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NMNH Priority Initiatives

Deep Time Initiative 
Understanding Impacts of Environmental Change on the Evolution of Life on Earth
Humans are now altering the life-support systems of the entire planet, marking a unique moment in Earth’s 4.56-billion-year history. It is essential that we understand how global systems change over time and develop sustain-able strategies for the management of natural systems. The Museum has the largest fossil collection in the world with 40 million specimens and a team of expert scientists studying the evolution of the Earth and its biological communities over time. However, our Paleobiology exhibitions are outdated and in urgent need of a complete overhaul, and our online resources dedicated to this critical topic are limited. At a time when the public is increasingly aware of the impact of climate change on our planet and our own livelihoods, we want to encourage society to learn from the past and how humans are changing the future. We aim to establish the Smithsonian as the world leader in understanding global change over time. Contact: Kay Behrensmeyer

Encyclopedia of Life
A Web Page for Every Species
Launched in 2007, the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is an online biodiversity resource that seeks to provide global access to knowledge about life on Earth, offering ‘one-stop shopping’ for authoritative information on all known and named species. EOL engages a wide audience of educators, citizen scientists, academics and the general public and serves as a vital tool to increasing our collective understanding of life on this planet, and to safeguarding the richest possible spectrum of biodiversity. The project brings together several of the world’s leading natural history institutions, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum of Natural History, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, Missouri Botanical Garden and the Biodiversity Heritage Library consortium.

Other institutions from around the world continue to be invited as collaborators. The EOL Secretariat is hosted at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Contact: Robert Corrigan

Global Genome Initiative
Preserving the Diversity of the Tree of Life
The Global Genome Initiative ( aims to preserve the planet’s genetic diversity by sustaining the next generation of biodiversity collections and helping to solve many of humanity’s biological challenges and, in the process, trans-form the Museum into a 21st century institution. The diversity of genomes holds great potential for explaining the evolutionary relationships of organisms and supporting advancements in agriculture, medicine, environmental stewardship, and even national security. Contact: Jonathan Coddington

Human Origins Initiative
What Does It Mean to be Human?
Our origin and evolution as humans is a compelling scientific question. Where did we come from and how have we changed over time? What are the main characteristics that make us human? The Human Origins Initiative addresses these and other challenging questions, and expands our understanding of human evolution. Our researchers are investigating the evolution of human ancestors in Africa and Asia, focusing particularly on how human adaptations relate to environmental change over millions of years. The initiative has strengthened the human origins research program in collaboration with institutions and scientists from developing countries, established the Peter Buck Chair in Human Origins, and designed and completed the renovations for the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. Contact: Richard Potts

Ocean Initiative
Understanding and Preserving the Diversity of Life in the Ocean
The Ocean Initiative is a multi-faceted endeavor to build upon the distinguished history of marine science re-search at the Museum. The initiative works on several fronts: to engage, educate, and inspire visitors through state of the art displays in the Museum’s new Ocean Hall and through an education program that includes family events and lectures; to communicate ocean issues to the broader public and educators via the Museum’s Ocean Portal (; and to expand understanding of our oceans through a diverse array of research efforts including a global ocean observatory network and genetic barcoding of the ocean’s vast diversity of marine life at ocean observatory sites. Contact: Nancy Knowlton

Q?rius Education Initiative

Public museums represent a virtually untapped resource for increasing scientific literacy. They are a perfect venue for inspiring awe and wonder about science, nature, and culture and can complement our formal educational system.  NMNH is transforming the public’s connection to science by creating opportunities for young people to participate in and experience the wonders of scientific discovery that go on behind the scenes every day.  At the heart of our efforts it the Q?rius Initiative which is focused around a 10,000 sq. ft., evolving learning laboratory for experimental and innovative methodologies in the Museum and beyond.  Teens and pre-teens can participate in activities rooted in real-world research, examine 6,000 authentic objects (digital and real), interact with scientists, and experiment with field techniques and laboratory technology; it turns the museum inside out and demystifies the behind-the-scenes work.  Q?rius follows an “agile development” model, so that offerings are refined based on real input from our key audiences.  Q?rius relies on interactive, web-based technologies to connect onsite and online experiences, expand access, and personalize the content. Its digital field books, digital collections browser, badge system, and distance-learning tool are the building blocks of an infrastructure to test and improve innovative methodologies that engage learners of all ages wherever they are.  Contact: Shari Werb

Recovering Voices Initiative
Sustaining Linguistic Diversity and Traditional Knowledge
It is estimated that at least half of the world’s 7,000 languages will cease to be spoken by the end of this century. The silencing of the world’s languages —and the associated loss of traditional knowledge—is universally regarded as one of the 21st century’s key global societal challenges. The Museum hosts the National Anthropological Archives and the Human Studies Film Archives and holds vast ethnological and natural history collections from many parts of the world. These resources support the documentation of many of the world’s dormant and endangered languages and assist global efforts to sustain linguistic and knowledge diversity. In collaboration with other units of the Smithsonian and external partners, Recovering Voices is especially interested in collaborating in community-based efforts to document, preserve, and revitalize language and knowledge. Contact: Gabriela Perez-Baez