Women of Science at the New York State Museum

11 a.m.–3:30 p.m.
Exhibition Hall
Free

Join us for an exciting day of activities celebrating the amazing women scientists working at the New York State Museum! We bring you this program honoring the women working in a variety of scientific discliplines right here in downtown Albany. Lectures, “Ask the Scientist” sessions, and scientific activities will be happening throughout the day. 

The day includes hands-on activities that allow YOU to be the scientist. Examine specimens from our collections and ask questions of the women working in science at the edge of human discovery and preserving the wealth of knowledge in museum collections.  Cultural Anthropology, Bioarchaeology, Archeology, Malacology, Botany, Geology and Paleontology are some of the fields represented in this amazing all-day extravaganza!

This program is suitable for Adults, Families, Teens and Children!


Schedule of Talks & Discussions | Huxley Theater:

11:00 a.m. – “Ask the Scientist” 
Are you a young explorer who would like to know more about the path to becoming a scientist? Do you wonder what a typical day in the life of a museum scientist might look like? Or would you like to learn some of the ways that diversity in STEM fields is important? Please bring your questions and join Dr. Daria Merwin to learn about the opportunities and challenges of becoming a scientist.
Recommended for children 12 and under.

11:45 a.m. – The Science of Fossils: What To Do When You Find Them
Fossils are fun to find, but how do scientists study them? Animal and plant fossils are used in four main ways. They can be used to determine how creatures lived, how they changed over time, and what they were like when they were alive. We can also use fossils to tell the ages of rocks. Join our state paleontologist, Dr. Lisa Amati, and learn how to study animal and plant fossils.

12:30 p.m. – Diversity Gradients, Birds and Parasites
The closer you get to the equator from the North and South Poles, the more types of creatures there are, large and small—a phenomenon we call the “diversity gradient.” This pattern is seen whether you look at birds, mammals, or butterflies, and whether you come from the north or south. But what about the microscopic organisms that live within these animals and cause diseases? Are they also more diverse at the tropics than the poles? New York State Museum Ornithology Fellow Naima Starkloff talks about the diversity patterns of malaria-causing parasites in a group of birds in North America.

1:15 p.m. – A Day in the Life of an Entomologist/Evolutionary Biologist
Julie will discuss the field and lab components of the research she conducts with planthopper insects. She will also discuss what it is like to conduct basic DNA-based research in evolutionary biology, applied research in invasive-species pest management, and mentoring and teaching graduate and undergraduate students.

2:00 p.m. – Not All Anthropologists Are Archaeologists!: The Adventures of a Cultural Anthropologist at the State Museum
Anthropology is the study of human beings, our past and our present. So what does it look like to study human beings today doing everyday human being things? And how does this study become part of working with museums and museum collections? Join Dr. Gwen Saul for an introduction to cultural anthropology and the contemporary Native art collection at the State Museum.

2:30 p.m. – “Ask the Scientist” Panel Discussion featuring all participating scientists
Visitors of all ages are invited to meet the State Museum scientists and ask them questions about what it’s like to be a scientist.
 

Be sure to pick up an Activity Booklet at the Information Table. Then, find a scientist that studies each of the subjects to answer the questions and learn more about what they do!

 


MEET THE SCIENTISTS:

Dr. Lisa Amati

Job: Invertebrate Paleontologist
Collection: Invertebrate Paleontology
Title: State Paleontologist

I am an invertebrate paleontologist specializing in ancient marine animals called trilobites. I mainly study how they lived and how the many different forms are related to each other. Most of my trilobites are between 450 and 500 million years old. Scientists study ancient animals like these to learn about how changes in climate affected animals in the past. We can apply this knowledge to help protect living things while the climate is changing today.

Lisa Anderson

Job: Bioarchaeologist
Collection: Bioarchaeology
Title: Curator of Bioarchaeology and Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) Coordinator

I study and curate a collection of human skeletal material from archaeological sites that date from over 4000 years ago to the 1800s. Bones tell a unique story about a person’s life, so my research focuses on the impact of different ways of life on the health and well-being of people in the past. I’ve been fortunate to work on a number of projects, from the impact of maize agriculture on the health of pre-contact Native Americans to a study of enslaved Africans in colonial Albany. We also assist other institutions and law enforcement with the identification and documentation of bones when they are found. 

Kathleen Bonk

Job: Geologic Open File Geologist
Collection: Geology
Title: Collections Technician, Geologic Open File

As a museum collections technician of the Open File collection it is my responsibility to preserve and organize many of the one-of-a-kind and unpublished materials produced by geologists and their research from across New York State. The Open File collection consists of maps, journals, theses, reports, and other information than cannot be found anywhere else. My focus is on preserving these invaluable materials so that they can be used in future research. Some of the items in the Open File collection date back to the late 1800s and contain important data that cannot be collected again today because our landscape has changed since they were written. 

Jessica L. Campbell

Job:  Bioarchaeologist & Forensic Anthropologist
Collection: Bioarchaeology
Title:  SUNY Albany Graduate Fellow in Bioarchaeology

As a bioarchaeologist and a forensic anthropologist, I study human skeletal material to develop and improve upon methods that estimate age and identify disease. Being able to provide age and general health of skeletal remains is important because it helps us understand a population’s overall structure and health. It can also help identify missing individuals. 

My current research focuses on a historical population from the 1800s. I use osteology and statistics in my everyday work, and I use spatial analysis to help explain burial patterns in cemeteries. I have also helped exhume skeletal remains in an effort to identify missing persons. One of the more meaningful aspects of my job is finding a name for an unidentified person and being able to provide answers or information when other options are exhausted.

Diana Hurlbut

Job: Botanist
Collection: Vascular Plants
Title: Vascular Plant Herbarium Research & Collection Technician

I work in the Vascular Plant Herbarium, which is a collection of plants that includes flowers, ferns, trees, and grasses. This collection started in the 1830s when botanist John Torrey was hired by the state to collect and document all the plants growing in New York. Since then, many botanists have added to the collection, and today we have over 210,000 specimens from New York and beyond. These plant specimens have been collected, pressed flat, and mounted on acid-free paper and are stored in cabinets. It’s like a library of plants that records where plants were growing and when.

I love my job! I get to work with plants that were collected over a long period of time. I always love to see a flower that is still colorful even if it was collected a hundred years ago. Some days I process loans of our plants for research at other museums or universities. Other days I create digital records or photos of our plant collections, and so much more! 

Andrea Lain

Job: Archaeology
Collections: Archaeology
Title: Archaeology Collections Manager

I’m the Museum’s archaeology collections manager, the person who can help you locate any of our more than 4 million archaeological artifacts at a moment’s notice. Visiting scientists and researchers rely on me to find the specific artifacts and documents they need for their studies.

When I was 8 years old my great-grandmother gave me a set of books entitled Wonders of the Past.  Published in the 1930s, these books discussed King Tut’s tomb, Assyrian palaces, Roman architecture, and the mysteries of Stonehenge. I was enthralled! I pored over the books for hours, determined to be an archaeologist when I grew up.

Years later, I have realized my dream. Not only do I get to work with the NYSM’s fabulous archaeology collection, I also can pursue research of my own! Right now I’m doing stable isotope studies on skeletons excavated from the Albany Almshouse Cemetery to see if their diets differed significantly between when they were infants and the years just before they died. This is one way we can learn more about these little-known people of the past.

Dr. Denise Mayer

Job: Freshwater Ecologist
Collection: Malacology
Title: Museum Scientist and Collections Manager for Malacology

As a freshwater ecologist, I search New York’s lakes and streams to find and count mollusks (mussels and snails) and share my findings and knowledge with the public, school groups, teachers, and scientists. The most important part of my job is teaching people about how fragile and important the animals that depend on freshwater ecosystems are and about their relationship with and services they provide to humans. One goal of my research is to prevent the destruction of native mussels by human impact, like pollution, dredging, dams, and the introduction of invasive species.  My favorite part of my job is SCUBA diving, exploring beneath the water and experiencing where aquatic animals live.  

Dr. Daria Merwin

Job: Archaeologist
Collection: CRSP
Title: Co-Director of the New York State Museum Cultural Resource Survey Program (CRSP)

I work with the Cultural Resource Survey Program, which is an applied research program of the Museum’s Research & Collections Division that provides research and assessment of archaeological and architectural resources for other state agencies. This extensive program assists these agencies with their state and federal historic preservation mandates. The CRSP is the largest outside-funded Museum program and employs about one-sixth of the Research & Collections Division’s staff.

Most of my career as an archaeologist has been spent in New York State, and I have worked on a wide variety of sites here, ranging from a small camp marked by chips left over from making a stone tool thousands of years ago to trenches dug by soldiers training to fight for America in World War I.

My main research interests focus on underwater archaeology and the study of maritime cultural landscapes to learn about how people in the past lived on and near the water. As a scientist, I love the process of discovery and then putting together all the clues we find in the field, in the lab, and even in the library to explain how the people who came before us might have lived. I also enjoy the challenge of solving problems, something I get to do regularly at the Cultural Resource Survey Program.

Sarita Morse

Job: Anthropologist
Collection: Archeology
Title: Archeology Technician

One and a half million years ago, a group of our ancestors walked along the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya. Their footprints in the mud were quickly covered by sediment, preserving them. Uncovered in 2007 by evolutionary anthropologists, the prints began to erode quickly, and removing them for transport was deemed too risky. With the help of a retrofitted medical laser scanner, a generator, and patience, the prints are now recorded in high-resolution and available to scientists around the world to examine at their computers. For 5 years I traveled the world, scanning footprints of our distant and recent ancestors. This created a data set that could be analyzed to determine geological and biological factors and understand how they affect footprint formation and preservation. 

In 2015 I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, ending my field career. Turning my fall into a dive, I now work in the CRSP archaeological laboratory here at the New York State Museum.

Kristin O’Connell

Job: Archaeologist
Collection: Historical Archaeology Research and Collections Technician
Title: Historical Archaeology Technician

As a historical archaeology technician, I prepare historic artifacts for storage, exhibit, and research. I participate in field excavation projects with both the prehistoric and historic curators of archaeology, and have worked at dozens of archaeological sites, ranging in age from thousands of years ago to the early 20th century. In addition to field excavation and artifact identification and analysis, my research interest lies in artifact conservation (how to stabilize and preserve artifacts that are in danger of deterioration). Archaeological conservation uses chemistry to understand how and why an artifact will deteriorate after it has been excavated and then finds the best treatment methods so historic data will not be lost. The coolest thing I’ve ever done is excavate a portion of a 17th-century fort that was discovered at Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site after a devastating hurricane hit the area.

Dr. Christina Rieth

Job: Archaeologist
Collection: Anthropology
Title: State Archaeologist in Archaeology at the New York State Museum and Co-Director CRSP

I currently work on the Early Late Prehistoric Period of New York (ca. AD 700–1400) and analyze prehistoric ceramics and their relationship to trade, exchange, and interaction in the Northeast. I have always been enamored with history and how we understand the past. By studying objects from our past, we can learn not only how lifeways have changed through time, but we gain insights into the future.

I am interested in both archaeology and chemistry, I decided to look at the archaeometry of ceramics and lithic (rock) materials. 

Dr. Gwendolyn Saul

Job: Cultural Anthropologist
Collection: Ethnography
Title: Curator of Ethnography

I oversee the care, research, and exhibition of objects in the Museum’s Ethnology Collection, and I am a liaison between the Museum and Native American artists and communities in New York. The Ethnology Collection contains historic and contemporary objects related to the histories of Native Americans and contemporary artwork by Native American artists.

Ethnology is the study of comparisons between objects, people, and/or cultures (or groups of people). Ethnography involves a variety of methods that cultural anthropologists use to understand different worldviews, human behaviors, and how people interact with each other.

I earned my master’s and doctorate degrees at the University of New Mexico, where I conducted fieldwork research on the Navajo Nation, working on a community-based oral history project. 

Naima Stakloff

Job: Bird and Disease Ecologist 
Collection: Ornithology
Title: Ornithology Curatorial Assistant (Ph.D. student at the University at Albany, SUNY)

I study birds and the diseases that impact them. As a child, my favorite classes let us go outside and count and measure insects or pollution in the environment. I was fascinated with ecology before I even knew what it was. Understanding connections between species and patterns is so interesting to me! My mother’s love of birds inspired me look at behaviors in these globally diverse creatures. As a graduate student, I unravel the patterns of the microscopic creatures that live within birds. My work contributes to the global knowledge of how birds and their parasites interact.

My favorite thing about my job is that no two days are the same. I spend some days in the lab, some in class, some writing, some reading, some teaching, and others preparing bird specimens. The coolest thing I get to do is closely interact with live animals while spending time in beautiful habitats. I have done research projects in the Amazon, the Andes, and the Galápagos Islands, and on the diversity of birds in different forest habitats in eastern New York, Bennington, VT, and in Sri Lanka.

Dr. Julie Urban

Job: Evolutionary Biologist
Collection: Entomology
Title: Research Associate Professor, Department of Entomology, Penn State University

I am an evolutionary biologist and performed my masters and doctoral dissertation research at the New York State Museum, earning my Ph.D. from the University at Albany. I study planthoppers, a diverse and often morphologically bizarre group of sap-feeding insects. I combine DNA sequence data with features of insect morphology to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the planthoppers. This means I get to work in the field and in the lab. I travel to areas of high biodiversity to collect these insects, which to date has included field sites in Belize, Costa Rica, Peru, French Guiana, Nicaragua, Ghana, Zambia, India, Vietnam, and Malaysian Borneo, as well as sites in the US, particularly in the Southwest. In the laboratory, I sequence planthopper DNA and the genomes of the multiple endosymbiotic bacteria that have co-evolved with these insects, and provision them with essential nutrients. My work on planthoppers provides insight into possible mechanisms by which planthopper pests, such as the Spotted Lanternfly, can be controlled.

Jessica Vavrasek

Job: Archaeologist
Collection: Prehistoric Archaeology Collection
Title: SUNY Albany Graduate Fellow in Native American Pottery

As a dissertation research fellow working at the Museum, my job is to look at Native American pottery and old animal bones to learn about what people ate in the past.

I first got interested in archaeology when I was three years old, and when I found out that I could make it a career I jumped at the chance. My favorite thing about my job is that I get to work with old objects that people in the past made and used. I try to figure out what they might have used the objects for and discover what we can learn about the people who made them. I have conducted excavations up and down the East Coast and in Newfoundland and Mexico.

For more than a decade, I have been studying the St. Lawrence Iroquoians that lived in Jefferson County, New York, to learn about village life there over 600 years ago. I am now studying isotopes in dog bones to see if people took their dogs with them as they moved from place to place. I also examine pottery found at the sites, and from the designs determine who made the piece, and where and when it was made. I will compare my animal bone and pottery data to find possible new conclusions about movement within Jefferson County many centuries ago.  

Jessica Watson

Job: Zooarchaeologist
Collection: Anthropology Department
Title: SUNY Albany Graduate Fellow in Archaeology

I am a graduate fellow, completing a dissertation on zooarchaeology (animal bone) collections from Native American houses. I am interested in what people ate almost 5,000 years ago and how they dealt with a changing climate. Trying to understand how people interacted with the environment can help us better adapt to changes in the climate today.

I was inspired to become an archaeologist after digging on my first excavation. The amount of information that we can learn from studying prehistoric “garbage” is astounding, and I love being able to play in the dirt all summer and then studying the artifacts in the lab in the winter.

One of the coolest experiments I have done was collecting and preparing animals for a comparative collection. Roadkill animals are sad, but their bones can be used to help us identify bone fragments at archaeological sites. I won a grant to buy flesh-eating beetles, which I used to clean up dozens of these roadkill specimens, which are now clean bone samples that will be used for scientific analysis for decades to come. 

Julie Weatherwax

Job: Bioarchaeologist
Collection: Bioarchaeology Lab
Title: Bioarchaeology Technician

I work in the Bioarchaeology Lab, documenting and analyzing human remains. This includes photographing specimens and assessing age, sex, and any pathology (disease or injury) the person might have had. I also take measurements to collect data to learn not only about the individual, but also about the population as a whole. I became an osteologist (someone who studies bones) after going on an archaeological dig in Poland, where we excavated Medieval burials. I found it fascinating how much you can learn about a person’s life from examining their skeleton.

My favorite thing about my job is getting to look at bones all day and seeing all the variations in the human body. My work is important because, based on what I learn from bones, I get to reveal part of a person’s life story that would otherwise not be told.

Susan Winchell-Sweeney

Job: Archaeologist
Collection: Anthropology Department
Title: Archaeological Research and Collections Technician, Geographic Information Systems Program (GISP)

I prepare collections for storage, exhibit, and research; participate in field excavations; and am the resident expert in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Instruments like GPS (ground-penetrating radar), magnetic susceptibility, and drones aid in mapping archaeological sites and can allow archaeologists to “see beneath the soil” without digging. I support the research projects of our curators, who have very diverse interests—there’s roughly a 13,000-year difference in the ages of the sites and artifacts they study!

The coolest thing I’ve ever done—and the most the evocative of a tragic time in the past—was assisting in the discovery and excavation of a French and Indian War-era smallpox hospital, the first in North America.