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Triassic Park

Nevada State Museum's new donation box, designed by UNLV students, features a fearsome fish from long ago.

Business and Community  |  Aug 9, 2018  |  By Cheryl Bella
A girl donates money to a box featuring a glowing ichthyosaur

Museum visitors test out the Nevada State Museum’s new donation box created by UNLV students and featuring the state fossil, the ichthyosaur.

The small donation bowl for the Nevada State Museum in Las Vegas was easy for patrons to pass up. 

So why not remake it into something with some teeth? Literally.

The Friends of the Nevada State Museum reached out to entertainment, engineering and design professor Si Jung Kim looking for help. They wanted to enhance the museum visitors’ experience while inspiring donations.

A group of 10 students from Kim’s production design class came together to create a box featuring a three-dimensional model of the state fossil, the ichthyosaur. Entertainment, engineering and design is a joint venture between the College of Engineering and the College of Fine Arts.

The students, who covered disciplines from biology to civil and environmental engineering to entertainment, engineering and design, turned their sights on designing an interactive model that would be unique to the museum.

“The brainstorming was the most complex and satisfying part of the process,” said civil engineering freshman Ben Dancel.

They focused on prehistoric Nevada, when the ichthyosaur roamed the waters that used to blanket the region. The extinct marine reptile from the Triassic period (before the dinosaurs) had a long undulating body with flippers and a pronounced jaw full of sharp teeth.

Students designed a model that featured the reptile and a small human figurine. The ichthyosaur could grow as large as a school bus and the comparison between the sea monster and the human gives visitors a terrifying frame of reference.

The design was printed and donated by local 3D printing firm Moment 3D. The box also includes several tracks so donors can race coins past the figures into the tank, making donations an experience in itself.

Finally, the box was fit with color-changing LED lights and installed at the museum.

“It’s not just what you learn in the classroom. You have to learn outside of the classroom and bring it into practice,” said Rama Venkat, dean of the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering.