Explore Evolution / Tree of Life

How evolution works from the smallest to the largest organisms.

Explore Evolution Overview

Explore Evolution is a partnership forged between science museums and 4-H organizations to bring current research on evolution to the public. The project features the work of scientists who are making leading discoveries about the evolution of life. From rapidly evolving HIV to whales that walked, the public is invited to explore evolution in organisms ranging from the very smallest to the largest. The University of Nebraska State Museum project was established with a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Informal Science Education Program. The grant supported the creation of permanent exhibit galleries at six partner museums, learning research on how visitors understand evolution, a Web site, and inquiry-based activities for middle-school children.

Tree of Life

How are humans related to other life forms? What traits do bats share with bananas? Do beetles share a common ancestry with fish? Explore questions like these and the complex evolutionary relationships of over 70,000 species with the touch of a finger on the Tree of Life – an installation in Morrill Hall's Explore Evolution gallery.

The Tree of Life provides an engaging format to visualize 3.5 billion years of evolutionary history. A swipe of the finger on the multi-touch table allows the user to zoom through the phylogenetic tree, called DeepTree, to see how all life on Earth is related by common ancestry. For example, users can search the tree to see how bananas are related to people or how giraffes are related to bald eagles.

The Tree of Life is incorporated with the museum's educational programs for schools and the general public to teach evolutionary concepts such as common descent and natural selection. It was also integrated into a new course sequence for students in the UNL School of Biological Sciences.


Explore Evolution is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0229294. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations  expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Tree of Life is the result of a multi-institutional collaboration including Judy Diamond, Professor and Curator of Informal Science Education for the NU State Museum. Diamond served as co-principal investigator with Chia Shen from the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Harvard University, Mike Horn from Northwestern University, Margaret Evans from the University of Michigan, and postdoctoral fellows Florian Block and Brenda Caldwell Phillips at Harvard. This three-year, $2.3 million dollar NSF grant developed the exhibit for four museums in the United States. In addition to Morrill Hall, the Tree of Life will be installed at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, Mass., the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.