Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

SI Research Notes: National Museum of Natural History

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) curates the largest, most comprehensive natural history collection in the world. There are now over 126 million specimens in the ever-growing NMNH collections, ranging from DNA samples to whale skulls, African baskets to Chinese shoes, algae samples to petrified logs, tiny crustaceans to giant squid, Moon rocks to the Hope diamond, and Tyrannosaurus rex bones to the oldest fossils from the Burgess Shale.

The Museum has scientists working in the fields of anthropology, botany, entomology, invertebrate zoology, mineral sciences, paleobiology, and vertebrate zoology—birds, fishes, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Research programs include field studies in over 122 countries worldwide. By comparing items gathered in different eras and regions, scientists learn how our world has varied across time and space.The Natural History Museum has become an international center for research in several fields, including taxonomy, mineralogy, petrology, physical anthropology, and North American ethnology.

The Museum welcomes scientific and other scholarly visitors from all over the world to its collections for research purposes. Its location in the heart of the Nation’s capital promotes sharing research findings with key decision-makers from around the globe.

The Smithsonian’s Natural History programs are collaborative and each year thousands of specimens are lent to institutions around the United States as well as around the world.

No one can anticipate just how the Museum’s research and collections may one day prove critically valuable to posterity. Natural history collections serve inevitably as data banks. The Museum’s biological and mineral collections comprise physical records of the natural world’s changing states; the anthropology collections serve as cultural time capsules. From them we can learn the states of things past, judge the present more wisely, and more clearly anticipate the future.

Go behind the scenes and see it all for yourself on this year's exclusive Celebrate Smithsonian tour.