Some of the advantages of working at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) are that there is always something new to see and that often, moments of childlike wonder come when you least expect it. I began here as a volunteer in the IT Department this past Spring and my arrival happened to coincide with the unveiling of the exhibit to celebrate NMNH's first 100 years - Celebrating 100 Years at the Museum. One day, I was knee-deep in code for the accompanying Centennial website when my supervisor offered me the chance to take a tour of the Paleobiology Department. Along with a few lucky students from a local school, we examined fossiles and prehistoric sediment samples - just scratching the surface of the Department's vast holdings. Our tour guide - a curator of Paleoentomology - all along rattling off scientific jargon that left my head spinning, and me wanting to find old episodes of Bill Nye, The Science Guy. Words like frass, molt and proboscis elicited knowing nods from the students, and approving glances from their teacher. The students craned their necks to see over one another as the curator produced fossil after fossil.
As they continued to study the fossils, I flashed back to a moment in my childhood with images from Jurassic Park filling my mind: the T-Rex’s thunderous steps causing ripples in the water, the scientists extracting dinosaur DNA from blood trapped in amber-encased mosquitoes. In 1993, I had watched that movie in complete astonishment. Now, as an adult, I was instantly transported back to that time by seeing fossils in real life, and that’s one of the reasons why I love working at NMNH - in addition to learning and being exposed to new experiences, I am often reminded of older ones. Sightings like the stuffed animals in the museum shop and the kids the huddled in front of the Fénykövi elephant for pictures all remind me of a simpler time in my life. No matter what your age, there is moment you can take away from walking the halls of NMNH.
Katherine Campbell, Volunteer, IT