National Museum of Natural History
Director: Kirk Johnson
Total Full-Time Employees: 460
Annual Budget (Federal and Trust) FY 2012: $68 million
Approximate Number of Artifacts/Specimens: 127.3 million
Total museum size: 1.32 million square feet
Public space size: 325,000 square feet
Visitors (2012): approximately 7.38 million
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is the most visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum on the National Mall is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It also fosters significant scientific research and educational programs and exhibitions that present the work of its scientists to the public.
Research and Staff
The museum is home to scientific staff and research associates who conduct expeditions and studies worldwide that contribute to the advancement of scientific knowledge. This work enhances everyday life in ways that yield benefits to society, including the development of medicines, improvement of the world’s food supply, management and preservation of important species and habitats, and the identification of invasive species.
Staff includes Smithsonian scientists; collaborating research associates and fellows; and a professional team of educators, exhibition developers, collections managers, designers, information specialists, building managers, administrators, security personnel and support staff.
The scientific staff is organized in seven departments: anthropology, botany, entomology, mineral sciences, invertebrate zoology, paleobiology and vertebrate zoology. Interdisciplinary research programs bring together scientists from the museum’s departments and research institutions throughout the world. These programs address topics of current importance to society, such as biological diversity, global climate change, molecular systematics for enhancing the understanding of the relationship between living things, ecosystem modeling and the documentation and preservation of human cultural heritages.
A number of affiliated U.S. government agencies contribute to the museum’s strength as a research center. These include the Department of Interior (Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey), Department of Agriculture (Systematic Entomology Laboratory), Department of Commerce (National Marine Fisheries Service Systematics Laboratory), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of Defense.
The museum is the steward of the world’s largest assemblage of natural history items, with more than 127 million objects and specimens in its collections. The Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, Md., provides state-of-the-art conditions for storage and conservation of collections, as well as a library and advanced research facilities.
The museum provides off-site access to the physical collections through an active museum loan and exchange program. The website (www.mnh.si.edu) provides public electronic access to departmental databases, online exhibitions and up-to-date information about museum programs.
Permanent exhibitions display some of the best-known museum objects in the world. The “Janet Annenberg Hooker Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals” showcases the Hope Diamond and other treasures of the National Gem Collection. It also encompasses re-created mines and galleries that present important research in mineral chemistry and physics; plate tectonics, seismology and the study of volcanoes; and planetary science.
The 15,000-square-foot “David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins” exhibition focuses on the epic story of how the human species evolved over 6 million years, adapting and surviving during an era of dramatic climate change, and features more than 285 early-human fossils and artifacts, lifelike full-size reconstructions of several hominid species and 23 interactive experiences, including a morphing station where visitors can see what they would look like as early humans.
The “Sant Ocean Hall,” featuring male and female giant squids and an exact replica of a living North Atlantic right whale, is a one-of-a-kind interpretive exhibition that demonstrates how the ocean is intrinsically connected to other global systems and the daily lives of people around the world.
“Butterflies + Plants: Partners in Evolution”, a permanent exhibition, innovatively combines traditional and experiential learning to provide visitors a rare, up-close look at how butterflies and plants have evolved and diversified together for millions of years.
“Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt” showcases more mummies than have ever been on display in the museum’s history. The exhibition combines rare artifacts and cutting-edge research tools to illuminate how Smithsonian scientists have pieced together the lives of ancient Egyptians through their burial practices and rituals in preparation for their eternal life.
Featured in the Dinosaur Hall are a Triceratops, the giant Diplodocus and the FossiLab, a glass-enclosed lab that allows visitors to watch the museum paleontologists and trained volunteers extract fossils from rock and make fossil casts and molds.
The O. Orkin Insect Zoo offers visitors a variety of exhibits and live insects—as well as daily tarantula feedings—and plenty of hands-on activities.
Among the other permanent exhibitions are “Life in the Ancient Seas,” Fossil Mammals and Ice Age, Osteology, the “Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals,” and “African Voices.”
The museum is dedicated to bringing definitive scientific content to audiences in person and throughout the world using digital and social media in addition to the museum’s websites, video conferences and hands-on learning activities that help visitors to experience the excitement of discovery first-hand. Innovative facilities pioneered by the museum include the Discovery Room, where visitors are able to examine objects up close, and the Forensic Anthropology Lab, where visitors can investigate an authentic forensic case using the museum’s collections. Visitors to the museum can also immerse themselves in live animals in the Insect Zoo and Butterfly Pavilion.
About the Museum
The National Museum of Natural History, located at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C., is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with extended evening hours in the summer. Admission is free.
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