International Mercury Expo opens April 22

  • Hanging Eugene SmithUncrating photos in the Muscarelle Museum of Art (from left) Elizabeth Mead, assistant professor of art and art history; curatorial assistant Kristen Lied '12; Kevin Gilliam, exhibits and operations manager at the Muscarelle; and curatorial assistant Ashley Pierce '10. Mead is curating the exhibit, “Unbearable Beauty: Triumph of the Human Spirit,” which opens April 23. It's one of a number of research and scholarly elements of the 2010 International Mercury Expo at William & Mary. (Photo by Joseph McClain)

    Hanging Eugene Smith

The 2010 International Mercury Expo aims to revolutionize the way you think about heavy metal.

"Mercury: A Hazard without Borders," culminates three years of interdisciplinary, collaborative and international research. Events take place from April 22-25 in a variety of locations on the College of William and Mary campus. The mercury-focused Global Inquiry Group (GIG), a jewel of the Reves Center for International Studies, is the chief organization sponsoring the event.

 "I've been privileged to direct the Reves Center for almost four years now, and for me, the mercury GIG's work is among the true highlights of these past several years," remarked Laurie Koloski, director of the Reves Center and inventor of the GIG. "Among the many things the mercury project has done-in addition to its cutting-edge work in and across multiple disciplines-is model for us at W&M what internationally-focused cross-disciplinary research can accomplish. Beyond bringing together a group of people who didn't know about each other several years ago but who together have forged new intellectual paths, the project has touched virtually every aspect of and participant in the W&M experience, from faculty to students to community members and from research to scholarship to service and civic engagement."

GIG co-directors Dan Cristol of the biology department and Sharon Zuber of the film studies and English departments, have done just that. Marrying the humanities and the sciences, this dynamic pair helped introduce the subject of mercury through William and Mary's curricula. Two student exchanges they coordinated to China, the mercury capital of the world, also provided opportunities to share research and to cultivate a strong, international perspective.

"The idea for the Expo is that it is not a scientific conference, because there are tons of scientific conferences on toxicology and mercury," Cristol explained. "We didn't want to replicate that.  Instead it's an interdisciplinary happening for a couple days on campus, where everything involves mercury."

 "I can't say enough about how each core member has contributed to the GIG in unique ways.  Instead of competing or conflicting, the members energized each other as ideas collided," Zuber said. "I think I can speak for all the mercury project members that the GIG collaborations have positively enriched our own research and teaching.  Every core member of the mercury GIG deserves credit for its accomplishments and success, and I am just proud to have been a part of this exciting project.

In the spirit of the s-GIG, Expo events will include events in the arts and the sciences. "Unbearable Beauty: Triumph of the Human Spirit" opens Friday, April 23 at the Muscarelle Museum. This collection of iconic photographs by W. Eugene Smith documents mercury's devastating effects on Minimata, Japan, in the 1960s. These images were vital to mobilizing public support for the environmental movement in general. Aileen Smith, widow of the artist and mercury poisoning activist, will speak at the opening. The exhibition will run through June 20.

"The exhibit is a perfect example of how the Mercury GIG project expands the discussion of mercury poisoning," said Elizabeth Mead, who is curating the exhibit. "We all know there is very little in life that happens in isolation. There is never any single source to our problems, nor is there to our solutions. Yet we have a tendency, particularly in academia to look through only one lens when trying to solve a problem. Eugene and Aileen M. Smiths' photos brought to world attention the horrors of mercury poisoning in a way that resonates to this day, and what makes us look at the images in the first place is that they are formally beautiful images."

The symposium will include other events, and here are a few worth noting:

  • Linda Wysong presents on and exhibits her anti-industrial graphic prints in the Andrews Gallery. The show will run from April 6 to April 26, with a reception held on April 22.

  • The Virginia Theater Machine premiers "A Mercurial Roadshow," outside the Muscarelle and in Merchant's Square three times during the symposium. This mobile theater production, inspired in part by actor Jeremy Piven's experience with mercury poisoning, entertains as it informs.

  • Four concurrent information sessions ranging from issues on mercury in dental fillings to mercury's impact on South and Central American birds will also be taking place on Saturday morning. These seminars as well as a poster and networking session later Saturday evening provide the more educational component to the four day exposition, and show signs of being lively topics of debate and research.

  • The panel discussion on mercury and the dental industry will bring a VCU dental school professor, professional dentists from across the country, and activists from the non-profit organization Dental Amalgam Mercury Solutions (DAMS).

  • The "Fact-or-Fiction" seafood panel expects to draw a big turnout. Representatives from food industry and consumer protection groups will debate the costs and benefits of making seafood part of your diet.

The most specialized session welcomes ornithologists from eight South and Central American countries to learn the harmful effects of mercury on birds and establish a network for collecting scientific samples from throughout the tropics.

"The impetus for this is the sheer number of birds getting poisoned and then travelling," Cristol said. "We're starting to get a handle on the mercury poisoning here in the United States, so we invited and paid for them to come up and get trained on how to gather data the same way in their home countries."

The session will be complemented with a trip to the mercury-contaminated Dismal Swamp where the ornithologists will practice catching and sampling birds. 

"Ideally the visitors to the Expo will take away an understanding of the global impact of mercury-from dentistry to seafood, from coal-fired power plants to mining, from thermometers to light bulbs-and a new awareness of this 'hazard without borders,' hopefully in a fun, interactive, educational way that encourages a continuing conversation about all things mercury," said Expo Executive Producer Adam Stackhouse.

Interested in attending? Register online to get access to all the events at this year's International Mercury Expo. William & Mary students may attend all non-meal events for free by showing their Student ID.

Contact Adam Stackhouse at adam.stackhouse@gmail.com with any questions.