Academy to honor 200 years with festivities | The Triangle

Academy to honor 200 years with festivities

A touchable meteorite, an 80-foot wall of specimens and the mount of a rare animal are all parts of the bicentennial exhibit set to open March 24 at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

ANS, the nation’s oldest natural history museum, has announced the opening of “The Academy at 200: The Nature of Discovery,” an exhibit that will showcase an 80-foot-long sampling of its 17 million specimens from nature, five interactive science rooms, the mount of a rare Irish Elk that has been in the Academy’s possession for about 150 years, and more.

“I am very excited to present this exhibit to the City of Philadelphia so that they can come see, experience and enjoy some of the stuff they don’t see every day,” Jennifer Sontchi, the Academy’s director of exhibits, said.

The 80-foot-long wall is comprised of bones, diatoms (a type of algae), shells and other once-living specimens that will be showcased with information about the Academy’s collection and research on these samples. Visitors will be able to touch certain items in the exhibit, such as a 400-pound meteorite, a cast of a fossil marine reptile, and a piece of brain coral.

“We try to address the visitors at many different levels,” Sontchi said. “You can see, look, touch and enjoy that way, but there’s also tiers and tiers of information.”

Five rooms of the Academy will be dedicated to the exhibit, giving visitors a look at the work that Academy scientists do in an interactive way. Each room takes on its own setting: a Mongolian yurt, a Barnegat Bay marsh, a coral reef, a Titanosaur bone lab and a bird-skinning tent in a Southeast Asian jungle. Visitors will see how Academy scientists collect samples and data in these settings through video footage, murals, scientists’ tools, interactive elements and by meeting some of the Academy’s scientists.

The goal of these rooms, according to Sontchi, is to convey that the Academy is an active museum with scientists frequently out in the field collecting samples and data, and that what they do is directly relevant to everyone in Philadelphia and the world.

There will also be a 20-foot-long timeline of the Academy’s achievements and discoveries in the last 200 years, although Sontchi said that it’s an exhibit focused more on the Academy’s present than its past.

“We are really excited … about starting out our third century,” she said.

The exhibit will open Bicentennial Weekend, March 24-25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will stay open all year as a kickoff to the Academy’s year of programs and events commemorating its Bicentennial year.

The Academy at 200 exhibit will adopt a new theme every month and hold giveaways of specimen boxes and other prizes.

Entry into the exhibit is free with general admission, which is $10 for visitors with a student ID, and $12 for nonstudents.

There will also be a free opening of the exhibit March 23 exclusively for members of the Academy.

Other events throughout the year include a series of programs focused on environment and sustainability issues, a book launch, an exhibit at Philadelphia International Airport, a bicentennial gala, the 30th anniversary of Women in Natural Sciences and a scientific symposium. More program and event details are to be announced throughout the year.

For more information on the Academy’s bicentennial exhibit and yearlong celebration, visit