David Tabano's seventh-grade anthropology class gathered in small groups and prepared questions for one of the nation's leading anthropologists.

The Denver Center for International Studies class didn't have to take a field trip to see Charles Musiba in his research lab at the University of Colorado Denver. They were one of several classes throughout the nation that participated in a video conference with Musiba on Monday.

Musiba, an anthropology professor at CU Denver, was the latest professional featured on " Scientists in Action." The program hosted by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science connects scientists and classrooms throughout the nation.

"We focus on a lot of our scientists," said Gianna Sullivan, distance learning coordinator with the museum. "It's a great way to get students excited about science."

Although Musiba doesn't work for the museum, Sullivan said the program was eager to host him because his focus is outside of the museum's spectrum.

Musiba studies fossils found in the famous Laetoli site in Tanzania. In 1978, Mary Leakey discovered footprints at the site, which provided evidence of bipedalism in early humans.


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Musiba met Leakey when he was in high school. She was instrumental in leading him to pursue anthropology, Musiba told classrooms in Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Wisconsin, which watched his video conference at 9 a.m.

"I'm interested in human origins," he said later in an interview. "It's about learning who we are and there are so many ways of making it fun."

The "Scientists in Action" team began broadcasting at 9 a.m. and did four sessions over the course of the day, connecting with 14 classrooms in seven states, according to Sullivan.

Sophia Clarke at the Denver Center for International Studies asks a question during a class broadcast by anthropology professor Charles Musiba.
Sophia Clarke at the Denver Center for International Studies asks a question during a class broadcast by anthropology professor Charles Musiba. (Joe Amon, The Denver Post)

Schools made reservations for 45-minute sessions with the professor on the museum's website three weeks earlier.

Tabano signed his class up for an 11 a.m. session. Musiba had visited and spoken to his class earlier in the academic year.

"It was kind of review of what we learned about last time," 13-year-old Sophia Clarke said after the session. "I learned a lot of stuff, and it was cool to ask questions we didn't get to ask."

Tabano had his class participate in a session the program was hosting a couple of years before and wasn't happy with the conference technology. This one was better, he said.

"When I teach, I always try to use practical examples," Tabano said. "I liked this idea because they get to see anthropologists behind the scenes."

Tabano used to take his classes to the museum, but because of the cost for field trips he no longer does that, he said. So far the museum has kept the "Scientists in Action" sessions free.

"With this they still get to see tools and the artifacts he would have showed them at the museum," Tabano said.

Musiba showed the students equipment he uses in his research, including a 3-D scanning machine for fossils.

"It was very interesting to see all the materials used," 13-year-old Ismerai Diaz said.

Musiba said he was happy with the broadcasts and hopes to be able to do one from Tanzania in the future.

By 2 p.m., he had spoken to about 650 participants during the four sessions, according to Sullivan.

"Most of the time, especially kids think about scientists as far removed," Musiba said. "Actually asking a scientist about the kind of work we do is the key to learning."

Adrian Garcia: 303-954-1729, agarcia@denverpost.com