Integrative Research Center


DNA Lab Field Museum

Field Museum scientists study the evolution of our Earth and the diversity of its life and cultures by exploring distant corners of the world and by probing our vast collections of biological specimens and cultural artifacts. This is the kind of research that can best be achieved in a natural history museum. Our scientists study specimens, generate hypotheses, produce explanations, and train the scientists of tomorrow. Our research explains how species are related to each other, documents the relations between subjects and rulers in ancient societies, and reveals interactions within nature and between nature and cultures. Knowledge generated by our programs is central to understanding our planet and our common humanity.

Understanding the diversity of species and societies

Reflecting the rich diversity of our collections, Field Museum research has a breadth matched by few other institutions.

  • Our Life Sciences section focuses on understanding the evolutionary relationships within and among Earth’s species.
  • Our Earth Sciences section explores the evolution of the universe, our planet, and its creatures. Our renowned paleontology programs span topics from carnivorous dinosaurs to tiny marine invertebrates, and our cosmochemistry research studies meteorites and stardust to understand our most distant cosmic origins.
  • Our Social Sciences pursue archaeological and ethnographic research to understand the development of complex societies, humans’ interactions with their environment, and what it means to be human.

Specimen-based, cutting-edge research

Because it is rooted in our world-class collections, research at The Field Museum is distinct from that carried out at universities. Modern research is pulling inquiry in directions that cross traditional disciplinary lines and ground-breaking results are increasingly being generated by collaborative teams. The timing is right for interdisciplinary science, and the Field, with its diverse collections and diverse areas of inquiry, is the ideal place to do it. The Museum has enhanced its core research programs by making a concerted effort to attract postdoctoral scientists and visiting scientists to energize interdisciplinary research, and explore the conceptual foundations of museum science.

Shared labs: the engine rooms of our research

Day in and day out, Field Museum scientists work with cutting-edge tools to resolve ancient and modern mysteries in our shared labs.

  • In the Elemental Analysis Facility (EAF) researchers analyze the composition of materials to illuminate the history of objects. Archaeologists use it to identify the material sources of artifacts and trace ancient trade patterns, cosmochemists investigate the origins of the universe through the chemistry of meteorites, and biologists assess environmental impacts by testing for heavy metals in plants and animals.
  • The Pritzker Lab has state-of-the-art equipment that enables the study of genetic diversity throughout the entire tree of life, from relationships within families and among populations to evolutionary connections among species and across space and time.
  • The Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) lab enables researchers to examine the fine surface details of three-dimensional objects and specimens at magnifications of more than 100,000 times life-size. The SEM is used by all of the Museum’s scientific disciplines to examine everything from interstellar dust to 13th century Chinese ceramics to the sex organs of millipedes.

Training the next generation of scientists

Central to the Museum’s research efforts are our partnerships with universities, primarily the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Northwestern University. Our scientists teach courses and serve on the committees of graduate students in Evolutionary Biology and Anthropology at these and other universities. Field Museum scientists are also thesis advisors for many graduate students in other countries, particularly in Latin America and Africa, and they excel in training early-career scientists to document biodiversity and address environmental conservation issues in their home countries.

Explore our Research Highlights from 2015