Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


POJETA Jr, John, U.S. Geological Survey, Dept. of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, P.O. Box 37012 NHB MRC 121, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20013-7012 and LEPPLE, Suzanne, NMNH volunteer, 2613 Woodlawn Lane, Alexandria, VA 22306-1832,

The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) has initiated a weekly program, “The Scientist Is In”, in which a research scientist spends two hours in an exhibit area interacting with the public. A cart is provided with an elevated sign stating “The Scientist Is In” and touchable objects are chosen by the scientist. The venue is advertised in the museum’s quarterly calendar and on NMNH’s websites where a biography of the scientist is listed. This program has proven to be an effective means of communicating science to the general public and provides an opportunity for visitors to ask questions and personally interact with the scientist. A single two hour session had over three hundred visitors including school groups (K-16) and interested families and individuals.

This can be a new experience for scientists who are often more comfortable presenting scientific talks to their peers. The interactions with the public are informal and spontaneous. One needs to be prepared for not only all ages and varying levels of interest, knowledge and understanding but also for letting visitors take the lead in asking questions. Since personal contact time is limited and we won’t be interacting with these individuals again, we try to refer them to related exhibits in the museum and to relevant NMNH websites. Visitors benefit because they are taking the initiative to find out more about a topic on their own. The public frequently gives positive feedback about the opportunity to meet research scientists and handle items they would not normally be allowed to touch in the museum. Some scientists include a brief video of field work. Specific examples will be given relating to a cart developed by the authors which contains Holocene and fossil mollusks.