I am still learning.
A small sampling of some of the fantastic specimens I saw during my first week of work at The Field Museum:
- Ground pangolins (Manis temminckii),
- Brown-throated three-toed sloths (Bradypus variegatus),
- Caterpillars preserved by ballooning (more on that later)
- migratory bird species found after collision with downtown Chicago buildings,
- Silk moths (family Saturniidae).
Compared to working in a (relatively) small and manageable bird and mammal collection, stepping into the back rooms of the Field has been an absolutely eye-opening experience. To be welcomed into so many different areas of study in a short amount of time was humbling and thrilling. The researchers I met and talked with were all undoubtedly enthusiastic about their work, and were more than willing to open drawer after drawer of mind-bogglingly wonderful artifacts with a story to accompany each item. They rattled off factoids and anecdotes on everything from their experiences removing the genital hair from female spiders for a genomic sequencing project, to their collection practices and techniques (UV lights in their backyards to attract bioluminescent caterpillars!), their adventures in the field, and what it is like to spend your life devoted to a specialized area of natural science. These people speak my language. They know what it’s like to be passionate about something and to do whatever necessary to learn absolutely anything and everything about the subject - whether that is the morphologies of South American ants in order to better understand species distribution, or the very cosmochemistry behind our collective existence.
I seemed to learn more in my first week of work behind the scenes than I ever did from my cumulative years of public education. Someone stopped by my office to ask if I needed help thinking of ideas for future episodes, but the opposite is true - I need help narrowing down the incredible scope of possibilities, because at this rate we could make episodes for years to come. I see no end in sight to the potential, and the prospect is invigorating beyond comprehension. I find nothing more encouraging or exciting than hearing these incredibly knowledgeable scientists say there are still things we do not know.