It must be pretty nice turning up to work at a place that others choose to visit in their leisure time and are even known to fork out good cash to get into. That's the happy lot of this month's featured scientific workers. We might think of museums and galleries as simply an interesting place for a day out, but beyond the doors marked 'Private' a lot of research is going on.
All our featured scientists are helping to preserve our heritage. In some cases they're ensuring that the actual collections held by an institution are kept in good condition. The people who do research to work out the right temperature and humidity levels to keep paintings, manuscripts, and other artifacts in good condition are generally physical scientists with expertise in particular analytical techniques. Meanwhile, the biological scientists are using the collections held by these institutions as the basis for the fundamental research that will help us conserve our living heritage--animals and plants.
Whether their training is in physical or biological sciences, there are some things that all these scientists have in common. First, they are extremely fortunate to have landed their jobs. Posts like these are very few and far between. Another common factor is that, working as they do in institutions that are open to the general public, they all have to spend some proportion of their time interpreting their work for a lay audience. But, just like other academic scientists, they also publish their research in peer-reviewed journals, and most supervise research students and do other forms of university-level teaching.
Who Are These People?
Mark Graham works at the Canadian Museum of Nature. He surveys the kinds of openings available to scientists in natural science museums and examines the sort of skills you need to develop to be a success.
Marika Spring trained in chemistry and painting conservation. Now she works as a conservation scientist at the National Gallery in London. She takes us through a typical day in her varied working life.
Germany is famous for its composers. Bach and Beethoven have left a wonderful legacy, but they've also created a huge headache. German editor Eick von Ruschkowski found out how chemists are helping to preserve the mountains of original manuscripts that these and other composers produced.
The Smithsonian Institution (SI) is actually a collection of 16 museums, eight research centers, and the United States' National Zoo! Alka Agrawal found out all about SI's Fellowship programmes for GrantsNet, and she spoke to current Molecular Evolution Fellow Eric Roalson about his research at the National Museum of Natural History.
Jesús Maldonado is a research geneticist at the SI's National Zoological Park. He explains what his work as a conservation geneticist involves, and he fills us in on the outreach role that is part of his job.
At the U.K.'s Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, more than 60 staff scientists, postdocs, and Ph.D. students carry out research on the classification of plants. Find out why their work plays such a central role in the conservation of our floral biodiversity.
Robert Murphy, curator of herpetology (that's snakes to you and me) at the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada, gives an honest account of the hurdles you'll need to jump through if you believe this is the career for you.
Finally, check out our Resources for links to take you further into the science behind the scenes at the museums.