the RAGBRAI route to offer riders and other visitors a glimpse into the university’s history and research.
“We’re getting a pretty good reception,” said the museum’s communications coordinator, Casey Westlake, who diplomatically wore both a Hawkeyes button and another that said “I (heart) UNI.”
The bus travels to schools and fairs from April through October and this year features three different exhibits, about Iowa’s aquifers, the university’s history of space exploration (starting with the late professor James Van Allen), and the university’s role in World War II.
RAGBRAI riders Kayleen McCann of Osceola and her daughter, Kalli, stepped into the air-conditioned bus and played around with the interactive experiments. They picked up a piece of 1930s Fiestaware covered with an orange glaze that contained uranium oxide, prompting a sensor to beep nearby.
“That plate is radioactive,” a museum staffer said. “It’s poisonous, and you’re touching it, but that’s OK.”
About 12,000 visitors have seen the exhibits since April. Thousands more will get a chance to see it at its next scheduled stop, at the Iowa State Fair.
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