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Knights at the Museum

From left, Clare Flemming DC’90, Eugene S. Gaffney RC’65, Alexander Lando LC’95, Jessica Ware GSNB’08, and Joseph Boesenberg LC’92, GSNB’95, ’07 in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda in the American Museum of Natural History
From left, Clare Flemming DC’90, Eugene S. Gaffney RC’65, Alexander Lando LC’95, Jessica Ware GSNB’08, and Joseph Boesenberg LC’92, GSNB’95, ’07.  The Rutgers alumni were photographed by John Emerson in the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda in the American Museum of Natural History (photography of Elizabeth Johnson AG’76, GSNB’92, below, by Katherine Marks).

The American Museum of Natural History, the venerable institution established in 1869, is full of knights—make that, Scarlet Knights. They work as part of a full-time scientific staff of 225 and do their enthusiastic parts, often far from the United States, to promote the museum’s growing mission of exploring and interpreting human cultures as well as the natural world through its far-reaching programs of education and scientific research. The museum’s trademark exhibits, housed in 45 eye-popping exhibition halls, are based on collections that are among the largest and most comprehensive in the world.

Some of the alumni working at the museum—Clare Flemming DC’90, Eugene S. Gaffney RC’65, Alexander Lando LC’95, Jessica Ware GSNB’08, Joseph Boesenberg LC’92, GSNB’95, ’07, and Elizabeth Johnson AG’76, GSNB’92—consider the chance to serve one of the world’s top museums to be a dream come true.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), set on 18 acres on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is housed within a complex of 27 interconnected buildings. Its commitment to growing areas of knowledge, such as comparative genomics and biodiversity, comes at a time when millions of visitors are arriving in record numbers—visitors whose enjoyment of the museum may be eclipsed by only that of its staff. As Jessica Ware puts it: “There could never be a better job than this.”

Eugene S. Gaffney RC’65Eugene S. Gaffney RC’65

Job Description: Curator Emeritus in the Department of Paleontology. “My research interests are the morphology and systematics of turtles, primarily as seen in the fossil record.”

Tales of the Turtle: He’s a world-renowned expert who has been able to document the history of life on Earth by studying turtles, which have existed for more than 225 million years and have left a rich and diverse fossil record.

Exhibit A: He initiated the installation of the museum’s 50-foot-tall Barosaurus exhibit, the world’s tallest freestanding dinosaur mount, which greets visitors in the main rotunda and appeared in the hit movie Night at the Museum.

Classified Information: After more than 15 years of advocating for change, he got the chance to oversee the 10-year transformation of the museum’s six fossil halls to be organized according to “cladistics,” today the accepted system of understanding evolution that classifies groups of species according to demonstrable characteristics. The museum was on the forefront of this new system of classification.

And Thanks to Rutgers: On an expedition to Morocco, Gaffney discovered a new Bothremydid fossil, related to the Bothremys side-necked turtle skull he had come upon 40 years earlier in Rutgers’ fossil collection. In a 2008 paper, he named the skull Ummulisani rutgersensis “in gratitude to the faculty of the Department of Geology, Rutgers College … who provided the senior author with inspiration, encouragement, and friendship, as well as an education.”


 

Jessica Ware GSNB’08Jessica Ware GSNB’08

Job Description: A National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow who works in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology.

Pet Project: “I enjoy exploring the evolution of the lower termites (Isoptera), an ecologically important group of insects who fascinate researchers because of their social behavior and possession of gut symbionts, which are microorganisms that live their entire lives in termite guts.”

Dragon Lady: “I have enjoyed working on the systematics of a group of dragonflies called the Libelluloidea. I have participated in a series of libelluloid projects collecting samples and studying larval and adult morphology. One afternoon while in the Blue Mountains of Australia, I stood knee-deep in a stream trying to catch a yellow and black spotted Synthemis dragonfly. I thought: ‘There could never be a better job than this.’ ”

Infested with Termites: “The museum has an amazing fossil collection and one of the best termite collections in the world.”

Rare Find: “During a fruitless search in Namibia for a bottletail dragonfly, Olpogastra (named after the shape of its abdomen), I was stopped by a colleague who was photographing a dragonfly. I was annoyed by the interruption, but I then realized that he had found the only specimen of Olpogastra!”

AMNH by Way of RU: “My advisers—Mike May, Karl Kjer, and George Hamilton GSNB’85—were excellent examples of success. The entomology department was a friendly group, and students really supported one another and worked as allies—which bettered all of us in the long run.”


 

Alexander Lando LC’95Alexander Lando LC’95

Job Description: A senior technician who works in collections management in the Anthropology Division of the museum, caring for and preserving the anthropology collections and maintaining storage space.

Space Case: “I am inventorying the museum’s North American archaeology collections, ensuring that everything is accounted for and that the collection is in good condition for retrieval, primarily for research or loans and repatriation—all part of the 30-year effort to bring storage space up to current standards.”

Moving Day: “A memorable project a few years ago was when three of us oversaw a monthlong assignment to have a team move many of the museum’s oversized collections from a storage site in Harlem to one in Brooklyn.”

Never Leave Home without It: “One of the great perks of working at the museum is my identification badge, which gets my family and me into many attractions and museums inside and outside the city, most of the time for free.”

Words from the Wise: “In considering a career in this field, don’t limit yourself to just one area of expertise. Study a wide range of topics to help broaden your knowledge and give you a better chance when career-searching.”

AMNH by Way of RU: “Professor Robert Blumenschine’s class ‘Faunal Analysis’ and Professor Carmel Schrire’s class ‘Colonial Archaeology’ cemented the idea that this was something I could enjoy doing.”


 

Clare Flemming DC’90Clare Flemming DC’90

Job Description: An associate in the Division of Vertebrate Zoology (mammalogy) who supports annual field expeditions to northern Siberia, Arctic Canada, and recently Antarctica, where she serves as primary documentarian and photographer. Also the senior archivist at one of the American Museum of Natural History’s sister institutions, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, charged with identifying, preserving, and making available records of enduring value.

Great Adventure: “I have participated with the museum on 24 field expeditions to search for the remains of fossil mammals. Some have required rappelling into the caves of Cuba, trekking across the summer tundra in Siberia and Canada, and camping on snow in Antarctica.”

Spider Woman: “I once stepped barefoot on a scorpion while moving a camp during a rainstorm in the Caribbean. It was a species new to science; a colleague named it after me: Heteronebo clareae. For our work in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, I learned how to fire a rifle in case of a polar bear encounter.”

AMNH by Way of RU: “Professor Kathleen Scott taught ‘Comparative Morphology of Vertebrates’ in 1988 and once showed a video in class of herself dissecting a rhinoceros at the museum. ‘Is this the AMNH I know for its dioramas?’ I thought. ‘Is there a lab where a rhino could be dissected?’ I had to work there!”


 

Joseph Boesenberg LC’92, GSNB’95, ’07Joseph Boesenberg LC’92, GSNB’95, ’07

Job Description: A senior scientific assistant who maintains the museum’s meteorite collection and assists the meteorite curator in research. Serves as seminar coordinator, lab manager, electron microprobe technician, sample preparator, website designer, network technician, conservationist, teacher, lecturer, tour guide, and researcher.

Pet Project: “I research meteorites called pallasites, which are among the most beautiful in the world and which formed 4.6 billion years ago deep inside a partially melted asteroid. Also, I address how the early stages of melting and differentiation occur in planetary bodies.”

Meteor Showers: “From November 2005 to January 2006, I was part of the Antarctic Search for Meteorites, a NASA/National Science Foundation-sponsored project to collect meteorites from the Antarctic continent. Eight of us spent six weeks camped out on the ice along the Trans-Antarctic Mountains and rode snowmobiles over sky-blue ice, looking for meteorites. We collected about 170 meteorites.”

First Impressions: “In 1991, I was looking for an undergraduate senior project and was interested in planetary geology. The very first rock I ever did research on was a meteorite from the moon. This hooked me on a geology career. I continued at Rutgers with my master’s degree. Geologist Jeremy Delaney was my thesis adviser and remains a mentor.”


 

Elizabeth Johnson AG’76, GSNB’92Elizabeth Johnson AG’76, GSNB’92

Job Description: The manager of the Metropolitan Biodiversity Program for the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation who integrates the scientific expertise of the museum into research, training, and education for biodiversity conservation with a focus on invertebrates. She discovered a new species of centipede in Central Park in New York City.

Pet Project: “I coordinated two citizen-science initiatives: ‘The Cricket Crawl,’ a 24-hour survey of seven species of crickets and katydids in New York City, and ‘The Great Pollinator Project,’ a collaboration with New York City to improve understanding of native bee diversity in the city—there are more than 225 species—and to enhance land management for native pollinators.”

On a Need-to-Know Basis: “Providing information to policymakers and decision makers in order to improve our understanding of biodiversity has been a long-term goal. I’ve also contributed to looking into the effect of inadequate land-use planning on biodiversity.”

Say Cheese: “A photo shoot for Time magazine required me to hold a pose crouched in the bushes outside the museum while peering up through Plexiglas covered with worms and other soil invertebrates—and then smiling!”

AMNH by Way of RU: “I had exceptional professors for each of my degrees. They have encouraged me, provided rich experiences, and challenged my thinking.”