Earth Sciences

History

Key donations including the Campion Gold, together with the Museum's first field expedition, were crucial to building the geological and paleontological collections in the 1910s and 1920s. Between the 1930s and 1960s the Department's collections were the focus of major permanent exhibits on fossils mammals, dinosaurs, and minerals. The collections in the Department of Earth Science date to the founding of the Museum. Numerous important donations including the Campion Gold, and the Museum's first field expedition, were crucial to building the geological and paleontological collections in the 1910s and 20s. Between the 1930s and 1960s the Department's collections were the focus of numerous major permanent exhibits on fossils mammals, dinosaurs, and minerals. The Department's current structure was developed in the late 1980s with the hiring of Richard Stucky. The current staff represents the largest ever for the Department and includes five curators.

Collections

  • Macginitiea wyomingensis
  • Crystalized gold
  • Allosaurus and Stegosaurus

The vertebrate paleontology collection consists mainly of Cenozoic mammals, Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs, and Cretaceous seaway fish and reptiles. The paleobotany collection consists mainly of Cretaceous-Eocene leaves and is the second largest collection of its kind in the nation. The invertebrate paleontology collection's main strengths are Cambrian-Ordovician trilobites, Cretaceous seaway mollusks, and Eocene insects. The gem and mineral collection focuses on Colorado and includes a number of regional iconic specimens. The micromount mineral collection is the second largest in the nation and the largest diamond collection of any museum. The rock collection includes historical and building-stone collections, as well as representative rock units from the Rockies. The meteorite collection is the nation’s first, and has historic samples from around the world with a significant fraction from Colorado.

Research

Research in DES is specimen and field-based and focused on the Rocky Mountain region. There are five active scientists in the department who focus on Mesozoic and Cenozoic fossil plants and mammals; Paleozoic and Mesozoic reptiles, dinosauromorphs and dinosaurs; Paleozoic invertebrates; and stratigraphy and tectonic evolution of Mesozoic and Cenozoic basins in the American West. All DES researchers maintain active field programs.

Outreach

The Earth Sciences Department strives to effectively engage the general public and media. Efforts include citizen science, popular talks, tours, and articles, and science documentaries. In recent years, departmental volunteers have logged tens of thousands of hours annually, engaging the public in the lab and in exhibits. Staff collectively give hundreds of popular talks, tours, trainings each year and host onsite and offsite event activities that reach a diverse array of audiences. The department’s research and collections are regularly the focus of national and international media attention, helping to raise the profile of science and collections in the public eye.

Service

The Earth Sciences Department provides access to the more than 200,000 paleontological and geological specimens in the collections to external researchers, and actively involves citizen scientists in research, outreach and collections work. Staff are active as editors with numerous professional journals and as committee members or past presidents of national organizations.

Who we are

The Department of Earth Sciences (DES) focuses on specimen and field-based research in paleontology and geology, with emphasis in the Rocky Mountain region. The department contains seven recognized collections: mineral micromounts; gems and minerals; rocks; meteorites; and fossil vertebrates, invertebrates and plants. These collections are the core of two permanent Museum exhibits: Prehistoric Journey and Coors Mineral Hall. There are currently 11 full and part-time staff in DES and nearly 240 volunteers working on research, collections, and in the Prehistoric Journey exhibit.

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