Science For the People, By the People

jj_audubon_hero_aud412_na78“As I grew up I was fervently desirous of becoming acquainted with Nature.”

-John James Audubon

There are few books I have seen as spellbinding as John James Audubon’s Birds of America. Each feathered specimen hand painted in exquisite detail, this book continues to be the gold standard for nature enthusiasts the world over. Witnessing the Elephant-folio edition is an unforgettable experience to say the least and now I have had the distinct honor of seeing two of them.

The natural history behemoth rightfully acts as the centerfold for the newest permanent exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum (SDNHM), “Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science.” Replacing the research library previously closed to the public, this instillation provides an impressive hat-tip to extraordinary naturalists both past and present. In the true spirit of citizen science, the SDNHM brought out some of it’s most rare book collections for all to take part in. The display highlights both local and more remote individuals who played significant roles in what we know today about everything from plants to snakes, shells to birds, and all the life branches in between.

I especially liked the inclusion of lady naturalists like Ethel Bailey Higgins, a seemingly salty photographer and botanist who worked for the museum until she was well into her 90s. During her years as curator of the botany department she grew the collections from 6,000 to 46,000 specimens! To this day, her work was paramount to the success of the museum.

The exhibit uses technology unlike anywhere I have ever seen. With several touch screens and superb digital renderings, guests are able to interact with books and artifacts hundreds of years old. They have several handmade Victorian microscope slides that give viewers a unique sense of both the artistry and meticulous detail that was paid by some of the greatest minds of the time.  bs-watsonsharpe_html_38f0df15
Perhaps the most powerful portion of the display lies in the advertisement of how museum visitors can continue the legacy of these great naturalists. Participating in citizen science platforms such as iNaturalist and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count all are able to contribute to what we know about the natural world.

“Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People” is as inspiring as it is informative. Needless to say, I have been back five times in the past month and everyone should check it out next time they are in San Diego. Happy Science-ing!


Alex Warneke (112 Posts)

Alex is committed to a life of inspiring others to view science through a more dynamic and empowering lens. Alex obtained her M.Sc. in Chemical Ecology from San Diego State University and most recently resided as a Science Programs Manager and Marine Scientist for the National Park Service. As an ecologist, storyteller, and community engager, she has spanned critical boundaries between stakeholders in education, academia, non-profit, and government to translate the most current scientific bodies of work in ways that are accessible and inclusive. She is a strong proponent of unconventional science communication and extending the broader impacts of science to the public using the outlets of art, digital media, education, and citizen science. Currently, Alex works at the interface of climate resilience and community with the Climate Science Alliance. As Deputy Director for the Alliance, her hope is that through her work and experience she can get the world to think differently about how we connect and impact the thriving ecosystem around us and commit to fostering a more resilient future.

2 Replies to “Science For the People, By the People”

  1. yes! THANKS Alex. Looks like a must do & see for your fellow San Diegans
    keep up the great work ..and best wishes

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