The Smithsonian is one of the world’s foremost research centers in science, the arts, and the humanities. In addition to research pursued by the museums, the following facilities specialize in areas of inquiry spanning the globe and the farthest reaches of the universe.
With over 16 million items in its continually growing collections, the Archives of American Art is the world’s largest and most widely used resource dedicated to collecting and preserving the papers and primary records of the visual arts in America. Collections consist of more than 20 million letters, diaries and scrapbooks of artists, dealers, and collectors; manuscripts of critics and scholars; business and financial records of museums, galleries, schools, and associations; photographs of art world figures and events; sketches and sketchbooks; rare printed material; film, audio and video recordings; and the largest collection of oral histories anywhere on the subject of art.
The Museum Conservation Institute is the Smithsonian’s center for specialized technical collections research and conservation where knowledge of materials and the history of technology are combined with state-of-the-art instrumentation and scientific techniques to provide technical research studies and interpretation of artistic, anthropological, biological, and historical objects.
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), founded in 1890, is a research center of the Smithsonian Institution with the mission to advance our knowledge and understanding of the universe through research and education in astronomy and astrophysics. Affiliated with the Harvard College Observatory, SAO created the world’s first satellite-tracking network, establishing the organization as a pioneer in space science research. In 1973, the Smithsonian and Harvard created the joint Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Key areas of research include exoplanets, the sun and solar weather, asteroids and comets, and "The Extreme Universe" that includes the study of black holes, pulsars, supernovae, white dwarfs, neutron stars and magnetars.
The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) facilitates and promotes conservation biology programs at the National Zoo. Scientists at SCBI have long been leaders in the study, management, protection and restoration of threatened species, ecological communities, habitats and ecosystems.
The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) leads the nation in discovering the links between land and water ecosystems in the coastal zone. Researchers investigate questions related to fisheries, climate change, invasive species, mercury pollution, water quality, ozone depletion, and more. SERC research is urgent. The world’s coastal zones are home to more than 70 percent of the global population and experience intense economic activity. The rate of environmental change is accelerating at an alarming rate. Since its creation in 1965, SERC has been conducting peer-reviewed research to understand the causes and consequences of rapid change in Chesapeake Bay and around the world.
The Smithsonian Institution Archives captures, preserves, and makes available to the public the history of this extraordinary Institution, which is a vital part of the history of the American experience, of scientific exploration, and of international cultural understanding. From its inception in 1846 to the present, the records of the history of the Institution—its people, its programs, its research, and its stories—have been gathered, organized, and disseminated so that everyone can learn about the Smithsonian.
At the center of research across the Smithsonian are the specialized branches and librarians of the Smithsonian Libraries. The collection contents and staff play a key role in helping the Smithsonian’s research and curatorial staff make sense of the museums’ innumerable, often unique, objects and their cultural and historical contexts. Scientists depend on the Libraries to support investigations into climate change, biodiversity, object conservation, ecology, and many other fields. The Smithsonian Libraries are a hidden national treasure, where experts come to test and expand knowledge and where America and the world can turn for authentic answers.
The network of 21 specialized research libraries that make up the Smithsonian Libraries provide the Institution’s museums and research centers with resources and services that are as diverse and deep as the collections, exhibits, and scholarship they support. They truly span the range of scientific and cultural pursuits of humanity from aerospace, anthropology, and art history to business history and botany, cultural history, design, philately, zoology, and much, much more.
The Smithsonian Marine Station (SMS) at Fort Pierce, Florida, is a research center specializing in marine biodiversity and ecosystems of Florida. The SMS, a facility of the National Museum of Natural History, focuses on the Indian River Lagoon and the offshore waters of Florida's east central coast, with comparative studies throughout coastal Florida.
The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama is the world’s premier tropical biology research institute, dedicated to increasing the understanding of the past, present and future of tropical biodiversity and its relevance to human welfare.