China has another first: a park dedicated to some 114 large sculptures of foraminifera! These marine unicellular microorganisms mostly secrete a calcium-carbonate shell and live at all depths in the ocean. Their stable isotopes are widely used by paleoclimatologists to reconstruct past global climates and ice volume (sea-level changes). They are also important paleobathymetric indicators and indispensible in the field of paleoceanography..
The germ of an idea for a sculpture park first began some ten years earlier when marine geologist Bilal Haq of the National Science Foundation visited the lab of marine biologist and academician Zheng Shouyi at the Institute the Institute of Oceanology in Qingdao. A prolific taxonomist and one of the world’s leading foraminiferalogist, Zheng had meticulously produced palm-size models of over a hundred of these submicroscopic species of both benthic and planktonic foraminifera for educational purposes. Haq was struck by their aesthetic beauty and almost abstract quality that suggested Henry Moore sculptures in miniature. He proposed to Zheng that some of them could be enlarged into sculptures. He also ventured a suggestion that perhaps a whole park populated by such sculptures could be a great outreach project for the general public. Zheng, a woman of action and a politically influential scientist, took the suggestion seriously and was able to convince the authorities in her hometown of Zhongshan (also the hometown of Sun Yat-Sen) in Guangdong Province to do just that. Thus, 114 sculptures of over a 100 different Paleozoic to modern species were carved out of marble, granite and sandstone by artisans under the exacting eye of Zheng Shouyi over a period of five years.
The world’s first Foraminifera Sculpture Park officially opened on the 5th December 2009. Haq, who attended the inauguration, says that it is breathtaking. It is located on a hillside covering an area of several acres and has a foram-like spirally shaped museum attached to it that displays the history and usefulness of forams in academic and industrial research. It is already a smash hit with the local populace, especially with school children. City elders are equally fond of the project as they hope to attract international audiences to this unique display of science mixing with every-day life and culture of a town. Zheng hopes it will inspire the younger generation to take up science (especially bio- and geosciences) studies. Haq feels that the beautifully located park should do just that!
by Bilal Haq
Photos of Foraminifera Sculpture Park
Science Magazine Report, December 18, 2009 (PDF)