POSTED: 04/05/2022

Denver Museum of Nature & Science Awarded Eight Government Grants in 2021

Denver Museum of Nature & Science 
Maura O’Neal 
[email protected]


Funds support research, training, collections care, staff retention, enhanced audience insights and connections to nature 

DENVER—The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is pleased to have been awarded eight federal and local government grants in 2021 that support the Museum’s ability to conduct scientific research, train a new generation of scientists, and ignite the community’s passion for nature and science. Federal grants, which are awarded through a competitive peer review process, are one measure of the Museum’s vibrant research, programs, and relevance.  


Protecting Humanities Staff and Digital Assets through Digital Asset Management System Implementation 

The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Museum $393,448 (Grant ZPA-283994-22) through a stimulus program, Sustaining Humanities through the American Rescue Plan. Led by Director of Integrative Collections Melissa Bechhoefer, this one-year project supports the management and preservation of nearly 400,000 digital humanities assets—a top Museum priority. The Museum’s digital assets include everything from digital images of collections and field work, scanned field notes and other collections-related documentation, to digital analyses of collections objects and sites via CT scans and ground penetrating radar data. This project supports post-pandemic recovery of the Museum and the humanities sector by ensuring the retention of current humanities staff, hiring term humanities staff, engaging a consulting firm experienced in humanities digital management, and purchasing a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS). By planning for proper management and preservation of our digital assets, the Museum makes these collections more available to staff, source communities, researchers and students, and the public.  

WS Ranch Archaeological Project Collection: Processing to Sustain Cultural Heritage 

NEH also awarded the Museum $297,271 (Grant PF-280964-21) through its Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections program to sustainably preserve and install an important anthropology collection. The WS Ranch Archaeological Project Collection consists of 500,000 artifacts of Ancestral Puebloan material cultures (A.D. 800-1300). Excavated decades ago in west central New Mexico by the University of Texas at Austin, the unprocessed, uncatalogued collection has never been fully accessible to researchers and tribal representatives. Led by Director of Anthropology Stephen E. Nash, this two-year project is enabling project staff, volunteers and interns to sustainably preserve and store the collection in the Museum’s Avenir Collections Center. Outreach and publications will make the collection accessible to professionals and a variety of museum audiences, including tribes. 


Debuting the untold story of a Paleoindian bison kill site through the Jones-Miller Collection 

Through Save America’s Treasures, a program jointly administered by IMLS and the National Park Service, the Museum was awarded $206,933 (Grant ST-251082-OMS-21) to inventory, process, catalog and lay a foundation for publication of a comprehensive report on the Jones-Miller Site and its collection for the first time. This two-year project is led by Director of Anthropology Stephen E. Nash, and Anthropology Collections Manager Dominique Alhambra. The nationally significant Jones-Miller Site, located in Yuma County near Wray, Colorado, is widely recognized as the most important Paleoindian Hell Gap period (10,500–11,500 years ago) bison kill site in North America. Although the collection is legally owned by the Museum, it was on loan to the Smithsonian (which excavated the site in the 1970s) for nearly five decades. Recently, the collection and its associated archives were returned to Denver and organized in the Museum’s Avenir Collections Center. The project will make this important collection available to scholars, cultural experts and the public for the first time.  

Measuring What Matters: Building capacity to evaluate meaningfulness in the visitor experience 

The Museum’s strategic objective is to connect more and diverse people to nature and science in ways that are meaningful to them. How, exactly, do you measure meaningfulness? IMLS awarded $137,930 (Grant ME-249540-OMS-21) through its Museums Empowered program that enables the Museum’s research and evaluation team to test and develop a way to measure this seemingly squishy idea. The project is led by Ellen Roth, manager of community research and collaboration, along with a research team at the University of Colorado Denver. This three-year project will result in: 1) A tested tool for helping the Museum measure the success of its strategic plan (and the meaningfulness of the visitor experience); 2) Tailored professional development opportunities for the Museum’s team to learn more about evaluation practices; and 3) An evaluation resource for the entire museum field. 


The NASA Science Activation Project, OpenSpace: An Engine for Dynamic Visualization of Earth and Space Science for Informal Education and Beyond (NNX16AB93A), was funded for a second five-year term at the start of 2021. The Museum’s $70,773 subaward, under the direction of Space Sciences Curator Ka Chun Yu, is part of the larger grant to the American Museum of Natural History. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yu initially redirected his work to support the creation of new Museum virtual programming using OpenSpace. As circumstances evolve to allow in-person events, the project’s focus will return to integrating OpenSpace into the Museum’s Gates Planetarium, collaborating with local researchers to visualize future spacecraft missions to outer moon systems, creating user guides, testing and developing OpenSpace programs for the portable GeoDome®, and supporting projects for Teen Science Scholars. 


The National Science Foundation awarded a $36,763 supplement to an ongoing collaborative research grant (NSF-DEB-1947025) to study the early evolution of the unique turtle body plan, under the direction of Tyler Lyson, curator of paleontology, and his co-principal investigator Gabriel Bever of John Hopkins University School of Medicine. This project will result in a refined understanding of early turtle evolution and, more broadly, will serve as a guide for how to tackle difficult evolutionary problems across deep time. Supplemental funds have enabled the Museum to hire a recently graduated undergraduate student to participate in the research and gain invaluable training. This NSF program provides research experiences to students who otherwise missed out on internship experiences during their degree program as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  


The BLM Utah Cultural and Paleontological Resource Management Division renewed funding ($33,216) for a three-year project (L20AC00275) led by Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs. This grant continues the work to prepare, conserve and curate specimens collected from BLM Utah lands by Museum curators over recent decades, particularly those from Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This collection consists of about 20,000 specimens, comprised mostly of fossils of tiny vertebrates that have already been screen washed and are awaiting identification and curation. In addition, the project allows the Museum to tackle a significant portion of fossils that are still in storage encased in plaster jackets that were molded around them to protect them during transport from field sites to the Museum, advance the curation of paleobotanical (prehistoric plants) collections, and make data related to those fossils publicly accessible through the collections web interface. This grant is supporting three interns each year, providing an unparalleled professional training experience for the next generation of scientists while making headway on stewardship of the large volume of fossils in this collection. This work will very likely result in research publications describing new dinosaurs, turtles, crocodiles and plants from the Kaiparowits and Wahweap formations of southern Utah. 


State and regional government grants also provide important support for the Museum’s research that helps to tell the scientific stories of the local natural world. Jefferson County Open Space and Larimer County awarded a combined total of $12,600 to James Hagadorn, curator of geology, to study the Lyons Sandstone. The Lyons Sandstone is the most commonly used building stone in Colorado, was historically critical to the early development of Front Range cities and is a local destination for rock climbers. The Lyons formation anchors many of the hogbacks and ridges that stretch from Fort Collins to Canon City. Surprisingly, we know little about its geology. This project integrates analyses of the time, location, shifting, and composition of this rock formation with previously unpublished work to fill this knowledge gap. By helping to determine the age and origin of the Lyons Sandstone and its relationship to similar rock units in Colorado and the American West, this project helps decipher the origin of rocks that we see every day in our buildings, sidewalks, gardens and trails—thus offering opportunities to give our communities new connections between science, nature and their daily lives. 



About the Denver Museum of Nature & Science 
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is the Rocky Mountain Region’s leading resource for informal science education. Our mission is to be a catalyst and ignite the community’s passion for nature and science. The Museum envisions an empowered community that loves, understands and protects our natural world. A variety of engaging exhibits, discussions and activities help Museum visitors celebrate and understand the wonders of Colorado, Earth and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. To learn more about the Museum, visit or call 303.370.6000. Many of the Museum’s educational programs and exhibits are made possible in part by the citizens of the seven-county metro area through the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). The Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Back To Top