Director: Kirk Johnson
Total full-time employees: 415
Annual budget (federal and trust) FY 2017: $121.4 million
Approximate number of artifacts/specimens: 146 million
Total museum size: 1.32 million square feet
Public space size: 325,000 square feet
Visits (2017): 6 million
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is the most visited natural history museum in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum is dedicated to maintaining and preserving the world’s most extensive collection of natural history specimens and human artifacts. It fosters significant scientific research and produces educational programs and exhibitions that present the work of its scientists to the public. The formal title for Kirk Johnson is Sant Director, in recognition of an endowed gift from the philanthropists, Roger and Vicki Sant.
Research and Staff
The scientific research staff is organized into 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 current topics, 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.
In 2016, the scientific staff conducted research in 47 countries, published 919 scientific papers and 10 books. During this year, the museum’s scientists contributed to the discovery and description of one new family, 46 new genera and 348 new species.
A number of affiliated U.S. government agencies contribute to the museum’s strength as a research center. These include the Department of Interior (U.S. Geological Survey), Department of Agriculture (Systematic Entomology Laboratory), Department of Commerce (NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Systematics Laboratory) and the Department of Defense (Walter Reed Biosystematics Unit).
The museum holds more than 145 million objects and specimens, making it the largest natural history collection in the world. Approximately half of the collection is maintained at the Smithsonian’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, Md., which provides state-of-the-art conditions for storage and conservation of collections as well as a library and advanced research facilities.
The museum’s website provides access to departmental databases, online exhibitions and up-to-date information about museum programs.
- 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 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 innovatively combines a traditional exhibition with experiential learning provided by the Butterfly Pavilion. It gives visitors a rare, up-close look at living butterfly and plant specimens that demonstrate how they have evolved and diversified together for millions of years.
- Eternal Life in Ancient Egypt showcases more mummies than have been on display at any time 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.
- The Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals tells the story of mammal evolution across 225 million years, with more than 274 specimens on permanent display. Designed with families in mind, the hall includes four discovery zones with hands-on activities that help visitors explore an array of mammal adaptations and habitats around the world.
- The dinosaur and fossil hall is currently closed to the public as it undergoes the largest, most extensive exhibition renovation in the museum’s history. The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils: Deep Time is slated to open in 2019. Dinosaurs will be on view at the museum through interim exhibitions and programs: Last American Dinosaurs tells the story of non-avian dinosaurs’ final years in western North America and the FossiLab features a glass-enclosed lab that allows visitors to watch 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.
- The Bone Hall represents the oldest exhibition in the National Museum of Natural History and features almost 300 vertebrate skeletons. It highlights the diversity and unity of every major group of vertebrates, supporting ideas of evolution and common ancestry. Visitors can now enjoy a completely different experience while visiting the “Bone Hall” by downloading the Skin and Bones mobile app. In the app, 13 different skeletons on display come to life through the advanced technologies of 3-D augmented reality and 3-D tracking. The app adds details to many of the specimens to show how they move or look in life or how their skeletons work.
- African Voices examines the diversity, dynamism and global influence of Africa’s peoples and cultures over time in the realms of family, work, community, and the natural environment. It includes historical and contemporary objects from the museum’s collection and commissioned sculptures, textiles, and pottery. Video interactives and sound stations provide selections from contemporary interviews, literature, proverbs, prayers, folk tales, songs, and oral epics.
Education and Outreach
The museum offers a variety of exciting educational programs and public events to connect people everywhere to Earth’s unfolding story. Our interactive and participatory programs address fundamental questions, spark curiosity, and illuminate the beauty and wonder of our plant. Visitors can engage onsite and online with scientists, collection objects and research that happens in the lab and in the field.
Onsite programs throughout the museum foster dialogue through personal interactions with scientists, trained volunteers, and other experts. A wide range of public events are offered for audiences of all ages, including films, lectures, ask-a-scientist, panel discussions, informal “drop-in” science-learning programs, art-science activities and family festivals.
Interactive educational activities are offered in Q?rius, The Coralyn W. Whitney Science Education Center, the museum’s innovative learning space for teens, their educators and families. The space inspires young visitors to explore their world through a scientific lens by directly interacting with scientists and more than 6,000 museum objects, including bones, minerals and fossils that are millions of years old. Q?rius Jr. is a separate learning environment that provides interactive programming to children ages 10 and under using a diverse array of museum specimens. Free school programs for K–12 student groups are available on weekday mornings by reservation.
The award-winning Youth Engagement through Science (YES!) summer internship experience provides an opportunity for high school students to work alongside Smithsonian experts, inside laboratories and out in the field.
Online audiences can discover and share the museum’s scientific content via its websites, social media platforms and Smithsonian Science How live-streamed webcasts, which offer students online access to museum scientists through interactive, television-style programs.
About the Museum
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, located at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C., is one of the most visited natural history museums in the world. Opened in 1910, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of natural history specimens and artifacts. The museum is open daily (closed Dec. 25) from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, visit the museum on its website and Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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