HAYS — Kaiden O’Dell, a freshman at Fort Hays State University from Salina, began visiting Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays before he could even read the exhibit information.

Now O’Dell is one of five students volunteering this year in the new Oceans of Kansas Fossil Prep Lab at Sternberg Museum.

O’Dell says the lab has given him opportunities to work with fossils beyond what he ever expected.

“We’ve been learning some of the basics,” O’Dell said, such as microscope preparation and learning to properly field jacket specimens in the field.

Other visitors to Sternberg Museum, which sits right off Interstate 70, can see the lab up close too. It’s large windows not only allow museum visitors to watch the work on fossils, but they slide open so visitors can talk with the scientists and students working there.

Sternberg’s summer hours are Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is: Adults (ages 13-59) $9, youths (ages 4-12) $6, senior citizens (60 and up) $8, and Fort Hays State University students with valid ID, $5.

Besides the lab, exhibits now include Megalodon, the largest shark that ever lived, through Sept. 2.

Also, a photo safari of the wilds of Botswana, Africa, starts Oct. 27 and runs through Jan. 28.

The Megalodon exhibit allows visitors to walk through full-scale jaws into a 60-foot-long Megalodon sculpture and begin to explore the story of the fantastic ancient creature – its size, structure, diet, lifespan, relatives, neighbors, evolution, extinction and the science. Tooth-shaped island units support interpretive materials, which include graphics, hands-on components, and family-friendly interactive elements. The exhibit is object-rich, including numerous fossil specimens from several collections, and life-size and scale models of other fossil and modern shark, according to the museum.

The photo safari takes visitors through the wilderness of Botswana, where 40 percent of the land is set aside as wildlife preserves. The animals photographed exist in the wild away from human influence.

“I wanted to share these images in hopes of communicating my appreciation and wonder of the natural world and its inhabitants,” said photographer Marilyn Wasinger of her photos. “Many of the photos display critically endangered and threatened species. Perhaps by seeing and learning about them, others will understand the need to preserve and protect them and the wild places for future generations.”

Anyone who can’t visit in person, can make use of the museum’s online database of its paleontology specimen data, which is available to educators, students, researchers and the general public around the world. The database, launched in 2018 and easily searchable, showcases pictures and information about the fossils housed at the museum.

Visitors to the museum might see O’Dell at work in the lab, where he hopes to inspire others the way he says the Sternberg staff inspired his passion for paleontology.

“I definitely want to research, but I think the bigger thing for me is going to be more of the public outreach, talking to little kids, like I was, in inspiring them and saying ‘Keep this, this is real. You should try and keep that desire in your heart,’” he said. O’Dell said he’s applying for opportunities do to field research this summer.

The museum, world famous for its fish-within-a-fish fossil, is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Groups of 12 or more people can book a tour guided by museum staff.

Online video chat-based classroom programs for middle and high school classes and school science clubs on earth and life sciences topics are available during the school year with Camps Director David Levering via Google Hangouts and Skype.

Contact the museum at (785) 628-4286 or sternbergpr@gmail.com.