Dr. Larry Stifler ’53, Co-Founder of Maine Mineral & Gem Museum, Guides Alumni Through World-Class Meteorite Exhibit

By the time the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum opened its doors in 2019, co-founders Dr. Lawrence "Larry” Stifler ’53 and Mary McFadden had been working on the project for almost 15 years, but Larry’s passion for science goes back much further. A philanthropist who supports conservation and education, Larry can trace his interest back 70 years – to Ninth Age, when he received a scholarship to attend Calvert School.
“I can truly say that I became a science junkie at Calvert,” Larry said. “In Ninth Age, I was given a book on great scientists, and I never looked back.”
 
Located in Bethel, Maine, the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum now serves as a repository for some of the state’s most precious natural resources, as well as a world-class collection of space rocks. The Stifler Collection of Meteorites features the five biggest lunar meteorites (moon rocks) recovered on Earth and the largest collection of Martian meteorites.
 
In a virtual tour on Thursday, April 29, Larry led Calvert alumni through the collection and explained the significance of each meteorite. These materials, he said, continue to teach scientists more and more about the solar system and the origins of life on Earth.
 
“Meteorites tell us a lot more about the history of our solar system, the creation of our sun, the planets, the asteroids – and what’s particularly interesting is that meteorites may tell us a lot about how life was created,” Larry said. “Not just here on Earth, but across the universe.”
 
Interactive and meant for scientists of all ages, the Maine Mineral & Gem Museum is the only institution where visitors can hold a piece of Mars or the moon in their hands – but while that draws a big crowd, Larry says that the museum’s most scientifically significant item is a “simple, very unassuming little rock” called NWA 11119.
 
Found in Mauritania in Northwest Africa in 2016, NWA 11119 is a 4.565-billion-year-old volcanic meteorite that has changed the way scientists view the solar system. 
 
“When it was sent out for dating, it came back that this was created at the very beginning of the solar system, and that was thought to be impossible,” Larry said. “To have volcanic material, you need a large body with a molten iron core, and everybody thought that there weren’t large bodies building up at the beginning of the solar system, and it turns out that was wrong.”

In addition to 22 exhibits, the museum also features a laboratory that has published more than 50 research studies – and Larry’s love for philanthropy and education extends beyond the museum.
 
He currently serves on the boards of the Celebrity Series of Boston, the Wareham Land Trust, and the National Council of the Land Trust Alliance. In 2001, he and his wife established the Stifler Family Foundation, which has provided financial support to numerous nonprofits involved in housing, youth leadership, education, and the arts.
 
In 2004, he created the Lawrence T.P. Scholarship Fund, which provides financial aid to Calvert students.
 
“I really developed my love of science back at Calvert, and I went on to Gilman and college and my Ph.D. with scholarships throughout,” Larry said. “Because of these opportunities that I was given, I was successful enough in a professional career that I’ve been able to establish scholarships at Calvert and these other institutions to give students the same opportunities I was given as an eight-year-old.”
 
 
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