Answers to “Ask a Curator Day” 2014

"Jane" Burpee Museum's juvnile T. rex

“Jane” Burpee Museum’s juvnile T. rex

Great questions from Ask a Curator Day last week! Burpee Collections Staff received a set of questions from Andy Hyunh that will be addressed today. Andy submitted a short bio and these questions to us last week:

From Andy:

Hello! A little bit about myself, I am currently serving in the Army and I plan to study Paleontology and Paleobiology once I am finished with my military career. It has always been a childhood dream of mine to become a Paleontologist.

 My questions are:

 1) How many fossils do you have in your collection?

 2) What is the largest fossil you currently have in your collection?

 3) Once I am done with my service, where can I start to begin a career in the field of Paleontology? I am from California and I tend to visit the Natural History Musuem of Los Angeles as well as the Page Museum/La Brea Tar Pits whenever I come home for leave. I was told that I could start volunteering in the museums? What classes/courses do I need to take? I am highly motivated and extremely excited about all this!

These are great, and very important questions for anyone aspiring to go into the paleontology field! Check out the Collections Staff’s responses below!

1. How many fossils are in the Burpee Museum Collection?

Burpee Museum has over 30,000 fossils in its permanent collection. They range in size from tiny microvertebrate fossils to huge sauropod limb bones, and in age from 455 million year old Ordovician fossils to, relatively, new Ice Age fossils.

2. What is the largest fossil in the Burpee Museum Collection?

“Jane” the juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex on display is 21 feet long as a whole specimen. However, as far as individual elements go, we have an Ordovician cephalopod that is nearly 10 feet long.

3. How to begin a career in Paleontology?

Volunteering in museums and at field sites is an excellent way to start. There are many different facets of paleontology – everything from field work, prep work, and scholarly research fall into the field of paleontology. Volunteering can help you narrow down what area interests you the most.

Depending on your area of interest, there are different requirements to get into the field.

Preparators work to clean, restore, and reconstruct fossils in a lab setting. There are conferences like Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium that you can attend to learn techniques and methods for fossil preparations and collections care. Many preparators also work, in some capacity, with collections managers to make sure that specimens are both prepared and stored properly. The last Fossil Preparation and Collections Symposium was held in Salt Lake City, Utah and the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Scholarly research in the paleo field generally requires at least a Masters degree, if not a Doctorate. Coursework for aspiring paleontologists generally is in Biology or Geology, ideally some of both. Many universities have opportunities for undergraduate research as well as graduate level research. This can be a great way to see if research is something that you enjoy as well as a way to start to build a research resume. Early research projects, or even assisting with projects, will help to introduce you to people in that field who may turn out to be great advisers for future projects.

Field work is generally a component of a career in paleontology, but it is usually not the sole focus. Researchers, preparators, students, and collections staff are usually involved with field work at some point. Very few people end up getting paid to to field work year round. That said, having good field skills is very valuable. Some universities have paleo field schools, where you spend several weeks in the field learning about field techniques. There are also some museums (Burpee Museum included) that have opportunities for people who are not paleontologists to do field work.

We wish you the best Andy, and we hope that if you are ever in Northern Illinois that you’ll stop by and say Hi!



Ask a Curator Day!

Burpee Staff answers questions at the Rockford Expo. Photo Credit: Brent Lewis, Rockford Register Star

Burpee Staff answers questions at the Rockford Expo. Photo Credit: Brent Lewis, Rockford Register Star

It is “Ask a Curator Day!” Use the form below to email your burning questions about being a curator, natural history collections, or museums in general to the Burpee Museum Collections Staff. The best questions, and the answers to them, will be featured in next week’s blog post!


Small But Mighty

Amazing specimens abound in small museum collections.

Amazing specimens abound in small museum collections.

What’s your favorite natural history museum? Most people will name one of the big museums -The Smithsonian, The Field Museum, The American Museum. These museums are the heavy-hitters of the museum world; they have huge and diverse collections, their researchers tackle the big issues in their fields, they are destinations for locals and visitors alike, and they’re names are on the tip of the populations’ collective tongue.

But, what people forget, or may not know, is that small museums can house some truly incredible specimens, and that their collections fuel lines of research big and small. Burpee Museum falls into this category. Burpee’s specimens are used by researchers from near and far and in projects big and small. This week alone, Burpee Museum has hosted Dr. Thomas Carr from Carthage College and Dr. Mark Goodwin from the University of California Museum of Paleontology to research our flagship specimens “Jane” the juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex and “Homer” the sub-adult Triceratops, as well as Joel Greenberg one of the most prominent Passenger Pigeon researchers in North America. Burpee Museum shares this rank with small regional museums, city museums, and some small college museums. These museums’ collections can supplement data gathered from other institutions, and many drive their own lines of research. They are small but mighty.

This summer Burpee Museum was fortunate to host a collections and exhibits intern from Beloit College, Stephanie Morgan. Stephanie worked in the museum’s collection building the frame work for a new, digital collections database. She also created a movie about the importance of small museum collections, check it out below!


50 Years of the Wilderness Act

Wilderness 50
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.
– The definition of a wilderness area, eligible for protection under the Wilderness Act as written originally by Howard Zahniser.
The Wilderness Act was originally signed into law on September 3, 1964 and it is the premier piece of conservation legislation in the United States. It provides a way for the general population to work with congress to nominate unique and beloved wilderness areas and protect them at an especially high level.  It has also protected, to date, more than 110 million acres in the United States. These protected areas also provide crucial habitat for native species, including threatened and endangered species.
In celebration of the Wilderness Act, get out and enjoy your favorite wild place!

Tell us what you think!

Jane VectorOk, folks today’s post is a bit different from the rest. Today we’d like to hear from you! Museums are continually trying to learn how to better serve people, and Burpee Museum is no exception. To learn more about people’s preferences and how they utilize museums, we’ll periodically post some questions here on the blog. Please take a minute to complete the four questions below. If you have additional comments, feel free to leave them as a comment to this post!

Project Passenger Pigeon

Burpee Museum is proud to be part of Project Passenger Pigeon, a movement to commemorate and learn from the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon 100 years ago. Project Passenger Pigeon encompasses all aspects of the birds’ demise and seeks to educate people about current conservation issues. As a part of the Project Passenger Pigeon, the museum will be installing an exhibit that combines exhibit work provided by Project Passenger Pigeon and specimens from the museum’s permanent collection.

Joel Greenberg's "A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction" will be on sale at the lecture and opening!

Joel Greenberg’s “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction” will be on sale at the lecture and opening!

The exhibit will open officially on September 9, 2014 with a Mahlburg Scholars Lecture by Joel Greenberg. Joel is the author of “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction” as well as a lifelong birder and naturalist. He will be speaking about the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon 100 years ago and why it is important to us now. Please join us for his lecture on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 at 7pm, doors will open at 6pm. Admission to the lecture is $8 for adults (13 and up), $7 for kids (4-12) and free to Burpee Members; admission includes general admission to the museum.

Virtual Field Trips

Not the mostly-static, 360-degree photos of museum galleries that took forever to load on dial-up internet of the early 2000’s but live, interactive virtual field trips that engage participants directly and put them in direct contact with experts and educators.

Scott Williams,Director of Science and Exhibits, talks about "Jane" the juvenile T.rex's teeth during a live virtual field trip.

Scott Williams,Director of Science and Exhibits, talks about “Jane” the juvenile T.rex’s teeth during a live virtual field trip.


There is a great movement at all levels of education and instruction to help students develop their critical thinking skills, to experiment and learn from their mistakes, and to understand how they learn and to be able to teach themselves. This movement is driven by many factors including, but not limited to, increasing technological turnover and the need for a workforce that will be able to continually learn new technologies to stay current and employable, a need for capable and inquisitive minds in STEM fields, and the staggering amount of digital content available to anyone on an almost unlimited basis.

Here at Burpee Museum, we realized that we needed to try something new. Although our on-site tours are met with excellent reviews, they are traditional, in-person field trips. And, because they are in-person field trips, the participants are limited by their proximity to the museum. The solution was live, virtual field trips that highlight the museum’s collections, and that can be tailored to each specific groups needs.

Virtual field trips allow students, near and far, to directly connect with the museum and iconic specimens like “Jane” and “Homer”  and ask questions of our museum educators and experts, while utilizing technology that is familiar to them. Keep an eye out for more content (and maybe even a mini-tour!) on the Burpee Museum Facebook Page.

If you would like to know more about Virtual Field Trips at Burpee Museum please visit the Virtual Field Trips page or contact Sheila Rawlings, Director of Education and Programs, using the contact form below. Please feel free to share this post with anyone you know who might be interested in connecting their group or class with Burpee Museum through Virtual Field Trips!