Academy of Natural Sciences

Academy of Natural Sciences

Infobox Museum |name = The Academy of Natural Sciences |

|imagesize = 280 |latitude = 39.9570 |longitude = -75.1714 |established = 1812 |location = Philadelphia |type = Natural History Museum |director = William Yancey Brown |collection = 17+ million specimens |website = []

The Academy of Natural Sciences is the oldest natural science research institution and museum in the United States. It was founded in 1812 by many of the leading naturalists of the young republic with its expressed mission of "the encouragement and cultivation of the sciences." For over nearly two centuries of continuous operations, the Academy has sponsored expeditions, conducted original environmental and systematics research, and amassed natural history collections containing more than 17 million specimens. The Academy also has a long tradition of public exhibits and educational programs for both schools and the general public.

Brief History

During the first decades of the United States, Philadelphia was the cultural capital and one of the country's commercial centers. Two of the city's institutions, the Library Company and the American Philosophical Society, were centers of enlightened thought and scientific inquiry. Yet, the increasing sophistication of the earth and life sciences combined with a growing awareness of the great variety of life and landscape in the American wilderness waiting to be discovered merited the establishment of an institution dedicated to the natural sciences.

In response, a small group of naturalists established the Academy of Natural Sciences in the winter of 1812. Such an academy would foster a gathering of fellow naturalists, but it would also nurture the growth and credibility of American science. Although they frequently looked to their European counterparts for inspiration and expertise, they longed to be regarded as equals. Besides, the Nature to be studied was American, not British nor French.

Within a decade of its founding, the Academy became the undisputed center of natural sciences in the United States. Academy members were frequently enlisted to participate in national surveys of the western territories and other major expeditions. Several of its earliest members [For much of its history, new members had to be nominated by two current members and then elected by the remaining members. These requirements were dropped in 1924.] , including William Bartram, John Godman, Richard Harlan, Charles Alexandre Lesueur, William McClure, Titian Peale, Charles Pickering, Thomas Say, and Alexander Wilson were among the pioneers or recognized authorities in their respective areas of study. Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, John Edwards Holbrook of South Carolina, Thomas Nuttall and Richard Owen of the United Kingdom, Georges Cuvier of France, and Alexander von Humboldt of Prussia were among the corresponding members (members who lived far from Philadelphia) of the Academy's first decades.

Later during the 19th century, other notable naturalists and scientists [Distinctions between who is a naturalist and who is a scientist varies and can be elusive. One can make the distinction that naturalists are amateurs interested in the natural sciences, whereas scientists are professionals. This distinction, however, is confounded by history and circumstance. Most of the participants in American science during the 19th century were not professionals, even though some of their contributions are of the highest order.] , including John James Audubon, Charles S. Boyer, John Cassin, Edward Drinker Cope, Ezra Townsend Cresson, Richard Harlan, Ferdinand V. Hayden, Isaac Lea, John Lawrence LeConte, Joseph Leidy [Joseph Leidy, the man who first studied "Hadrosaurus", is considered the "father" of American paleontology and American Parasitology and was a leading teacher and authority on microscopy and comparative anatomy. He is widely regarded to have been the leading expert on the natural sciences during the 19th century. More about Leidy can be found on the Academy's [ online exhibit on Joseph Leidy] ] , Samuel Morton, George Ord, and James Rehn were also members. Corresponding members included such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Asa Gray, and Thomas Henry Huxley. Notable 20th century scientists include James Böhlke, James Bond, Henry Weed Fowler, Ruth Patrick, Henry Pilsbry, and Witmer Stone.

Collections and Research

Collections are the hallmark of museums and those at The Academy of Natural Sciences are among the more important of their kind. The size and scope of its collections have grown substantially since the early years. Currently, there are over 17 million biological specimens, and hundreds of thousands of volumes, journals, illustrations, photographs, and archival items in its library. These collections grew through a combination of means, including the donation or purchase of existing collections or individual items, the collection activities of Academy-sponsored expeditions, or those of individual scientists, whether or not they work at the Academy. Sometimes the Academy is also enlisted to house and care for collections originally gathered by other institutions. For example, a number of the natural history collections at the American Philosophical Society were relocated to the Academy by the end of the 19th century.

But these collections aren't maintained just to collect dust. They provide a library of biodiversity. Traditionally, researchers at natural science (or natural history) institutions such as the Academy engaged in biological taxonomy, the science of discovering, describing, naming, and classifying species: in essence, the cataloging of Nature. In recent decades, research has shifted in emphasis to the science of systematics, the study of the evolutionary relationships among these species.

Either way, the collections are invaluable. They provide the type specimens, the reference material that helps establish a species' identity. They also provide raw materials with which scientists can investigate the nature of these species, their relationships with other species, their evolutionary history, or even their conservation status. New questions and new technology illustrate the importance of these collections. Titian Peale (1799-1885) may not have been interested in the conservation biology of the butterflies he collected while Henry Pilsbry (1862-1957) probably didn't consider comparing the DNA of his snails. Yet, modern scientists have such options because these specimens are part of the collections.

Biological Systematics

The most common science currently conducted in natural history museums is biological systematics. It's also the science with which current natural history collections are most intimately associated. The Academy's collections and systematics research are presented below.


Botany collections at the Academy, which are housed in the Philadelphia Herbarium (PH), include some of the oldest and most important botanical collections in the Americas. Notable early collectors include Benjamin Smith Barton, Constatine Rafinesque, Thomas Meehan, Thomas Nuttall, and Fredrick Pursh. The herbarium contains approximately 1.5 million specimens of vascular plants, fungi, lichens, algae, and fossil plants. It also contains some special collections, including the plants collected by Johann and Georg Forster during the voyages of Captain James Cook, and by Meriwether Lewis during the Lewis and Clark expedition (Corps of Discovery).


The Academy's Diatom Herbarium, the largest in the Americas and the second largest in the world, contains approximately 220,000 slides of these microscopic algae. The herbarium contains many specimens contributed by notable collectors, a diversity of fossil diatoms, and diatoms collected as part of numerous freshwater environmental surveys in the United States. The Diatom Herbarium also provides collections and taxonomic services for the Phycology Section of the Patrick Center for Environmental Research. Former curators of note include Charles S. Boyer, Ruth Patrick, and Charles Reimer.


Entomology has been important to the Academy since its founding. Two of its earliest members include Thomas Say, regarded as the "father" of American entomology, and Titian Peale, a leading natural history illustrator and the chief naturalist on the United States Exploring Expedition (1834-1842). The entomology collection currently contains more than 3.5 million specimens and includes the remarkable Titian Peale Moth and Butterfly Collection, the oldest entomology collection in the United States. Senior curator Daniel Otte, an expert on Orthoptera (crickets, grasshoppers, and their relatives) is a pioneer of presenting biological data on the internet through the creation of the [ Orthopera Species File] . Another curator, Jon Gelhaus, an expert on crane flies, manages the Mongolian Aquatic Insect Survey.


Ichthyology has also been a part of Academy collections and research since its beginnings, but the size of the collection was relatively modest until acquisition of Edward Drinker Cope's personal collections in 1898. A few years later, Henry Weed Fowler began his remarkable tenure at the Academy, during which he systematized the collections and described 1,408 species. James E. Böhlke, William Saul, and William Smith-Vaniz are among the notable scientist who followed Fowler. The current curator, John Lundberg, an expert in catfishes, pioneered deep channel collecting in large tropical rivers and is the lead author of a seminal scientific paper on the biological and geographic history of the Amazon River Basin. The Ichthyology collection, which currently houses nearly 1.2 million specimens and nearly 3,000 types, is one of the most important such collections in the United States. The department also hosts the [ All Catfish Species Inventory] (a comprehensive online resource on catfish) and [ Catfish Bones] (an online digital atlas of catfish morphology), and is a participant in [ Neodat II] (an online resource of Neotropic ichthyology collections).


Two of the early members of the Academy, Thomas Say and Isaac Lea, were malacologists (see also conchologists). R. Tucker Abbott, Samuel S. Haldemann, Henry A. Pilsbry, and George W. Tryon, Jr. were other noted malacologists who worked at the Academy. The Academy's malacology collection is the oldest such collection in the United States and one of the largest in the world. It currently contains over 10 million specimens, including types erected by more than 400 authors. Curator Gary Rosenberg, an expert on Jamaican land snails, is a leader in moving museum collections and research data online. Research websites include the [ Malacology Georeferencing Project] an online database of [ Atlantic Marine Mollusca (Malacolog)] , and the [ OBIS Indo-Pacific Mollusc] database. Daniel L. Graf, an expert on Unionidae (freshwater mussels), maintains the [ MUSSEL Project] web site.


Just about any ornithologist active in the United States during the first half of the 19th century, including John James Audubon, William Bartram, Charles Lucien Bonaparte, John Cassin, Thomas Nuttall, George Ord, John Kirk Townsend, and Alexander Wilson (the "father" of American ornithology), either operated out of or worked closely with The Academy of Natural Sciences. Later notable Academy ornithologists include James Bond, Frank Gill, Rodolphe Meyer de Schauensee, Pete Myers, Fred Sheldon, and Witmer Stone. With nearly 200,000 specimens representing over 9,000 species, the Ornithology collection is one of the largest and most taxonomically complete bird collections in the world.

Vertebrate Paleontology

Vertebrate paleontology in the United States originated in Philadelphia through the efforts of naturalists and scientists associated with the American Philosophical Society (APS) during the first decade of the 19th century and at The Academy of Natural Sciences thereafter. By the end of the 19th century, the holdings from the APS, including the [ Thomas Jefferson Fossil Collection] , had been transferred to the Academy for safekeeping. Currently, the collection contains more than 22,000 specimens, including many types. Richard Harlan was an early member who introduced many American naturalists to the groundbreaking works of Georges Cuvier. [ Joseph Leidy] , who described "Hadrosaurus" and alerted the scientific world to the paleontological treasures of the American West, is considered the "father" of American vertebrate paleontology. Edward Drinker Cope, who also worked extensively on other vertebrates, is best known for his rivalry with Othniel Charles Marsh during the infamous Bone Wars. Curator Edward B. Daeschler is currently studying the evolution of Devonian tetrapods. He is a co-discoverer of the transitional "fishapod" "Tiktaalik rosea" from the Canadian Arctic and the discoverer of two tetrapods, "Hynerpeton" and "Densignathus" from the Catskill Formation in Pennsylvania.

Other Collections

The Academy houses several other major collections that, while relatively small in size, are historically and scientifically important. The general invertebrate collection contains approximately 18,000 lots, while the invertebrate paleontology collection contains approximately 105,000 lots. Both contain numerous type specimens. The Frank J. Myers Rotifer Collection is the most comprehensive collection of rotifers on microslides. The herpetology collection contains approximately 40,000 specimens, including more than 500 type specimens. The mammalogy collection contains approximately 36,000 specimens and 180 holotypes. Timothy Conrad, Edward Drinker Cope, Richard Harlan, John Edwards Holbrook, Henry Charles Lea, Isaac Lea, Joseph Leidy, Samuel G. Morton, and Thomas Say are among the naturalists and scientists associated with these collections.

Patrick Center for Environmental Research

The Patrick Center, formerly the Limnology Department, is an unusual operation to have in a natural history institution. Rather than concentrating on biological systematics, anthropology, archaeology, or geology, the Patrick Center for Environmental Research concerns itself with applied ecology. Founded in 1947 by Ruth Patrick, formerly of the Diatom Herbarium, it was one of the earliest environmental consulting concerns in the United States. However, its genesis within the Academy has had its consequences. It was also the first to employ interdisciplinary teams of scientists to study freshwater systems and the first to regard biodiversity as a central criterion of water quality.

One of its first undertakings, the 1948 biological survey of the Conestoga River Basin in Pennsylvania, is regarded as a milestone in environmental research. Similar surveys and other studies were subsequently conducted throughout much of the United States. Characteristically, these earlier projects resulted from a partnership of the Patrick Center (then the Limnology Department) with private industry. However, with the rise of the environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s and the resulting increases in governmental regulation of water pollution, the environmental assessments pioneered at the Academy are increasingly being conducted by private environmental consulting firms.

Much of the current research at the Patrick Center is conducted in partnership with regulatory agencies and other governmental bodies. These studies can encompass fields as diverse as diatom autecology [Autecology is the study the interaction of an individual organism or individual species with its physical, chemical and biological environment. Particulars may include such measures as temperature preferences, pollution tolerance, light requirements, and ability to recover after disturbance.] , environmental chemistry and toxicology, habitat restoration, long-term environmental trends, species conservation, and watershed management. Some of the work, such as recent studies on the ecological effects of small dams or the ecological benefits of riparian reforestation, employ most of the center's expertise and capabilities, while other studies may involve only one or a couple of the research programs.

An example of the latter is a current project sampling sediment cores in tidal marshes throughout the Delaware Estuary. [The Sediment Core work in the Delaware Estuary is being conducted in collaboration with the University of Delaware.] This undertaking, possibly the most comprehensive core sampling in any estuary, relies extensively on the center's expertise in biogeochemistry and phycology. Once the sampling is completed, scientist will be able to investigate historical trends in marsh development, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling, water pollution, salinity variations, and climatic change by analyzing the core's sediments, chemistry, and diatom assemblages.


The Biogeochemistry Section of the Patrick Center is concerned with the influence of aquatic organisms on the sources, fate and transport of chemicals in aquatic systems. Studies frequently deal with the carbon and nutrient cycling as well as those of trace elements (e.g., lead, copper, mercury, and zinc) and organic contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The section regularly provides water, sediment and tissue analyses for government, intergovernmental agencies, and private companies from around the country. In addition to the sediment core project mentioned above, it has recently studied the effects of small dams on sediment contaminants, photochemical transformation of marsh-derived dissolved organic matter, and sedimentation and eutrophication in salt marshes.

Ecological Modeling

The Ecological Modeling Section employs sophisticated and rigorous mathematical modeling techniques to address a variety of questions in basic and applied research. Examples include watershed-scale modeling and risk assessment; nonlinear population models structured by age, body size, or space; particle transport in turbulent aquatic systems; and the ecology and control of exotic invasive plants in urban parks.


The Fisheries Section of the Patrick Center conducts research into the ecology, conservation, and management of lotic and estuarine fishes. Studies may range from the analysis of fish tissues for contaminants, monitoring fish populations for environmental assessments, to investigating the life histories of individual species. Recent and ongoing work include, glass eel (the larvae of freshwater or American eels) recruitment in the Delaware River basin, the ecology and genetics of bridal shiner (a fish that's endangered in Pennsylvania), and the impacts of flow management (dam releases) in the Upper Delaware River to native and introduced fish populations.


Benthic macroinvertebrates (primarily aquatic insects, crustaceans, and mollusks) are useful for biological monitoring programs. Their varied life spans, ranging from weeks to years, are long enough to reveal intermittent and continuous pollutants, yet short enough respond to worsening or improving water quality. The Macroinvertebrate Section at the Patrick Center has extensive experience in bioassessment, biomonitoring, and inventorying of freshwater habitats throughout the United States.


Because of their great diversity and specific ecological requirements, algae, particularly diatoms, make excellent indicators of water quality. Moreover, diatoms are readily preserved in sediments, which make them ideal organisms for studying paleolimnology (the long-term trends of streams and lakes). Because of their expertise and their close working relationship with the Academy's Diatom Herbarium, the Phycology Section of the Patrick Center is able to provide algal analyses for governmental and other agencies interested in both assessing water quality and long-term environmental trends. One such undertaking is the analyses of diatom assemblages in lake sediments (sediment cores) throughout the eastern United States. This work, part of a large project managed by the EPA, will try to establish reference (pre-anthropogenic) conditions for lakes throughout the country.

In addition to these research efforts, the Phycology Section of the Patrick Center has developed a set of [ online resources] for using algae in environmental research. These include an algal image database, autecology datasets for freshwater algae, algae research with the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program, and a diatom paleolimnology database.

Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Ecology

For most of its history, biological taxonomy and systematics were conducted using comparative morphology. In recent decades, however, advances in molecular biology and computational technologies have opened new possibilities for studying the diversity and history of life through the use of cladistics and computational phylogenetics. These technologies also offer new opportunities for molecular ecology and conservation genetics.

Academy scientists have been early adapters of molecular biology techniques. Allozymes, DNA-DNA hybridization, immunoelectrophoresis, restriction site analyses of mitochondrial DNA and serology were used extensively since the late 1960s. Recent molecular work mainly employs DNA sequencing, microsatellites, and AFLP (amplified fragment length polymorphism). In 2004, the Laboratory for Molecular Systematics and Ecology (LMSE) was formed as a shared, multi-user facility to improve access to and provide training for the use of molecular data in systematic and ecological research. In addition to supporting staff, the lab offers research opportunities for students and post-doctoral fellowships.

Asia Center

The Asia Center is a new initiative to develop programs and partnerships for research and capacity building throughout Asia. Clyde Goulden is the director of the Asia Center. It's modeled on a series of successful programs conducted in Mongolia since 1995 under the auspices of the Academy's Institute for Mongolian Biodiversity and Ecological Studies (IMBES). The main activities of IMBES occur in the vicinity of Lake Hovsgol in northern Mongolia, but a separate program, the Mongolian Aquatic Insect Survey, extends to other parts of the country.


The Academy's work in Mongolia started with the realization of the unique research opportunities available at Lake Hovsgol (Hovsgol Nuur). This large lake and its watershed were remarkably pristine and relatively unknown, especially in comparison to its sister lake in Russia, Lake Baikal. In 1995, a multidisciplinary team of scientists from the Academy, as well as from other American institutions, Mongolia, Russia, and Japan started a multi-year study of the lake's biodiversity, limnology, and watershed. [The findings of this research were published in cite book
last = Goulden
first = C.E.
coauthors = T. Sitnikova, J. Gelhaus & B. Boldgiv (Eds.)
title = The Geology, Biodiversity and Ecology of Lake Hövsgöl (Mongolia)
publisher = Backhuys Publ.
date = 2006
location = Leiden
isbn = 90-5782-162-1

Although this research was scientifically rewarding, it was apparent that issues concerning environmental protection and sustainable economic development needed addressing. [Mongolia, recently freed from Soviet domination, was experiencing severe economic disruption and increasing pressures through globalization to exploit its natural resources. Mongolians, committed to preserving their natural heritage, needed assistance in developing their scientific and conservation infrastructure.] Consequently, work at Hovsgol shifted to ecosystem studies and capacity building. [Capacity building (the development of local expertise and infrastructure) is implemented in part through the inclusion of scientists and students from the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and the National University of Mongolia in research projects, conferences, and workshops. The Academy has also sponsored the training of Mongolian students in Philadelphia.] One early undertaking was the enhancement of the operational and physical infrastructure at Hovsgol National Park [Hovsgol National Park, which includes the lake and its entire watershed, was created in 1992. Improvements took the form of improving park management, improving physical facilities, staff training and developing park-community relationships.] . Long-term ecological monitoring of several tributary watersheds began in 1997 and soon the site would be adopted into the [|International Long Term Ecological Research Network] . [Long-term ecological work at Hovsgol has been supported by the Global Environmental Facilityfrom 2002-2006.]

Recent work at Hovsgol is focusing on the consequences of and sustainable responses to climate change. The region lies in a transitional zone between the semi-arid Eurasian Steppe (grasslands) to the south and the Eurasian Taiga (boreal forest) to the north. As such, it is an ideal mid-continental site at which to monitor the ecological effects of climate change. [Substantial increases in annual mean temperatures and growing season length in this semiarid landscape have resulted in permafrost loss, drier soils, and reduced plant cover in the steppe. Shifts in the seasonal pattern in precipitation are disruptive to grassland plant reproduction and the incidence of extreme weather also appears to be increasing. Changes in the forests are less demonstrable, but increased fire frequency and pest insect outbreaks are suggestive.] In addition, changes in livestock herding practices [Traditional pastoralism, or animal herding, has existed in Mongolia for millennia, but recent trends in livestock production and practices may be unsustainable. The herds are larger and cashmere goats, which can be particularly damaging to vegetation, are accounting for a greater percentage of the total. Moreover, much of the traditional herder expertise was lost during the Soviet era. Consequently, herders risk seriously overgrazing the steppe, which, because of global warming, is increasingly vulnerable to desertification.] raise concerns about overgrazing and desertification. In response, the team at Hovsgol created and distributed a "Herder Handbook" [An English version of the Herder Handbook can be [ downloaded] from the Hovsgol Ecology website.] and continues to conduct research and work with nomadic herders to develop sustainable practices. [Current work at Hovsgol is funded by the [ National Science Foundation PIRE program] , and is a partnership of the Academy's Asia Center, [ The University of Pennsylvania] , the [ Mongolian Academy of Sciences] , the [ Mongolian University of Science and Technology] , and the [ National University of Mongolia] . Information on earlier applied work at Hovsgol can be found at [] .]

Mongolian Aquatic Insect Survey

The [ Mongolian Aquatic Insect Survey] is a multi-year biodiversity survey, environmental monitoring and capacity building project managed by Jon Gelhaus of the Academy's Entomology Department. A total of 217 sites from the Selenge River Basin, the most populous and most extensive drainage in Mongolia, were surveyed from 2003 to 2006. Most of these sites are in rivers or streams, but some are in freshwater and saltwater lakes, hot and cold springs, and marsh wetlands. Additional sites from the remote drainage systems in western Mongolia will be sampled in 2008.

The survey has yielded numerous new species and hundreds of geographic records for known aquatic insects, provided an extensive dataset for ongoing environmental monitoring, and has helped develop research and technical infrastructures in Mongolia. This capacity building includes, in collaboration with the Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, the building of the first research laboratory in Mongolia dedicated to the study of aquatic invertebrates. It also includes training of Mongolian scientists and students.

Ewell Sale Stewart Library

The Library and Archives were established at the Academy's founding meeting in 1812 with the express purpose of supporting its natural science research. The library currently provides a variety of services to Academy staff, visiting scientists and scholars, and others by utilizing the Library and Archives collections, providing imaging services, sharing resources with other libraries [The Library is a member of two Philadelphia area library consortia. The [ Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL)] encourages diverse audiences to explore and engage with member libraries' uniquely rich holdings and, through collaboration, strengthens these collections and the institutions that preserve them. The [ Philadelphia Area Center for History of Science (PACHS)] is a consortium of Philadelphia area cultural and educational institutions promoting scholarly and public understanding of science, technology and medicine.] , and accessing information available electronically. [Access to the Library's collection is available [ online] through the OPAC (online public access catalog).]

The library is notable for the historical depth of its collections. It currently houses nearly 200,000 volumes ranging from works published in the 16th century to current journals and books. Its holdings also include numerous illustrated works from as early as the 15th century, including Konrad Gessner's "Historia animalium", Maria Sibylla Merian's "Insects of Surinam", Edward Lear's "Psittacidae or Parrots", and a double elephant folio of John James Audubon's "The Birds of America". [Many natural history illustrations from library's holdings can be viewed at the [ Digital Collections online exhibit] .In addition, a different plate from Audubon's "The Birds of America" is shown each week on the [ Audubon Bird of the Week] webpage.]

The Archives is comprised not only of administrative records and official Academy documents, but also an abundance of scientific and personal unpublished materials derived from the collections of scientists and others associated with the Academy. It houses a wide diversity of media including manuscripts, correspondence, field notebooks, personal diaries, and many photographic formats. The Archives also houses an important portrait collection and more than 8000 original works of art on paper. [Information on some of the holdings, including [ Art Collections in the Academy Library] and [ American Natural Science in the First Half of the 19th Century] , are available online.]

cientific Publications

The "Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences" was the first peer-reviewed publication in the United Stated devoted to the natural sciences. The first volume was published in 1817. By 1842, it had been superseded by the "Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences". The "Proceedings" have been published continuously since 1841. The "Journal" was reborn in 1847 as a larger-format publication that could accommodate longer articles and monographs. The last volume was issued in 1918. [The volumes of the "Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences" published from 1817 to 1842 are referred to as the First Series. The Second Series was published from 1847 to 1918.]

The Academy publishes three other series. The occasional series "Notulae Naturae" began in 1939 as a means to quickly publish short items, usually not longer than 16 pages on subject areas such as zoology, botany, ecology, geology and paleontology. The "Monographs" series, which began in 1935, is composed principally of larger systematic reviews of selected taxonomic groups. The "Special Publications" series, begun in 1922, includes works such as biography, taxonomy, historical reviews, and collections surveys.


[ VIREO] (VIsual REsource for Ornithology) is the most comprehensive collection of bird images in the world. Started in 1979, the collection contains over 140,000 photographs representing more than 7,000 species. The collection contains work by some of the world's most talented photographers. VIREO licenses bird images for a wide variety of commercial and non-profit uses.

Exhibits and Public Programs

Public Exhibits

The Academy first opened its collections to the public in 1828. The popularity of its exhibits soared in 1868 with the debut of the world's first mounted dinosaur skeleton, "Hadrosaurus". In fact, the size of the crowds flocking to this display prompted the Academy to relocate to its present-and roomier-location in 1876.

Collections and the Public

As with most museums in the 19th century, there was little separation of the Academy's collections, which were vital to scientific work, and the public spaces. Not only did this subject the collections to extra wear and tear, but visitors were typically confronted with a bewildering assemblage of specimens with little in the way of supplemental information. Over time, however, museums such as the Academy started to showcase their more popular specimens while sequestering the bulk of the collections. In addition, they spent more effort interpreting their public displays. Museums started to play a more active role in educating the public. [The Wagner Free Institute of Science is an early example of an organized public display of natural history collections. Founded in 1855 to offer free lectures on the natural sciences, the Wagner appointed Joseph Leidy in 1885 to organize its growing collections. Leidy's design is still largely intact, and the Wagner is effectively a museum of a museum.]

The Academy's vast biological collections are used to supplement the museum's displays though they are not regularly open to the public. The public can access these collections by scheduling a "Behind the Scenes" tour.


One expression of this transformation was the rise of that icon of natural history museums, the diorama. These three-dimensional displays were the virtual reality of their time, providing generations of museum visitors with their only opportunity to experience distant places and exotic wildlife. By presenting the wilderness to the public, dioramas nurtured an appreciation of our natural heritage, which, in turn, contributed to the growth of the Conservation Movement in the United States. The Academy currently has 37 dioramas, most of which were installed in the 1930s and 1940s. They feature a variety of animals from Africa, Asia, and North America. Some of these, such as the caribou, lion, and plains zebra are familiar and relatively common, but others, such as the desert bighorn, kiang, Kodiak bear, panda, and passenger pigeon, are threatened, endangered, or extinct.


Another icon of natural history museums is the dinosaur skeleton. The first of these, the "Hadrosaurus" mount created by noted natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, made its debut at the Academy in 1868. "Hadrosaurus" mounts also found their way into other public venues, including the Royal Scottish Museum, the Smithsonian, and the 1876 American Centennial Exposition. A skeletal mount of a related dinosaur, "Corythosaurus", served as the centerpiece of the Academy's "Hall of Earth History" during the middle of the 20th century. In 1986, the Academy opened a new exhibit, "Discovering Dinosaurs." This was the first large-scale exhibit to incorporate the findings of the "dinosaur renaissance." Instead of cold-blooded and lumbering reptiles, dinosaurs were conceived as active-and possibly warm-blooded-animals more akin to birds than lizards.

Other Exhibits

In 1979, the Academy opened "Outside-In," a hands-on children's nature museum. In 1995, it pioneered the hands-on simulation of a dinosaur dig, with its "The Big Dig." Other permanent exhibits include "Butterflies!," a live butterfly zoo, and "Science at the Academy," which showcases current Academy research.

The museum also has special, changing exhibits. Recent changing exhibits include "Amazon Voyage: Vicious Fishes and Other Riches," "Frogs: a Chorus of Colors", "The Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Exhibition," and "The Scoop on Poop: The Science of What Animals Leave Behind."

Public Programs

Programs for Adults

The Academy began offering lectures to the public as early as the 1820s. The current public lectures series, [ Town Square] was launched in 2004 with guest speaker Jane Goodall. Town Square offers a range of lectures, panel discussions, workshops, and forums covering subjects ranging from evolution to global warming. Monthly Urban Sustainability Forums, co-produced with [ Sustainable Philadelphia] , explore global and local environmental issues from a regional perspective.

Academy scientists and guest speakers also speak during some of the Academy's "Wild Weekends," thematic programs held on selected weekends throughout the year. Another program oriented to adults (and some older children) are the "Behind-the-Scenes Tours." These guided tours take participants behind the museum walls to see the Academy's collections and laboratories.

Programs for Children

Since its Nature Club in the 1930s, the Academy has offered programming just for children. Several programs appropriate for different age groups are currently offered. Safari Overnight sleepovers (camp-ins) are held on selected weekends during Fall, Winter, and Spring. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts can participate in day workshops and sleepovers to fulfill badge and pin requirements. Tiny Tot Explorers is a program for toddlers.

"Wild Weekends," held on selected weekends throughout the year, offer a variety of children's programs, including hands-on exploration of museum specimens, crafts and live animal shows with mammals, birds and reptiles. Live animal shows are also presented at regular times on other days and featured prominently in the educational programs.

Educational Programs

Field Trips and Outreach

Field Trips to the Academy are available throughout the year for schools, summer camps and other groups. Optional directed programs include Discovery Lessons for younger age groups (pre-K and higher) and Science Explorers for older children (grades 7 through 9). "Academy on the Go" is an educational outreach program that visits schools, camps, and community centers.

Women in Natural Sciences

WINS (Women in Natural Sciences) is an innovative and successful science enrichment program conducted by The Academy of Natural Sciences in collaboration with the School District of Philadelphia. Since its founding in 1982, WINS has been providing female public school students with hands-on science classes, scientific literacy and skill-building activities, and opportunities for personal growth in a uniquely nurturing setting.

Other Programs

The Academy offers two to four Home School programs throughout the year. The George Washington Carver Science Fair is held in February or March. Science fair participants are eligible for the George Washington Carver Scholars summer program, which is also held at the Academy. Educator workshops are held throughout the year. The most recent series covered the integration of science and literacy skills. Self-guided workbooks tailored for younger children are available for some of the museum exhibits.

Awards & Research Opportunities

Hayden Memorial Geological Award

The Hayden Award is given to prominent scientists working in geology or paleontology. It was established in 1888 in memory of Ferdinand V. Hayden, a distinguished American geologist and pioneering surveyor of the American West who had extensive ties to the Academy. Past recipients include Edward D. Cope, Charles D. Walcott, William B. Scott, George Gaylord Simpson, and John Ostrom. It was most recently awarded to Edward B. (Ted) Daeschler for his work on the early evolution of tetrapods.

Gold Medal for Distinction in Natural History Art

Established in 1980, the Gold Medal for Distinction in Natural History Art is awarded to people whose artistic endeavors and life's work have contributed to our understanding and appreciation of living things. It was established in 1980. Recipients include Ansel Adams, BBC Natural History Unit, Peter Matthiessen, Roger Tory Peterson, and Ray Troll.

Richard Hopper Day Memorial Medal

The Richard Hopper Day Memorial Medal, established in 1960, is awarded in recognition of outstanding contributions in interpreting the natural sciences to the public. Past recipients include Louis Leakey, David Attenborough, Lewis Thomas, Robert M. Peck, and Thomas Lovejoy.

Joseph Leidy Award

The Joseph Leidy Award honors research in the natural sciences. It was established in 1923 as a tribute to the many contributions and long association of Joseph Leidy with the Academy. Past recipients include Henry Pilsbry, Ernst Mayr, G. Evelyn Hutchinson, Edward O. Wilson, and David Janzen.

Endowments and Fellowships

The [ Böhlke Memorial Endowment Fund] honors the memory of James E. Böhlke and Eugenia B. Böhlke who were prominent ichthyologists at the Academy. This fund provides support for graduate students and recent postdoctoral researchers to work with the Ichthyology Collection and the Academy's Library.

The [ John J. & Anna H. Gallagher Fellowship] provides a unique opportunity for original, multi-year, postdoctoral or sabbatical research on the systematics of microscopic invertebrates, especially Rotifera. The research focus must be on systematics and may employ ecological, behavioral, physiological, molecular or developmental tools.

[ Jessup and McHenry Awards] are competitively awarded to students wishing to conduct studies at the postgraduate, doctoral and postdoctoral levels under the supervision or sponsorship of a member of the curatorial staff of the Academy. The Jessup Award is given for any specialty in which our curators have expertise. The McHenry Fund is restricted to botanists.

The [ Eckelberry Endowment] helps support the efforts of wildlife painters, sculptors, printmakers, and other artists to better acquaint themselves with the natural world through both museum and field research. In addition, artistic and scientific mentors counsel and assist these artists as their careers develop. One grant will be given each year.

Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), a program of the National Science Foundation, provides summer research experience for students attending colleges and universities. Each summer the Academy offers 5-10 separate research projects which can include collections, field, imaging and/or lab work. The projects vary but typically include environmental, library collections, and/or systematics research.



first = Bennett
last = Thomas Peter
contribution = The History of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
title = Contributions to the History of North American Natural History
year = 1983
place = London
publisher = Society for the Bibliography of Natural History

cite book
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first = C.E.
coauthors = T. Sitnikova, J. Gelhaus & B. Boldgiv (Eds.)
title = The Geology, Biodiversity and Ecology of Lake Hövsgöl (Mongolia)
publisher = Backhuys Publ.
date = 2006
location = Leiden
isbn = 90-5782-162-1

cite journal
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first = Huston
title = Life with the Founders
journal = Frontiers
volume = 6
issue = 4
pages = 121–125
publisher = The Academy of Natural Sciences
location = Philadelphia
date = 1942

cite book
last = Nolan
first = Edward, J
title = A short history of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.
publisher = The Academy of Natural Sciences
location = Philadelphia
date = 1909

cite journal
last = Peck
first = Robert, M.
title = The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
journal = Antiques
pages = 741–754
date = October 1985

cite journal
last = Peck
first = Robert, M.
title = To the Ends of the Earth for Science: Research Expeditions of the Academy of Natural Sciences: The First 150 Years, 1812-1962
journal = Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
volume = 150
pages = 15–46
publisher = The Academy of Natural Sciences
location = Philadelphia
date = 2000

cite journal
last = Phillips
first = M.E.
title = A Brief History of Academy Publications
journal = Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
volume = 100
pages = i-xl
publisher = The Academy of Natural Sciences
location = Philadelphia
date = 1948

cite journal
last = Spamer
first = E.E.
title = The legacy of 'friends of natural science': A systematic look at the scientific publications of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1817-2000
journal = Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
volume = 150
pages = 3–13
publisher = The Academy of Natural Sciences
location = Philadelphia
date = 2000

cite journal
last = Stroud
first = P.T.
title = The Founding of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812 and its journal in 1817
journal = Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
volume = 147
pages = 227–236
publisher = The Academy of Natural Sciences
location = Philadelphia
date = 1997

cite journal
last = Editor
title = The Four Awards Bestowed by The Academy of Natural Sciences and Their Recipients
journal = Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
volume = 156
pages = 403–404
publisher = The Academy of Natural Sciences
location = Philadelphia
date = 2007
doi = 10.1635/0097-3157(2007)156 [403:TFABBT] 2.0.CO;2
year = 2007

ee also

* American Philosophical Society: The first "learned society" in the Americas, and an important scientific and cultural institution in Philadelphia.
* Franklin Institute: Another Philadelphia science museum.
* Logan Square: A landmark adjacent to the Academy that contains the Swann Memorial Fountain.
* Library Company of Philadelphia: The "mother of all subscription libraries," the Library Company was founded in 1731.
* Please Touch Museum, a children's museum that was housed within the Academy before moving in 1981.
* Wagner Free Institute of Science: A museum of a museum (a Victorian era Natural History museum) located in Philadelphia.
* Listing of Natural History Museums

External links

* [ Official Website]
** [ All Catfish Species Inventory]
** [ Art Collections in the Academy Library]
** [ Audubon Bird of the Week]
** [ Catfish Bones Digital Atlas]
** [ Digital Collections of The Academy of Natural Sciences]
** [ Ewell Sale Stewart Library]
** [ Joseph Leidy Online Exhibit]
** [ Library's online resources on American Natural Science in the First Half of the 19th Century]
** [ Library's Online Catalog (OPAC)]
** [ Malacolog 4.1]
** [ Malacology Georeferencing Project]
** [ Mongolian Aquatic Insect Survey website]
** [ Mussel Project website]
** [ May 2008 Conference on Arctic Exploration]
** [ OBIS IndoPacific Mollusc Database]
** [ Phycology Section website]
** [ REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates at the Academy)]
** [ Thomas Jefferson Fossil Collection]
** [ Town Square at the Academy]
** [ VIREO Bird stock photography]
* [ Hovsgol Ecology website]
* [ Mounting the "Hadrosaurus" skeleton]
* [ National Science Foundation's REU Program]
* [ Orthoptera Species File]
* [ Sustainable Philadelphia]

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