Science was never my strong subject in school. I always enjoyed it but got lost in some of the minor details in chemistry and biology. This summer I decided to give science another chance with my internship at the Maria Mitchell Association. It is a little hard to explain but Maria was this amazing woman that lived on Nantucket during the 19th Century. She did a lot throughout her life but some highlights are first librarian at the Atheneum (Nantucket’s public library), discovered a comet, awarded a medal from the king of Denmark, and taught at Vassar College. The Maria Mitchell Association is dedicated to preserving her legacy of learning by doing.
My primary duties were administrative such as marketing, public relations, membership, and special events. Luckily, my supervisors didn’t keep me locked up in the office all day and I got to join the natural science staff and interns on some of their research expeditions. The first trip was barn owl banding. Many islanders have owl boxes installed on their property. It’s like a very large bird house. We took out the chicks and put metal bands around one of their legs to keep track of their habitat range. I got to hold multiple baby owls while they were waiting to be banded. I was lucky and didn’t get pooped on but it was awesome to see a baby owl up close.
This past week I helped with the American Burying Beetle Project. This beetle is one of the rarest and most endangered species of insect in North America. MMA and other nature organizations have been working together to re-introduce the ABB to Nantucket. We left at 6:00 am to check the pit fall traps. The ABB is a carrion beetle which means it finds the carcass of a dead bird and buries it with their larvae for food. So to attract them we bury a jar of rotting chicken in the ground. It was an amazing morning. I saw new parts of the island, learned how to distinguish between different types of beetles, and was in charge of putting the beetles we caught back into bushes protected from sun and birds.
These are just two of the MMA research projects. Other interns and staff members study snake populations, black widow spiders, horseshoe crabs, and scallops. Before this summer I never realized that research could be such a good tool of programming and community outreach. All of these projects are open to the public to join and help out. There was a banding session with over 40 school children! By inviting the public to join in the research and not just listen to the results, MMA is truly following Maria’s motto of learning by doing. Do art and history museums have the same opportunity for learning by doing when it comes to staff research?