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Field Museum opens up its vast collections in new 'Specimens' exhibit

Written by
Jonathan Samples

The Field Museum has more than 30 million objects in its collections, of which less than 1 percent are on display. For the first time, the museum will pull back the curtain on this hidden world when it opens its newest exhibition, “Specimens: Unlocking the Secrets of Life,” in March.

A collection of now-extinct butterflies and an almost 6-foot-long sawfish snout are among the amazing, lesser-known objects in the museum’s vast collection, which visitors to the new exhibit will be be able to see and—when it comes to The Field Museum’s giant clamshell—touch.

“Lots of people don’t realize that we have collections behind the scenes—let alone collections numbering over 30 million objects—and that the museum is an active research institution where scientists work and make discoveries based upon these collections,” Director of Exhibitions Jaap Hoogstraten said in a release. Some of these discoveries will be highlighted in “Specimens.” Hoogstraten said visitors will be able to learn how the museum’s collections have helped shape scientific research in important and (at times) unexpected ways.

Marie Georg, the exhibition’s lead developer, said scientists who collect a specimen don’t always know what type of research it will be used for in the future. “We have gulls in our collection that were used to determine that mercury levels in the oceans have been rising over time. We have minerals that researchers analyze and compare to the chemical makeup of meteorites so we can learn more about the origins of our planet. When these specimens were collected—last year, in the 1950s or the 1890s—scientists could have scarcely imagined that they’d be used in these ways.”

In addition to learning many of these interesting stories, visitors will be able to take a shot at sorting seashells into different species and exploring ancient insects that are millions of years old via an interactive touchscreen display. “Museum collections are a way to preserve the past so that we can learn from it in the future,” Hoogstraten added. “That’s why our collections are invaluable.”

Specimens opens March 10 and runs through January 8, 2018.

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