Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Secret Life of Science Museums

Sara Rathod, The Secret Life of Science Museums, Mother Jones, 24 August 2016

The federal government is slashing funding for collection museums. Here’s why that’s dangerous.

_DSC4117p_DeadlySyndrome_BlogPost_croppedforwebsite_big.jpgstuart humphreys caus mus

Source: Australian Museum. Photo: Stuart Humphreys

If you’ve ever visited a natural history museum and wandered past towering dinosaur skeletons and wild animals in display cases, you might be surprised to know that you probably saw just a fraction of the treasures held in that facility. Tucked away in the recesses of these familiar buildings, out of sight from the public, are rows and rows of meticulously preserved plants, insects, and animal carcasses. Though rarely seen by the general public, the vast, hidden collections have a life of their own as a hub of scientific research.

Scientists use these troves of curiosities to identify new diseases, map invasive species, and study the effects of climate change. For example, in 1993, researchers used a collection of frozen mice at the Museum of Southwest Biology to identify the origin of a dangerous strain of hantavirus—a mysterious and fatal disease that had emerged in the American Southwest. And in California, a large zoology collection has helped biodiversity experts find evidence of climate change adaptation among local wildlife.

During a recent episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Jack Dumbacher, chairman and curator of the California Academy of Science’s Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy, gave host Kishore Hari a glimpse into the hidden world of museum collections. The California Academy of Science contains specimens that are up to 200 years old, and each one is carefully organized and easily accessible to researchers, just like books on a library shelf. Looking for an obscure species of insect? Just pull out a drawer and you can examine one of 10 million specimens held in the museum’s entomology collection.

Read more

Council of Australasian Museum Directors, c/o Ms Daryl Karp, Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House PO Box 3934 Manuka, Australian Capital Territory 2603 Australia, © CAMD 2022
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. No claim is made as to the accuracy or authenticity of the content of the website. The Council of Australasian Museum Directors does not accept any liability to any person for the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) which is provided on this website. The information on our website is provided on the basis that all persons accessing the site undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content. No responsibility is taken for any information or services which may appear on any linked web sites. Hostgator.