FIELD MUSEUM RESEARCH
New perspectives, deeper insights
Our scientists generated standout research in 2014. The first-ever analysis of “contemporary” interstellar dust (a few million years old) from NASA’s Stardust Interstellar Dust Collector, published in Science, opened a new world of information on the origins of the Solar System. A groundbreaking paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences used an innovative computer model to demonstrate that many bird species once lived in North America year-round and began migrating further south over time. A study in Proceedings of the Digital Heritage International Congress assessed 500–1500 year old irrigation systems in Peru to show how political strategies affected water distribution—and suggested how such studies can help us confront water issues today. A Nature paper described the first amphibious ichthyosaur from the Lower Triassic of China, which fills a crucial a gap in ichthyosaur evolution, marking its transition from land to sea. And a provocative new book published by Oxford University Press argues that cooperation and collaboration are as essential to evolution as mutation and natural selection—that “a talent for friendship” paved the way for the human species’ dominance of the planet.
These and many other studies were carried out in collaboration with colleagues across the world, and with our resident postdoctoral scientists and graduate students.
ADVANCES ON PRIORITIES
Field Museum research: collaborating and crossing boundaries
In 2014 we welcomed five talented postdocs, each of whom is working with multiple curators to bridge research programs, and cross disciplinary boundaries. For example, one postdoc took the innovative step of joining fossil and molecular data in computer simulations to infer the forms of ancient common ancestors within a group of organisms, fine-tuning insights on evolution. Another postdoc is forging new collaborations in “Museonomics”— genomic-scale studies of organisms in our collections, including plants, ants, lichens, and birds. A new archaeology postdoc is working with a team that pulls together a range of methods, from archaeochemistry to social network analysis, to investigate resilience and urbanization in ancient societies. A “Big Data” workshop organized by another interdisciplinary postdoc brought together biologists, historians, and philosophers to discuss how Big Data is impacting biology. The event generated connections among specialists in many different fields who would otherwise never have an opportunity to interact.
The Museum has formed an invited ad hoc committee of recognized leaders in the Field’s scientific disciplines to help us explore the kind of research that can best be done in an institution like ours. This committee will work with our scientists to help generate op