Unveiling the tapestry of time

A new 12-panel mural in the Geological Sciences Building provides visitors with a visually immersive exploration of earth's history.

April 29, 2024
Contact: Deidra Ashley,

The west stairwell of the University of Missouri’s Geological Sciences Building features a compelling new addition: a mural that seamlessly unites art and science while offering a visual exploration of the history of Earth and life across the span of 635 million years.

Jim Schiffbauer, an associate professor of geological sciences in the College of Arts and Science, and team spent months researching, designing, painting and installing the timeline. This project was initially conceptualized as part of Schiffbauer's 2017 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, which seeks to enrich both research and education within academia.

“The NSF CAREER award is not just research intensive; it's also heavily invested in teaching and outreach,” he said. “It's supposed to set up your career for the next 5 to 10 years of academia, and one of those important parts, especially for us, is engaging students. Our hope is that we can entice elementary, middle and high school students to want to pursue a STEM career — and to hopefully do it here at Mizzou.”

Support for the project also came from The Connector and the College of Arts and Science.

  • Jim Schiffbauer, an associate professor of geological sciences in the College of Arts and Science, poses with the mural. The project was initially conceptualized as part of Schiffbauer's 2017 National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award.
    Roger Meissen / University of Missouri.
Picture perfect

Although the coronavirus pandemic forced the team to change their original plans for an outreach project, they decided to turn their idea into a mural with QR codes strategically positioned beside each panel. By simply scanning the QR codes with a smartphone or tablet, budding young geologists can access Schiffbauer’s website that provides information on the geologic period’s fossils and access to printable versions of the original coloring book.

Each of the mural’s 12 panels depicts a specific geological period since the earliest appearance of animals — all aligned in chronological order, starting with the Ediacaran Period and ending with the Neogene and the Quaternary.

Stacy Turpin Cheavens, a medical illustrator with the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, partnered with Schiffbauer to design the illustrations and intricate details of the mural.

“It's been an involved process,” she said. “There's a lot of thought and research that went into creating this mural from the whole team.”

Cheavens said viewers can easily differentiate each panel by the color palette — which is based on the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s (ICS) time-scale color scheme. The width of each panel corresponds to the number of years in that period, scaled so that each foot is equal to 20 million years.

“This is all tied together with the official way of keeping and organizing geologic time for all the fossils that we have depicted,” Schiffbauer said.

The mural illustrates a variety of notable plants and creatures from the Midwest, including Missouri’s state dinosaur, the hadrosaur Hypsibema missouriensis, in the foreground of the Cretaceous panel and the Quaternary’s saber-toothed tiger, Smilodon, a nod to the MU Tigers. The design also features mountain peaks on the top of each panel that correspond to mountain-building events during that period.

Geology as art

Undergraduate volunteer, Lauren Wright, joined the team during her junior year of high school. Now a geology major and a junior at Mizzou, she has been contributing her artistic talents to bring the mural to life.

“I want to do paleontological art as a career, and this is my first big step in an actual art piece about prehistoric life,” Wright said. “This is really my first dive into what a future career could look like for me, and it's a really great opportunity to kind of gain the experience and understand what I want to do with my life.”

Story written by Abigail Durkin

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