Women of Science at the New York State Museum

10 a.m.–4 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!

Schedule of Activities

10 a.m.
Opening Remarks at Huxley Theater
Kathryn Weller, Director of Education at the NYS Museum

10:30–11 a.m.
"Ask a Scientist” Panel at Kids Cove

This panel is recommended for families with children younger than 12 years.

11 a.m.–2:00 p.m.
Activity tables and meet and greets with Museum scientists 
Adirondack Hall, Bird Hall and Native Peoples Hall.

2:30–3:30 p.m.
“Ask a Scientist” Panel in Huxley Theater
This panel is recommended for families, teens and adults.


11:15 a.m.
Ecology: Birds & Disease

New York State is home to dozens of species of birds. At the University at Albany, NYS Museum fellow Naima Starkloff studies bird diversity and disease. In this talk, Starkloff discusses her childhood and college experiences that led her to become a bird disease ecologist and what it is like to work in this field. She will also talk about her research on malaria-causing parasites in a group of birds.

12:00 p.m.
So, You Want to Be an Archaeologist?

Do you dream of digging for ancient artifacts in faraway lands? It might not sound as glamorous, but there is a rich and exciting archaeological record right here in New York, from earliest human settlement 13,000 years ago into the 20th century. Come hear Dr. Daria Merwin describe what a typical day in the life of an archaeologist can look like, including how tools drawn from different scientific fields help us uncover clues to how people lived in the past.

1:00 p.m.
Exploring the Fascinating Freshwater Mussels of New York

Among the most endangered groups of animals on the planet are freshwater mussels, yet as important as they are to our ecosystem, their presence in our lakes and rivers often goes unnoticed. Freshwater ecologist Dr. Denise Mayer shares how these animals piqued her interest, describes some of the fascinating characteristics of these mollusks, and discusses recent Museum studies that support the restoration and recovery of mussel populations in New York State’s waterways.

1:45 p.m.
What Does a Paleontologist Do?

Being a paleontologist sounds like fun! But what does a paleontologist actually do? What do they study? How does one become a paleontologist? These are some of the questions our State Paleontologist, Dr. Lisa Amati, will answer during her talk.

Women of Science Girl

Best Question Contest

Best Question Contest!

Ever wondered why some scientists collect animals killed on the side of the road? Or how studying 500 million year old trilobites can actually reveal infomation about the climate we live in today? While the deadline to enter our online "Best Question" Contest has passed, there will be many opportunities to ask your very "Best Questions" throughout the Women of Science event on Saturday, February 10. Responses to the top-rated questions will be posted on the Contest Page on Thursday, February 15, 2018.

» Learn more about the "Best Questions" Contest


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.  

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.  

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.

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 Reith

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. 

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.

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.