I eat lunch with a dinosaur. It seems ordinary that a full-sized skeleton of a sauropod is in front of me when I munch on leftovers from the night before. The research and collection facility of the Canadian Museum of Nature is full of such things, and reminds us and others of what we do (collection-based research).
When you first come to our research facility you might expect the welcoming committee to be a team of security guards at the front desk, but it is actually a nice selection of oversized minerals, a cheerful mastodon, and an impressive collection of bird eggs—I always wonder how does one collect hummingbird eggs?
Back in the staff lunchroom, what is really impressive are the conversations that happen over lunch while in the company of our 35-foot-long prehistoric friend. To have a top-notch natural history museum, you need a collection of specimens, experts to conserve them and make them accessible to everyone and more experts to research and attach up-to-date scientific information to them; we also have teams that bundle up that science knowledge for public consumption. No simple task considering what public consumption means in this period of expansive multimedia experiences.
On any given day, the lunchroom has a combination of educators, mineralogists, web gurus, botanists, digitizing wizards, palaeontologists, exhibition designers, zoologists and communications professionals. Put all that together and you regularly get amazing stories about fearless ice-breaking ships, bizarre creatures that live in the cold mud of the deep sea, the juiciest gut parasites from whales, menacing sharks that swam across Saskatchewan a few hundred million years ago, exotic new minerals discovered next door to Montréal, invasive alien species, microbes that are the heart and soul of the Arctic food web, and collecting plants with a shotgun over one shoulder.
As the dinosaur looks across the lunchroom, it overhears these conversations between staff members, students, visiting scientists and volunteers. It may have heard how we planned for exhibitions such as Whales Tohorā, how we designed the finishing touches to the Vale Earth Gallery, plans for the next research trip to Ellesmere Island, the best way to digitize a million botanical specimens, or the latest videoconference programme for school kids. It is the best lunch break in town.
Once the Tupperware is washed, it’s time to get back to the work of finding new stories to tell about the 10 million specimens that go through our many laboratories.