Scientific Divisions

The Museum's scientific staff of more than 200 pursues a broad agenda of advanced scientific research, investigating the origins and evolution of life on earth, the world's myriad species, the rich variety of human culture, and the complex processes that have formed and continue to shape planet Earth and the universe beyond it. Scientists conduct research in the Museum's world-renowned collections, in state-of-the-art laboratories in the museum facility, and on field expeditions throughout the world—more than 100 each year. The scientific work of the Museum is organized into the following five divisions.

Division of Anthropology

The Division of Anthropology is dedicated to the study of human culture and biology. Museum anthropologists conduct ethnological research on contemporary cultures in Asia, Africa, and North and South America, as well as on global topics such as warfare and the origins of the state; archeological research on ancient cultures throughout the Americas; and biological research into the evolution of humans and their close primate relatives. The division maintains a collection of 540,000 objects including artifacts from past and current cultures around the world. Strong in many areas, the collection includes the Drummond East Asian Collection, the Walter L. Hildburgh Collection of Buddhist religious materials, and the Jesup Collection, considered to be the world's best collection of items from the indigenous cultures of the North American northwest coast.


Division of Vertebrate Zoology

The Division of Vertebrate Zoology comprises the Departments of Mammalogy, Ornithology, Ichthyology, and Herpetology. Divisional scientists study the systematics, comparative anatomy, evolutionary history, distribution, genetics, and conservation of currently living and recently extinct vertebrate animals such as mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles, and amphibians. Notable aspects of the collections are 260,000 mammal specimens; one of the largest collections of bird specimens in the world, with 99 percent of all known species represented; 300,000 computer-catalogued specimens in Herpetology including 600 type specimens; and 524 type specimens of fishes, representing 507 species. (A type specimen is an individual organism from which the description of a species has been prepared.)

Division of Invertebrate Zoology

Scientists in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology study the broad spectrum of invertebrate species on Earth. Divisional entomologists study arthropods—insects, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions—a group that makes up more terrestrial biomass and a greater numbers of species than any other phylum. The Division holds 18 million arthropod specimens representing more than 300,000 species. Included is the world's most diverse collection of spiders (more than one million specimens) and termites, representing 100% of known species. Divisional specialists in marine invertebrates, such as mollusks, echinoderms, crustaceans, and bryozoa, study the prominent roles these species play in the marine ecosystem, which covers nearly 80% of Earth's surface. The Division maintains a collection of three million mollusks and one million non-molluskan invertebrates. Notable aspects of the collection are an extensive collection of Hudson River specimens and the Vema expedition collection of deep-sea invertebrates from the Atlantic Ocean.

Vertebrate Paleontology

Division of Paleontology

Museum scientists in the Division of Paleontology study the history of life on Earth through the discovery, analysis, and comparison of fossil remains of dinosaurs, mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles, and invertebrates. The Museum holds the world's largest and most respected collection of vertebrate fossils with more than 600 specimens featured in the Museum's renowned fossil halls, which trace the evolution of vertebrate life. In recent years, the Museum's expeditions to the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, in collaboration with the Mongolian Academy of Sciences, have yielded spectacular and important discoveries of dinosaurs, birds, and mammals. These expeditions continue the Museum's groundbreaking work in this area in the 1920s under the leadership of Roy Chapman Andrews. The Division's collection also contains four million fossil invertebrates including a large collection of North American ammonites, marine animals that lived some 400 to 65 million years ago. Ammonite fossils are extremely rich in the information they yield to scientists about the history of life, the age of rocks in which they are found, and the location of prehistoric seas. The Division's collections include the James Hall Collection of fossil invertebrates, which was among the original collections with which the Museum was founded.

Division of Physical Sciences

The Division of Physical Sciences includes the Departments of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Astrophysics. The Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences conducts research in the nature of terrestrial and planetary processes including volcanism, meteorology, petrology, geochemistry, and mineralogy. The Department curates the Museum's world-renowned collection of minerals and gems, meteorites, ores, rocks, and xenoliths, an invaluable repository for scientific study. Over 100,000 samples are maintained by the Department, in a growing collection representing localities of scientific significance as well as sites that are not generally accessible and one-of-a-kind meteorites, gems, and drill core. The members of the Department of Astrophysics conduct cutting-edge research in observational, theoretical, and computational astrophysics, powered by computers that are among the fastest in the world. The Department's collections are largely digital and electronic, comprising gigabytes of numerical astrophysical simulation results and observations. Divisional scientists also provide curatorial support for the Frederick Phineas & Sandra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space.

Earth and Planetary Sciences
Search divider Site map divider FAQ divider Copyright divider Privacy policy divider Rose Center divider Contact us divider Sign up for eNotes