Facts About the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University
March 1, 2012
What We Are
The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is America’s oldest natural history museum.
The public museum is a top cultural attraction with nearly 200,000 visitors a year, including thousands of schoolchildren from the tri-state area.
The most popular permanent exhibit is Discovering Dinosaurs, followed by Butterflies! (a live, tropical butterfly garden), Outside In (the children’s discovery center), the Live Animal Center, historic dioramas, changing exhibits, and the Art of Science Gallery.
Since its founding, the Academy has played a leading role in biological research, discovering, identifying and describing plants and animals around the world.
The Academy’s environmental researchers are working to restore the health of urban rivers and wetlands, control the spread of exotic species and reduce nonpoint source pollution.
The collection of 18 million cataloged plant and animal specimens—many the first ever studied—comprises a comprehensive “library” of organisms that researchers around the world use to study issues such as climate change, water pollution, invasive species, evolution and extinction.
The Ewell Sale Stewart Library is among the most important natural history libraries in the world, with 200,000 books—some dating to the 1500s—documenting understanding of the natural world from the very beginning of modern science.
The Academy runs a robust education program which includes museum lessons for students, outreach presentations for schools and communities, auditorium shows for families, Head Start instruction for teachers, family field trips with Academy scientists, adults-only environmental workshops, and the acclaimed Women In Natural Sciences program for Philadelphia high school girls.
The Center for Environmental Policy hosts a variety of public panel discussions and speaker presentations aimed at engaging a wide variety of constituents, promoting solutions, and building public and professional awareness of important environmental and sustainability issues.
In May 2011, the Academy announced plans to affiliate with Drexel University, creating a nationally recognized powerhouse for discovery in the natural and environmental sciences.
Who We Are
Dr. Ruth Patrick, the 1996 recipient of the National Medal of Science (the nation’s highest science award), pioneered the study of water quality and established the criteria for determining the health of a water body.
Dr. Edward “Ted” Daeschler discovered the oldest-known tetrapods (limbed vertebrates) in North America, and, in 2004, he and his colleagues discovered Tiktaalik roseae, a Devonian Age fossil considered a “missing link” between fish and tetrapods.
Dr. Daniel Otte, the world’s foremost expert on grasshoppers, is an Academy curator.
Dr. John Lundberg, the world’s foremost expert on neotropical catfish, is an Academy curator.
Dr. Joseph Leidy, who operated out of the Academy for much of the 19th century, was the founder of American parasitology and protozoology, the father of American vertebrate paleontology and a leading anatomist.
Highlights of Our History
The Academy was founded on March 21, 1812, in Philadelphia by seven amateur scientists.
The Academy was the first museum in the world to mount a dinosaur skeleton, Hadrosaurus foulkii, in 1868.
The Academy’s environmental research played a pivotal role in expanding public awareness about environmental issues in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to public policies such as the Clean Water Act.
The study of ornithology (birds), entomology (insects), conchology (shells) and paleontology (fossil remains of ancient life) had their professional beginnings in America at the Academy.
The American study of botany (plants), herpetology (reptiles and amphibians), ichthyology (fish), mammalogy and mineralogy gained international standing under the Academy’s leadership.
The American Entomological Society was founded at, and still is housed in, the Academy.
In 2011 the Academy became an affiliate of Drexel University and changed its name to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.
Highlights of the Collections
In 2010 oyster shells from the Malacology Collection were called into service to aid the study of the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Every weekday at 3:15 p.m., the public is invited into the Academy’s library to watch as a staff member turns one page of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America. Only about 100 of these “double elephant folios” exist.
The Academy houses 226 plants collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Once a year for the Paleopalooza Festival, the Academy displays some of President Thomas Jefferson’s fossils, including giant mastodon teeth.