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My Trip to DC's Natural History Museum

I'm visiting my little sister in Washington DC right now, she works for the American Physical Society and is about to begin pursuing epidemiology in grad school [EDIT: she has decided on GW, congratulations, Sam!] (she's going to write a guest post here soon!), so we have similar science-forward minds. As such, we took a trip to the Natural History Museum today. We've both been to the Museum of Natural History in NYC many times, since we grew up nearby. But I hadn't visited this one yet, so I just had to check it out.

I find myself more and more thinking about things like I did when I was little - which I'm actually thrilled about. In the past few years - really since I started working in education - my curiosity has been incessant. I'm always looking for new things to learn and new ways to do things, and museums/naturalist collections have given me some fantastic insight. This one was certainly no different.

In addition to getting great ideas about things to teach myself or my students, museums serve another important purpose to me, and to you - whether you realize it or not. This is a science/scientific literacy blog. I want people to have access to science in a way that engages them and in a way they understand - that's my passion. There are a lot of great tools that help bring science to the public; think Planet Earth docuseries, Reddit and social media, National Geographic magazine, the Discovery Channel, etc. But what about museums? Personally, I think their value is incredibly underrated.

Science or naturalist museums allow us to enter into into many worlds all at once. One minute you're looking at a rare gem from Mexico and the next you're staring in awe at the skeleton of a white rhinoceros that looks nothing like what you thought it would. The whole time, you're learning, but you're probably not even thinking about that. You're just having a good time. That's what science should be, in my opinion. A wonderful, enjoyable experience that can be shared by everybody. Ideally, all museums (journal articles, seminars, online courses, etc.) should be free, like the Smithsonian Institutes, unfortunately that's not the case right now. This is just another unfortunate example of inequality in access to science, which I'm going to talk more about in my upcoming piece "The Inequality of Eco-Friendly Expectations" (I'll link once it's done). But for now, I just wanna show off some cool things me and my sister saw during our visit to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History! Sorry the pics aren't the best, it was super crowded and the glass made it tough, I think you'll get the idea though.

How do we measure up? Seems like a fair fight skeletally; normally, no thank you!

A deepsea fish called the Triplewart Seadevil. I think that's a little harsh!

Crocodilian skeletons will never cease to amaze me, natural selection is so clever (especially for something that is controlled mostly by chance events and mutations, lol)!

My favorite gemstone, Rhodochrosite. Such a rich and beautiful color. I'm not really into geology in a meaningful way, mostly because I don't know much about it, but I always love gem/mineral exhibits!

Spider monkey skeleton! I had to crop my horrified face out of this picture. My sister said it looks like they pulled it from her personal nightmares, haha! Let's just say, I prefer them with their skin and muscles in place.

Cassowary skeleton + Kiwi skeleton - dinosaurs among us! Speaking of dinosaurs, I forgot to take a picture of the amazing coelacanth I saw, so sad. Check out the casque (aka “helmet”) on that cassowary though, just wow.

I love Northern Gannets, isn't it kinda ironic that their skull sort of looks like a fish.

Teaching a lesson on speciation and endemism in the Galapagos on Wednesday, had to snap a pic of this salty nosed fella.

One of the most famous examples of mutualism: the acacia and its ants. My sister said "is that the insect," about the acacia's thorns, so I told her the story of how the acacia has evolved hollow thorns where the ants live and protect the acacia from herbivory in exchange for producing the nutrient rich Beltian bodies which the ants consume. In trade, she taught me about all the diseases in the Outbreak exhibit. Have you ever heard of the Nipah virus? She has, and now I have, and it is quite terrifying!

A Macleay's Spectre, which is a kind of stick insect. Do yo see their little babies? Too cute!

The next couple weren't in the useum itself but were right outside. I love seeing this kind of stuff, getting the public involved and emphasizing the importance of urban ecosystems is becoming increasingly important in big cities!

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