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About the Academy

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is America’s oldest natural history museum and a world leader in biodiversity and environmental research. For 200 years, the Academy has explored the remarkable diversity of our natural world, sharing these discoveries with the public through extraordinary collections, innovative exhibits, educational programming, and publications.

History of the Academy

On March 21, 1812 seven gentlemen naturalists founded the Academy of Natural Sciences. The institution is now the oldest continuously operating natural history museum in the Americas and a world leader in biodiversity and environmental research.

The Academy was founded when the United States hugged the Atlantic coastline and Philadelphia was the cultural, commercial, and scientific center of the new nation. Classic expeditions to explore the western wilderness were organized at the Academy, and explorers brought back new species of plants and animals. Specimens were studied and cataloged, just as they are today. The Academy’s scientific collections now contain more than 18 million specimens, including Thomas Jefferson’s fossils, John James Audubon’s birds, Titian Peale’s wide-ranging collection of moths and butterflies, and Lewis and Clark’s herbarium.

In 1948, long before water pollution and environmental degradation became topics of public concern, the Academy established what is now the Patrick Center for Environmental Research, named for Dr. Ruth Patrick (born 1907), who established the ecosystem-wide approach to determining water quality and won the National Medal of Science in 1996 for her achievements.

The Academy Today

The Academy’s Patrick Center for Environmental Research is widely recognized as a leader in the research and science of freshwater quality. The Patrick Center has been devoted to understanding, protecting, and restoring the health of watersheds since 1947. It consists of a multidisciplinary group of environmental scientists and engineers focused on understanding aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems and applying this knowledge to assess ecosystem health and develop watershed-level strategies for enhancing environmental quality. The Patrick Center also works with diverse stakeholders, including government, community groups, industry, and environmental organizations to improve environmental stewardship. 

The Academy’s Center for Systematic Biology and Evolution houses one of the world’s top natural history collections, with more than 18 million specimens of plants and animals from around the world. These collections represent a veritable library of life on earth and are of international significance. Scientists in the Center conduct research into biodiversity, ecology, evolution, molecular systematics, and paleontology. Curators actively add to the collections each year and loan out thousands of specimens to assist scientists around the world.

In October 2011, the Academy completed an historic affiliation with Drexel University, the nation’s 14th largest private university. This unique affiliation promotes discovery, learning, and civic engagement in the natural and environmental sciences in two of Philadelphia's most respected research institutions.

As a result of its new relationship with the Academy, Drexel has created a new department called Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science (BEES), which is accepting its first students in fall 2012. The new department will bring Academy and Drexel scientists together with a focus on the natural and environmental sciences. The department motto, “Experiential Learning Early and Often,” is at the core of BEES undergraduate and graduate curricula, providing students with a field-based education that balances basic and applied research in the natural and environmental sciences.

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