Gala & Glow

A heartfelt thank you to all who celebrated the museum’s 50th anniversary — and the completion of our metamorphosis into the new Delaware Museum of Nature and Science — at our Gala and Glow on Friday, May 13, 2022.

Research Headquarters

How we know what we know:

In the Research Headquarters, sponsored by DuPont, explore stories about scientific research and related projects from our local area and beyond.

Scientists help us better understand the world around us. They conduct research in all kinds of environments: in the field, in the laboratory, and even in the museum’s natural history collections. They observe animals and plants in the air, on the land, and in the water. They conduct experiments and collect data to test their observations. Over time, they draw conclusions based on what they find, helping us make sense of what’s happening on the planet. What we know changes as scientists gather and share new information.

Tucked into the Regional Journey Gallery, the Research Headquarters currently includes stories about the Delaware Shorebird Project and the juvenile humpback whale collected by museum scientists in 2018. Other stories currently on view also include some of the research behind DuPont’s Kalrez® technology, citizen science project Coast Snap by Delaware Sea Grant, and exploring with carnivore ecologist Rae Wynn-Grant, courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection.

On the back end, the stories in the Research Headquarters are installed in a content management system created by digital design studio RLMG. It’s set up so new stories can be uploaded seasonally.

Stories involving museum scientists

The juvenile humpback whale skull was weighed on its way to the museum.

A tale of a whale

A juvenile humpback whale died at sea and washed ashore near Port Mahon, Delaware. The whale, one of 34 humpback whales stranded on the East Coast in 2017, presented an opportunity to tell this important story at the Delaware Museum of Nature & Science. But first, museum staff had to determine how to retrieve the 280 lbs. skull from the beach.

Shorebirds at Mispillion Harbor.

Shorebirds on the bay

Each spring millions of horseshoe crabs migrate into Delaware Bay to lay their eggs on sandy beaches. At the same time, nearly half a million shorebirds arrive to rest and refuel on their way to breed on the Arctic Tundra. Their primary food is horseshoe crab eggs. The Delaware Shorebird Project studies the birds and the importance of the bay to their survival. Learn more about the Delaware Shorebird Project.

Stories from our partners

DuPont’s Kalrez® technology

From aerospace and chemical processing to chip manufacturing and oil and gas applications, DuPont™ Kalrez® elastomers are engineered to provide more stability, more resistance, and more effective sealing. Learn more about this technology from DuPont scientists. Learn more about Kalrez®. 

Coast Snap by Delaware Sea Grant

To manage coastlines, we need to understand how they behave. Delaware Sea Grant’s CoastSnap is a citizen science program harnessing smartphones and orthophotogrammetry to help scientists learn more about the shoreline. By using CoastSnap, the community becomes an integral part of the science team. Learn more about CoastSnap.

From the IF/THEN® Collection

Image by Tsalani Lassiter, courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection

Carnivore ecologist Rae Wynn-Grant, courtesy of the IF/THEN® Collection

Rae Wynn-Grant, Ph.D. might just have the coolest job on the planet. As a carnivore ecologist working for National Geographic, she researches how endangered species are impacted by human interaction. Her work currently focuses on grizzly bears in Montana, but has previously taken her around the world — including to Tanzania and Kenya to study lions. The If/Then Collection is a digital asset library of women STEM innovators. Learn more about the If/Then® Collection.

The Research Headquarters is sponsored by DuPont

Coral Reef

One of the most frequent questions asked about our exhibits: “Is the coral reef staying?”

It is! The museum’s popular coral reef exhibit is getting a new look, with updated and refurbished elements. The scene is designed to look like Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The exhibit features a wide variety of corals — the animals that make the coral reefs — in many shapes, sizes, and colors. In addition, fish, mollusks and other specimens are represented.

Delaware Community Foundation supports new Respite Room with capital grant

Tucked into the Regional Journey Gallery is the new Respite Room, a dedicated, calming space for visitors with sensory challenges and developmental disorders to take a break, as well as being a quiet and private option for nursing parents.

Supported by a recent $19,864 grant from the Delaware Community Foundation, the room is designed to be a cozy and safe area, with limited furniture, soft lighting, and a sink for washing hands. The room will be secured, with access available at the front desk.

The Respite Room project was made possible by a grant from the Delaware Forever Fund and other funds supporting capital needs of nonprofits throughout the State of Delaware at the Delaware Community Foundation. We’re grateful for their support in creating this warm, safe and inclusive space for our guests.

The mission of the Delaware Community Foundation is to improve the lives of the people of Delaware by empowering and growing philanthropy through knowledge and relationships, now and in the future. As a facilitator, information resource and manager of charitable funds, the DCF helps communities and philanthropists focus charitable resources for the greatest community benefit statewide.

Metamorphosis in Progress

Take a look at some of the new exhibit components and other changes happening at the museum!

Up on the roof: How flying a kite is part of bird research

Though researchers have studied of bird migration in general, the ability to track the journey of small-bodied birds has remained a mystery for years. Motus Wildlife Tracking System is an international collaborative research network dedicated to tracking the migration of small birds. The tracking of the birds is made possible by radio telemetry towers which read tags from animals passing nearby. Motus is dedicated to involving numerous locations in tracking a wide variety of small animals locally, regionally, and even internationally, describing their research as “the ultimate hands-on community science project.”

The museum is participating in this community project with a radio telemetry tower installed in January 2021 on our roof with the help of graduate student Katie Bird, University of Delaware professor Jeff Buler, Ph.D., community scientist ​Steve Cotrell, and Ian Stewart of the Delaware Nature Society. The project is funded by the Delaware Audubon Society and Delaware Ornithological Society.

Katie is conducting research in Dr. Buler’s lab at the University of Delaware’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology focusing on Purple Martins (Progne subis), and she worked tirelessly to get her equipment ready before the Purple Martins return in April.

Dr. Jean Woods, former curator of birds, helped Katie prepare for their return through regular visits to our roof to perform system updates on our tower. The tower consists of an antenna, a receiver which records the data, and a solar panel which powers the entire thing. The tower can record the compatible tags of any birds that pass by within a range of 10 miles. The radio tags used are solar powered and tiny (0.5 grams), so they can remain on the bird for its entire life and acquire the data without having to recapture the bird. Once the data is recorded, it is automatically made available to researchers. This data is what Katie will use to study the movements of Purple Martins in the early spring as they return to their colonies.

This map shows where the local Motus towers are that Katie is using for research, including London Grove TownshipBucktoe Creek PreserveLongwood Gardens, DMNH, and the Delaware Nature Society’s DuPont Environmental Education Center.

While she awaits the return of the Purple Martins, Katie has collected data in various ways to train the receiver’s algorithm. She previously used a drone to replicate the flight of small birds, but the drone is out of commission. Katie then came up with the idea of using a kite to simulate the flight of a tagged martin. By flying a kite on our roof, Katie collected both GPS and radio data similar to the data the LifeTags will provide to the receiver.

Kite flying, algorithms, and — most importantly — patience are the main ingredients in Katie’s recipe for successful Purple Martin migration research. We will be watching closely for the return of the Purple Martins, and the data our tower collects as they fly through Delaware.

Mobilizing millions of marine mollusks

The museum has teamed up with scientists at several major museums and universities for a $2.3 million, four-year grant from the National Science Foundation to digitize data for more than 4.5 million marine mollusk specimens such as mussels, oysters, clams, and snails collected along the Eastern seaboard from the U.S.-Canada border to U.S.-Mexico border.

The project, Mobilizing Millions of Marine Mollusks of the Eastern Seaboard, will have a world-wide impact on biodiversity documentation and study by making data from these ecologically and commercially important species available through online portals. Previous digitization projects have focused on freshwater and land mollusks; this is the first major project of this type for marine mollusks.

The Field Museum of Natural History is the lead (principal investigator) for the project. Other collaborating institutions include the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Harvard University, University of Florida, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, and North Carolina State Museum.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 2001510, 2001290, 2001507, 2001515, 2001523, 2001528, 2001536, 2001546, 2001570, 2001600. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Fishy Behavior: Modeling a snack for a Giant Squid

The giant squid (Architeuthis dux) in the museum’s atrium has become one of our iconic exhibits, with thousands gazing up to it in wonder every year. Look up, and you’ll see an orange roughy fish (Hoplostethus atlanticus), trying desperately to avoid the grasp of the squid. But the orange roughy wasn’t the original fish in the atrium.
In 2007, new information about the feeding grounds of giant squid suggested they hunt in deep water – a place where tuna (the previous display fish) rarely go. So, the museum’s Curator of Mollusks, Liz Shea, Ph.D., and former Exhibits Manager Jennifer Sontchi decided to update the exhibit, concluding the orange roughy was the best choice from a scientific, exhibit design, and educational perspective.

While many of the animals in museum displays are real specimens preserved with taxidermy, others have been sculpted by museum artists. Since orange roughy populations are vulnerable to extinction from over-fishing, we chose to sculpt a model for the exhibit instead of displaying an actual preserved fish. Follow along below to see the fascinating process behind creating a scientifically accurate museum model.

Reference

The first step towards producing any realistic display is excellent reference material. Dr. Liz Shea, Curator of Mollusks, oversaw the entire project to make certain every detail is correct. The fish at the top of the photo is the paper template created to provide the measurements and proportions of a real orange roughy. The fish in the lower part of the photo is the clay model itself.

Supplemental fins

This photo shows a red snapper fish having its fins molded. We made molds of the snapper’s fins, modified the casts, and inserted them into the clay model of our orange roughy. These fin casts are more realistic than if they were sculpted from scratch.

The model

The clay model of the orange roughy is complete in this photo. You can see the plastic, white, snapper fin casts inserted into the model. The clay surrounding the model is the beginning of the next step, which is making a two-piece mold.

The mold

Here you see the clay model encased on one side in a pale-colored, flexible plastic, which is cradled by a hard, grey shell. Once both sides of the clay model are molded this way, the clay fish model is removed and discarded. The mold now provides an empty space exactly the shape and size of the clay model. A cast is made by filling that fish-shaped space with a liquid plastic that then hardens into an exact replica of an orange roughy.

The cast

This is the finished plastic cast of the model. All that is needed now is paint!

The display

Voila! The orange roughy is sculpted, molded, cast, painted, and attached to the giant squid with hidden pins. That orange roughy better swim faster (just keep swimming, just keep swimming) if he wants to get away.