The Science Museum of Minnesota’s extensive biological collection contains vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants from around the world – from preserved sand sharks and horned lizards to clams, small mammals like the Arctic ground squirrel, and even an emperor penguin chick. Studying the specimens in this huge collection can shed great light on a species, its distribution, its evolution and adaptations, its relationships with other species, and much more.
This spring, a generous gift from Roger and Barbara Brown will expand a part of the biological collection that is near and dear to their hearts – and to the hearts of many Minnesotans.
Thanks to the Browns, the museum will soon add a new member to its Science team: the Barbara Brown Chair of Ornithology. Ornithology is the scientific study of birds, and while the Science Museum already has an impressive collection of birds, we’re pleased and grateful to have the opportunity to not only grow that collection, but to share what it tells us with visitors.
The Science Museum’s existing ornithology collection is fascinating. It includes extinct species, like passenger pigeons and eggs; endangered species like whooping cranes and birds-of-paradise; historic specimens like a mounted penguin from an expedition led by polar explorer Richard Byrd; several hundred salvaged study specimens of songbirds and raptors; and skeletons that researchers can study for comparative anatomy and identification.
The Barbara Brown Chair of Ornithology will study the existing collection, add to it via fieldwork, and identify ways to improve management and care of the collection, among other responsibilities. The new curator will direct the museum’s biology department. This will include curating its biological collection; conducting research and fieldwork; collaborating with other scientists at museums across the country; and working across departments to bring science to life at the museum, around the state, and on the web.
Roger and Barbara Brown live in Highland Park, Illinois. Barbara Brown is a former president of the Evanston North Shore Bird Club. She also worked as a scientific associate in the mammal division at The Field Museum in Chicago for nearly fifty years.
Barbara says that she and her husband have always been very interested in education and science. She also cites a keen interest in research as a main motivation for their philanthropic giving. “I read that New England has seen a dramatic drop in its bird population, which is appalling,” she said. “I’ve noticed here in Illinois that numbers of birds are way down. Hopefully, with more research, we’ll reverse that trend.”
Barbara Brown’s interest in nature and conservation was inspired in part by Silent Spring, a book about the long-term effects of pesticide use that was published in 1962 by biologist Rachel Carson. Many consider Silent Spring to be a pioneering book of the environmental movement. “It was an eye-opener for a lot of non-scientific people,” she noted. “In a similar way, the Science Museum of Minnesota’s new ornithology department will do scientific research, but they’ll also attract the non-scientific public. I think there are a lot more people interested in birdwatching in the United States than there used to be.”
Barbara and Roger have visited the Science Museum of Minnesota many times in the past. Their daughter and two grandchildren are Minneapolis residents, and their second son, Owen, recently relocated to the Twin Cities when his wife, Alison Rempel Brown, became president and CEO of the Science Museum in 2016.
“We are so honored to be the recipients of such a generous gift from the Browns,” said Laurie Fink, the museum’s vice president of Science. “I’m looking forward to this new science professional joining our staff, bringing a new perspective and new ideas for ways we can build and learn from our collection and share that knowledge with visitors to our museum – and with other researchers around the world and the constituents they serve.”