This summer I had the wonderful opportunity to be an intern in the Youth Engagement through Science (Y.E.S.!) program at the National Museum of Natural History as we celebrate its Centennial. As part of this internship, I got to work alongside a real paleobiologist on part of a current project involving 73 million year old fossilized charcoal. Not only did I learn about this exciting project, but I also discovered a lot more about the Museum and different fields of science. I was exposed to so much during my internship!
The Museum's collections, for example, are massive and so much more than what you see on display. In fact, less than 1% of its inventory is on public view out of over 126 million specimens. Before my internship, I thought the purpose of the Museum was to educate the public with this 1%, but the Museum does so much more! It is a major research institution, with a large variety of projects in action all the time. I was amazed to see what happens behind the scenes and all kinds of interesting artifacts stored in the basements, like real mummies, shrunken heads, skulls, and ancient pottery shards - to name just a few.
I could not be more impressed with the mind-boggling amount of collections, and the fact that almost all these specimens serve a purpose for research today is just amazing! Like in the Feather Identification Lab, I wondered why they would need so many stuffed birds, eggs, and nests today. Well, research using collections like the museum’s egg collection helped scientists build a case against the use of pesticides that were bad for the reproductive success of birds, especially eagles. By measuring the thickness of eggshells from eggs that were put into the museum before the widespread use of DDT and after the pesticide was commonly used, scientists determined that DDT was causing eggshells to thin. Eagles are no longer listed as endangered due to the great come back after the ban of these dangerous pesticides. And that’s just one tiny example, using eggshells!
Stay tuned next Tuesday for the conclusion of my post!
Camila Moscoso, Intern, YES! Program