Martinsville, Virginia


2nd Thursday Science Talks series returns Thursday, September 8

So what exactly is behind all of those locked doors at the Virginia Museum of Natural History?  Are there dinosaurs?  Mammoths? How about some of the rarest rocks and minerals on earth?  Maybe archaeological finds that could even make Indiana Jones green with envy? Strange looking bugs that directors of horror movies couldn't begin to imagine?

Well, yes.

The 2016-17 season of the Virginia Museum of Natural History’s “2nd Thursday Science Talks” begins Thursday, September 8 at 6 p.m. when Dr. Jim Beard, director of research and collections at VMNH and curator of earth sciences, presents “Why so much stuff?”.  Admission to the presentation is free.

This season’s series follows the theme “Pickled frogs and pretty rocks", highlighting the purpose, importance, and relevance of scientific collections.  To kick off this season's series, Dr. Beard will discuss the scientific collections at the museum, while highlighting the variety of natural history treasures in the vaults and on display at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Beard began his career at VMNH in 1989 and became the museum's director of research and collections in 2009.  He earned a Ph.D. in Geology from the University of California, Davis and a B.S. in Geology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Dr. Beard's research interests include the growth and evolution of continental crust, the interaction of water and rock in the deep ocean, and the chemical and physical conditions needed to preserve insect fossils.

The museum's "2nd Thursday Science Talks" take place on the second Thursday of each month through May 11, 2017.  Attendance at each talk is free due to the generous contributions to the VMNH Discovery Fund.  The presentations are delivered by VMNH curators, VMNH researchers, as well as VMNH research associates.  Geared towards audiences with a keen interest in science, the presentations also increase awareness of the varied and unique scientific career paths available for local students.

All presentations are scheduled to take place from 6 to 7 p.m. at the museum.  Date or time changes will be announced on the museum’s website at

2016-2017 Science Talks Schedule 

September 8
“Why so much stuff?”
Presented by Dr. James S. Beard, Director of Research & Collections, Curator of Earth Sciences

Dr. Beard will discuss the purpose and importance of scientific museum collections, while highlighting the variety of natural history treasures in the vaults and on display at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

October 13
“Not just skin and bones: Lessons learned from collections of birds and mammals”
Presented by Dr. Nancy Moncrief, Curator of Mammalogy, VMNH

In this presentation, Dr. Moncrief will show some of the ways modern (non-fossil) vertebrates are preserved for scientific research.  She’ll explore the kinds of questions we can ask, and the sometimes surprising answers we get, when we use “old dead rats” as evidence.

November 10
“Matthew Henson: The first man at ninety degrees north latitude”
Presented by Dr. Joe B. Keiper, Executive Director, VMNH

Henson reached the North Pole in April of 1909, an era of harrowing exploration. At that time, men traveled the globe in search of new specimens and artifacts while exploring lands from the tropics to the desolate ice fields, but ninety degrees north latitude had not yet been conquered. Henson not only was the first man to the North Pole, he did so during a time that the work of African Americans was largely neglected. We’ll explore Henson’s life, his associate Robert Peary, and the methods and science behind his early 20th century accomplishment at the top of the world.

December 8
“The Virginia Natural Heritage Program’s inventory of the Commonwealth’s biodiversity conservation needs”
Presented by J. Christopher Ludwig, Chief Biologist, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

This presentation will feature biological inventory conducted by the Virginia Department of Conservation’s Natural Heritage Program. It will stress the importance of museum collections and herbaria that inform this inventory and provide crucial information in assessing the biodiversity conservation needs of Virginia’s flora and fauna.

January 12, 2017
“Dinosaurs and other dead things: How fossil collections teach us about evolution”
Presented by Dr. Alexander K. Hastings, Assistant Curator of Paleontology, VMNH

VMNH is home to millions of fossils from near and far, including everything from giant dinosaur bones to tiny clam shells. Each of these gives us important information about the environments of the past and how they all fit into a larger evolutionary setting.  Come and learn about the rich fossil archive of the VMNH and its wealth of fascinating new information about ancient Virginia and beyond.

February 9, 2017
“The E-files: specimens, pins, and spirits”
Presented by Dr. Kal Ivanov, Assistant Curator of Recent Invertebrates, VMNH

Biological collections are not only indispensable resources for studying Earth’s biodiversity but they also provide direct financial and social benefits to society. In his presentation Dr. Ivanov will focus on the building, maintenance, and uses of modern invertebrate collections and the crucial role they play in solving our society’s most pressing needs – from public health issues to global environmental change.

March 9. 2017
Title TBA
Presented by Dr. Mary Voigt, Professor Emerita, the College of William & Mary

April 13, 2017
“Plants orphaned like Annie: The importance and value of adopting and maintaining collections that lost their original home”
Presented by Dr. DorothyBelle Poli, Associate Professor of Biology, Roanoke College

VMNH houses several fossil plant collections that did not originally begin at the museum. They came from different places and about in different ways, but their importance is high.  These orphans may seem like a motley collection of individual pieces but together they are a valuable resource of evolution and modern scientific discovery!

May 11, 2017
“Mussel shells, fish bones, and charcoal: using archaeobiological data to examine past environments”
Presented by Dr. Elizabeth Moore, Curator of Archaeology, VMNH

The archaeology collections at VMNH include materials from the last Ice Age to the 20th century. In addition to the ceramics, stone tools, nails, bricks, and other artifacts typically found at archaeological sites, these collections also include plant and animal remains. Dr. Moore will discuss the process by which these fragile remains are collected and how they can be used to examine human environmental interactions and reconstruct past environments.