In late January 2016, Best College Reviews ranked Drexel University’s Academy of Natural Sciences as number two among the top 30 “Most Amazing Higher Ed Natural History Museums” in the nation, coming in behind Yale University’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. Drexel’s Academy proudly beat many prestigious university natural history museums such as Harvard University’s Harvard Museum of Natural History and University of Kansas’ Natural History Museum, that held spots three and four, respectively.
Natural history museums display exhibits that feature animals, plants, ecosystems, geography, paleontology and climatology. These museums bridge curiosity and science by allowing visitors to be engrossed in the complexity of the planet. Many universities in the United States have natural history museums with fossils, scientific records, and several displays of Earth’s history.
The criteria for this award was based on the number of artifacts and specimens in the museums’ collections, opportunities at the museums for college students to participate, availability of the museum to the general public, and the museum’s overall community involvement.
Drexel’s Academy of Natural Sciences offers access to students and visitors to renowned collections containing more than 18 million specimens. These include John James Audubon’s birds, Lewis and Clark’s plant collection, large dinosaur skeletons, and an indoor tropical butterfly collection. The Library and Archives at the Academy are globally recognized for their unique and historic collections. These collections contain over 250,000 volumes stretching back to the 1500s.
Academy President and CEO George W. Gephart, Jr. said, “We are proud to be recognized for being a top university museum that connects the wonder of natural science with our students and also the region.”
The Academy of Natural Sciences was founded by naturalists in 1812 and is the oldest natural history museum in the Americas. The founders built the museum on the mission of “the encouragement and cultivation of the sciences.” For over two centuries, the Academy has sponsored expeditions and has conducted original environmental and systematics research on the study of the diversification of living forms.
Best College Reviews stated, “There is no doubt that the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University is one of the top natural history museums in the nation.”
The academy also has a tradition of hosting educational programs for both Drexel and the general public. In 2011, a partnership with The Academy of Natural Sciences and Drexel University formed an innovative affiliation that lead to the creation of the Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science. Faculty in the department are famous scientists who lead participants into research with the motto of “Field Experience, Early and Often.” BEES provides college students with a complete understanding of the environment through interactive scientific education and applied research beginning even before the start of their freshmen year. Students can access more information through the academy’s online website.
David Velinsky, head of BEES said, “The connection with Drexel has widened up the research and science at the academy with students working behind the scenes in various labs studying biodiversity, environmental science, and systematic biology.”
Michael Stahler, a freshman theater major at Temple University started volunteering at The Academy of Natural Sciences at just 13 years old, the youngest volunteer at that time. Stahler worked in the laboratory until he was 18 years old on one of the largest creatures on the planet, the Dreadnoughtus, by cleaning the matrix of the dinosaur fossil. The matrix of a fossil is the rock or loose sediment covering the fossil when it arrives from the dig site to the laboratory.
When asked about his overall experience at Academy, Stahler said, “Working at the museum was a fantastic introduction of how the world of science works and how critical it was to embrace the sciences, particularly active involvement. If I did not jump into paleontology, I would not have made some of my closest friends or learned as much as I have. It is very critical that we do not stand back and let science work its magic. We need to not only observe but also be active. Every single person involved in science is involved in the science of discovery.”
The most popular exhibits at the Academy of Natural Sciences are Dinosaur Hall and the Butterfly exhibit. Dinosaur Hall is one of the first exhibits visitors see, containing a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton measuring up to 42 feet in length and 7.5 tons in weight. The butterflies exhibit features a tropical garden full of colorful plants and numerous live butterflies from Central and South America, East Africa and Southeast Asia. Visitors can view all the remarkable aspects of the museum 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays starting from $13.95 and up per person. Drexel students can visit the museum for free after presenting their Dragon Card.