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North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences: Major Accomplishments for 2007


The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences was again one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state, welcoming more than 650,000 visitors.

Walter Sturgeon, former assistant director for the Museum, was named a Disney Conservation Hero by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund for his “inspirational commitment to conservation.” The Conservation Heroes program rewards the dedication of individuals who, often at the risk of personal safety, work tirelessly to save animals, protect habitat and educate the people in surrounding communities.

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation awarded Museum Curator of Herpetology Alvin Braswell the Wildlife Conservationist of the Year award in the 2006 Governor’s Conservation Awards Achievement Program. These are the highest natural resource honors in the state. The Wildlife Conservationist of the Year award is given annually to an individual who achieves outstanding accomplishments in the management, study or restoration of wildlife, fisheries or habitat.

Kenan Charitable Trust made a $200,000 award to support “Exploring North Carolina,” a collaborative project between the Museum and UNC-TV that covers natural science topics specific to North Carolina.

The Museum’s Public Programs have again received $25,000 from the Citi Foundation to support “Museum at your Doorstep,” a program that delivers in-person and hands-on natural science instruction to audiences statewide to increase their understanding, awareness and appreciation of North Carolina’s natural heritage.


John Gerwin, Museum curator of birds, was awarded $73,000 to continue research on the Swainson’s warbler, a species of special concern in the Southeast. This award is from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), via the State Wildlife Grants program. Gerwin has been overseeing this project since 1997, and will continue through 2008.

Mary Schweitzer, curator of vertebrate paleontology, used a newly developed mass spectrometry technique to successfully identify the amino acid sequence of a 68 million-year-old protein from a Tyrannosaurus rex. Her research results – which appeared in the April 13 edition of the journal Science – may both change the way that people think about fossil preservation and present a new method for studying human diseases.

Julia Clarke, research curator of paleontology for the Museum, studied two newly discovered extinct species of penguins, including Icadyptes salasi, which stood over 5 feet tall and lived about 36 million years ago on the southern coast of Peru. These new penguin fossils are among the most complete yet recovered. The research was published online in June in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of researchers including Museum paleontologist Julia Clarke, studied the new dinosaur species Mahakala omnogovae and its relationships to other small meat-eating dinosaurs, including birds. Their research results, which call into question current theories about the evolution of flight, were published in the Sept. 7 edition of the journal Science.

The Museum received a donation of the extensive collections held in the Museum of Fluviatile Mollusks by Herbert D. Athearn of Cleveland, Tenn. This collection contains more than 23,000 cataloged lots of freshwater mollusks, including many important specimens of endangered and extinct species of bivalves and snails. This was the largest privately held collection of freshwater mollusks in the country.


The Museum spearheaded Take A Child Outside Week, a national program held September 24-30, which was designed to help reconnect children with the outdoors. More than 130 organizations signed on as partners representing 28 states and two foreign countries (Canada and Belize). The NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources was well represented with partners from divisions such as the state parks, state forests, aquariums, the zoo and the NC Office of Environmental Education.

The Museum, in cooperation with the RTP chapter of Sigma Xi, completed a very successful first year of Science Café Raleigh. The Museum coordinated 12 different events — ranging from global warming to the plight of the honey bee — that drew more than 800 total attendees. These Cafés are open forums where members of the public can meet scientists to discuss current science issues in a non-traditional setting.

The Museum hosted three traveling exhibits in 2007: “Hunters of the Sky,” “Wild Music: Sounds and Songs of Life” and “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries.”

BugFest 2007 drew a record crowd of over 26,600 visitors to the Museum in one day.

Through the Educators of Excellence Program, Museum educators again took North Carolina science teachers to Yellowstone, Ecuador and Belize.

The Museum again partnered with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission to sponsor the third annual Wildlife in North Carolina Photo Competition and will exhibit the winning images beginning January 2008.

The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, in downtown Raleigh, documents and interprets the natural history of the state of North Carolina through exhibits, research, collections, publications, and educational programming. Hours: Mon.-Sat., 9 am to 5 pm, and Sun., noon to 5 pm. Admission is free. Visit the Museum on the Web at naturalsciences.org. The Museum is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, William G. Ross Jr., Secretary.