Women of Science at the New York State Museum

Saturday, March 9, 2019

10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Exhibition Hall

Join us for an exciting day of activities celebrating the amazing women scientists working at the New York State Museum! In recognition of the U.N. International Day of Women and Girls in Science 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!

Women of Science Girl


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.

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! 

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.  

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. 

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. 

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.