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NMNH Central Facilities

Biomedical Imaging Research Center

The Smithsonian Institution Bio-Imaging Research (SIBIR) Center is an inter-departmental and cross-disciplinary entity at NMNH that is located in the Department of Anthropology. At the heart of the SIBIR center is a Somatom Emotion 6, a multislice spiral computed tomography (CT) scanner that can visualize objects of varying size, composition, and structural complexity (69 cm gantry aperture, 0.6 mm slice width). By revealing the fine interior architecture of an object without any physical damage to it, these images can be used to address critical questions in evolutionary biology, paleontology, archaeology, physical anthropology, environmental health, and conservation science. The SIBIR Center also includes computer facilities for CT data processing and analysis. Contact: Sabrina Sholts


Located at the Museum Support Center (Pod 3), this cutting-edge facility is designed to provide long term care for the museum’s frozen, non-human, biological collections. The biorepository facility has the capacity to house more than 4.2 million items at temperatures of -20˚, -80˚, or -190˚ C and primarily includes specimens from Botany, Entomology, Invertebrate Zoology, and Vertebrate Zoology. Contact: Chris Huddleston

Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems Program
Carrie Bow Cay Field Station, Belize
The Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystems (CCRE) Program was formally established in 1985 although the program has its roots in a collaborative mangrove and reef research project begun in 1972. CCRE is dedicated to field and laboratory research in all science disciplines contributing to our knowledge of Caribbean coral reef and related ecological systems, present and past. Carrie Bow Cay, a 0.4 hectare (1 acre) sand island on top of the southern Belize barrier reef serves as a field laboratory for scientific investigators from NMNH and co-investigators from other Smithsonian units. The facilities at Carrie Bow Cay can accommodate up to 6 scientists and staff for 1-3 weeks at a time. The laboratory building houses a wet lab with flow-through seawater and dry lab spaces with stereo and compound microscopes and limited lab supplies. Three outboard skiffs (15-25 ft.) are available for use as well as full SCUBA amenities. A station manager and a cook are always on duty. Contact: Valerie Paul

Office of Photography and Media

The Office of Photography and Media provides photographic, digitization, media distribution, and printing support to the NMNH community. Photography and Media is responsible for creating images of the Museum’s collections, field and lab research, exhibitions, public programs, facilities, and personnel. A professionally trained photographic staff produces these images using a variety of styles, including documentation, scientific, glamour, and portrait, among others. Photography and Media operates two studios, equipped with the latest and best technology, in the Natural History building and at the Museum Support Center. Photography and Media also maintains a vast archive of images and is responsible for the distribution of these media to Smithsonian and external customers. Additionally, Photography and Media digitizes slides, film, transparencies, and print media, and maintains printers for the production of high-quality photographic prints and posters. Contact: James Di Loreto and Kristen Quarles

Scanning Electron Microscopy Laboratory
The Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Lab provides for the examination and photography of microscopic specimens. The SEM Lab supports the research interests and conservation efforts of NMNH scientists by providing state-of-the-art instrumentation, training in its use, and assistance in preparing samples for study. The SEM Lab is equipped for conventional preparation, whole mount replicas, whole mount preparations and high resolution scanning electron microscopy. The laboratory has two conventional SEM’s plus an environmental SEM enabling research on difficult, uncoated, or hydrated materials. A high quality stereo microscope allows researchers to overcome the lack of depth of field typically encountered in light optics. The SEM Lab also includes a vacuum evaporator, high-resolution sputter coater, critical point dryer, freeze dryer and all other ancillary support equipment for specimen preparation and examination. Any NMNH researcher, with the approval of their department chair, can use the facility, instrumentation and all equipment for which they have received training. Contact: Scott Whittaker

Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History
The Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History holds a world-class collection of rare materials in the history of anthropology and the natural sciences, with over 12,000 rare books dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Opened in 2002, the facility brings together subject-specific collections previously scattered across twelve separate locations in three buildings. The Library provides cross-disciplinary strengths in the narratives and reports of early voyages of exploration and scientific expeditions (including 19th-century archival material in the Russell E. Train Africana collection), catalogues of natural-history collections from the Renaissance into the modern era, and publications on field-collecting and museum preservation techniques in the 18th and 19th centuries. In addition, the Cullman Library holds the personal library of founder James Smithson, the Deshayes card file on molluscan taxonomy, and the Wheldon & Wesley (natural-history booksellers) card index 1950-2000. Contact: Leslie Overstreet

Laboratories of Analytical Biology
The Laboratories of Analytical Biology (LAB) serve the research community of the NMNH in the pursuit of focused, first class science with an experienced staff, shared instrumentation, support and training. The aim of LAB is to enhance the research environment and contribute to general scientific literacy by providing current technological resources in the areas of genomics, molecular biology and scientific computing. The facilities include two main facilities compromising over 20,000 square-feet of laboratory, computational and office spaces. We provide the capability of performing a full range of comparative modern molecular methods and include separate pre- and post-PCR facilities, next-gen gemome sequencers, automated DNA extractors, staffed capillary DNA sequencing instruments, dozens of PCR machines (including real-time), microfluidic separation technology for DNA, RNA and proteins, automated robotic liquid handlers, and cloning areas. Computer facilities include labs with Mac, Linux and Windows workstations including systems with increased memory for large datasets and large screens for data visualization. Support is available from LAB staff for running analyses on Smithsonian’s computing cluster, which is capable of running large genomic datasets. LAB provides access to molecular analytical software including licensed programs like Geneious and Sequencher. All NMNH researchers and affiliated staff, with the approval of their department chair, can request LAB access, bench space, as well as use of computer facilities and equipment. Contact: Lee Weigt

Natural History Libraries
The NMNH Library was formed as an administrative entity in 1981 and is one of 20 libraries within the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. It consists of a main location plus 15 specialized collections. The library features scholarly, highly technical and research-oriented materials in cross-disciplinary topics within the general areas of interest to the NMNH. It contains about 120,000 items on general science, biology, ecology, evolution, biodiversity, geology, paleontology, conservation and other subjects. There are over 500 journal subscriptions and a large number of journals received on exchange. The NMNH Main Library and its satellite locations all have strong collections of 19th- and 20th-century literature. In addition, the National Agricultural Library, the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine, and the Geological Survey Library make the Washington area one of the best in the country for bibliographic research. Contact: Gil Taylor

Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce
701 Seaway Drive, Fort Pierce, Florida 34949
The Smithsonian Marine Station (SMS), located in Fort Pierce on the east coast of central Florida, is a center for research and education in the marine sciences. SMS is a facility of the NMNH and serves as a field station that draws more than 100 top scientists and students each year from the Smithsonian and collaborating institutions around the world. The facility is situated in a biogeographical transitional zone where there is access to both tropical and temperate biota, and the Gulf Stream is easily accessible with its abundance of long-distance larvae and rich plankton. A diverse fauna is found in the variety of habitats from the mangroves, seagrass beds, and mud flats of the Indian River Lagoon to the sandy beaches and worm reefs of the oceanic coast and the various substrata of the offshore continental shelf including coquinoid limestone ledges, oculinid coral reefs, and shell hash plains. The SMS specializes in studies of marine biodiversity and ecosystems of Florida.

Research focuses on the Indian River Lagoon and the offshore waters of Florida’s east central coast, with comparative studies throughout coastal Florida. Ongoing research programs include the systematics and ecology of algae and protists; life histories of meiofaunal organisms, sipunculans, polychaetes, and gastropods; ecology of foraminiferans; systematics, reproduction, and ecology of several groups of echinoderms and crustacea; and studies of mangrove ecosystems. The resident science program concentrates on life histories of marine invertebrates, benthic ecology of the Indian River Lagoon and near shore reefs, marine plant-animal interactions, and chemical ecology of seaweeds and invertebrates.

The facilities at the SMS include an 8,000 square-foot laboratory/office building and a residence for visiting scientists on an 8-acre campus. Available for use by visiting scientists are laboratories for histology, confocal and electron microscopy, electrophoresis, DNA studies, biochemistry, a small industrial shop, and offices and laboratories for individual scientists. Specialized equipment includes recirculating sea water systems, equipment for preparing tissues for light and electron microscopy, a scanning/ transmission electron microscope (STEM), confocal microscope, centrifuges, an ultra-cold freezer, equipment for electrophoresis studies, a thermocycler for DNA analyses, high-performance liquid chromatographs, a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, and a UV-visual spectrophotometer. There is also a wide variety of light microscopes and photographic, video and computer equipment. The SMS owns four boats for use in field studies: a 17-foot Boston Whaler and 21-foot Carolina Skiff for research within the Indian River lagoon, a 21-foot center-console boat to access near-shore waters, and a 39-foot boat, the R/V SUNBURST, for work on the nearby continental shelf. Contact: Valerie Paul

Research Staff

PAUL, Valerie, Head Scientist. B.A. (1979), Ph.D. (1985) University of California San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Research specialties: Marine chemical ecology, marine plant-herbivore interactions, coral reef ecology, and marine natural products.

Affiliated Research Staff

BOX, Stephen Program Coordinator.  B.S. University of Wales; Ph.D. University of Exeter.  Research specialties:  Ecology of tropical coastal systems and the fish and fisheries they support; use of applied research to underpin the development of marine protected areas and fisheries management tools to maintain the health and integrity of marine ecosystems.

RICE, Mary E., Emeritus Senior Scientist. B.A. (1947) Drew University; M.A. (1949) Oberlin College; Ph.D. (1966) University of Washington. Research specialties: Systematics and development of the Sipuncula; research on reproductive biology and comparative developmental patterns, larval biology and metamorphosis