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KNOXVILLE—Science and art have collided at the Frank H. McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. A new exhibit called “Continents Collide: The Appalachians and the Himalayas” turns the research of Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Distinguished Scientist Robert Hatcher and Assistant Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Micah Jessup into a thing of beauty.

McClung exhibit
A view of the exhibit.

Curated by the professors, the exhibition focuses on the formation of mountain ranges and the forces that continually alter them. It combines Hatcher’s research of the Appalachian Mountains with Jessup’s of the Himalaya Mountains.

“This exhibit embodies thoughts and data from forty-five years of work in the Appalachians and comparisons with other mountain chains, ancient and modern, that I have studied in less detail over the past several decades,” said Hatcher.

The exhibit juxtaposes the landscape of East Tennessee and western North Carolina, whose genesis was more than 250 million years ago, with that of the rugged Himalaya Mountains, which are much younger and still rising as a result of tectonic movements. By comparing the geology and tectonics of these ranges, the exhibit teaches fundamental concepts such as geologic time, rates, processes, and scale. It includes scaled 3-D models of both the Appalachians near Knoxville and the Mount Everest region of Tibet and Nepal. Hand samples, maps, satellite images, large field images, and a ten-minute video are also part of the exhibit.

McClung curators
Exhibit curators Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Distinguished Scientist Robert Hatcher (left) and Assistant Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Micah Jessup (right) at exhibit.

“This comparison forms a powerful connection where many aspects of the ranges can be compared to each other and teach the fundamental concepts of geologic scale, rates, time and processes,” said Jessup. “As scientists, Dr. Hatcher and I are interested in the processes of how continents collide. As processes, these are not unique to one event or a time period, so the old Appalachians and young Himalayas record aspects that are strikingly similar despite the age difference.”

The video was created by award-winning producer Steve Dean who creates WBIR-TV’s The Heartland Series. It introduces the project and features views of a number of sites in the Blue Ridge and Smokies sections of the Appalachians as well as images of Himalayan locales and the Tibetan plateau. The dynamics of plate tectonics and processes of erosion are explained in animated segments.

“The exhibit permits visitors from this region to see features in an ancient chain that they can travel to in an hour or two with features in a modern mountain chain halfway around the World,” Hatcher said.

“I’m excited because the exhibit provides a venue to share the rocks, landscapes, geology and a bit of my current research in the Himalaya,” said Jessup. “Hopefully, the next time they see rocks in this area they can imagine what the Appalachians might have looked like when it was much younger and also appreciate the rich geologic history recorded by the Appalachians.”

The exhibit is open through May 20th.

For more information, visit

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,




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C O N T A C T:


Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,