DENVER — The Denver Museum of Nature & Science is pleased to have been awarded six federal grants in 2020 that support the Museum’s ability to further scientific research, cultivate relationships with tribal nations, 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.  


Origins of the Turtle Body Plan

The National Science Foundation awarded the Museum a collaborative research grant to study the early evolution of the unique turtle body plan, under the direction of Dr. Tyler Lyson, curator of paleontology, and his co-principal investigator Dr. Gabriel Bever of John Hopkins University School of Medicine. The three-year award (NSF-DEB-1947025) totaling $170,199 for the Museum will enable these collaborators to integrate molecular, developmental, and fossil data to address questions regarding who turtles are related to and how and when they developed their unique shell. These questions on the evolutionary origins of turtles have been some of the most intractable questions in the history of biology because they require the integration of large amounts of paleontological, developmental, and comparative genomic data in order to understand. Dr. Lyson and his collaborators at Johns Hopkins are uniquely positioned to take on this research. The broad appeal of fossils in general, and turtles in particular, enable this project to promote interest in STEM fields through outreach to students and the general public as well as through training early career scientists and a post-doctoral researcher. 

Constraining the Tempo and Dynamics of Cambrian Earth Systems

NSF also awarded a collaborative research grant for an interdisciplinary study of the world’s most iconic exposures of Cambrian strata, from the Grand Canyon to Death Valley, Colorado and beyond. These five hundred-million-year-old rocks record the formation of western North America and the initial flourishing of animals in early oceans and land; this study seeks to couple these fossils and sedimentary records. This three-year award (NSF-1954634) totaling $134,548 for the Museum, is being led by Dr. James Hagadorn, Tim & Kathryn Ryan Curator of Geology, with collaborators at Boise State University, University of New Mexico, Utah State University, and four other institutions. The Museum will spark interest in science by reaching thousands of students through virtual programs about this research that introduce students to the real work of scientists in the field and the laboratory.


The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded $250,000 for project Northwest Coast Collections: Building Bridges and Detailed Conservation Survey (MA-245839-OMS-20). The award is through the IMLS Museums for America program under the collections stewardship and public access priority. The two-year project, led by director of anthropology Dr. Steve Nash, is advancing stewardship and public access for 718 objects in the Northwest Coast collection through a collaborative conservation process with four Native American and First Nations Tribes - Kwakwakaʼwakw, Makah, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Tlingit & Haida. Through shared examination and decision-making about these objects with each of the Tribes, this project will strengthen the depth, extent, and scope of information about the objects and result in improved collections care. The project will also support a Tribal Nations Student Intern each summer.


The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded $150,000 (PB-275373-20) to move, stabilize, and document approximately 3,200 objects in the Museum’s African and Central and South American ethnology collections into Avenir Collection Center. Led by Dr. Steve Nash, director of anthropology, and Melissa Bechhoefer, director of integrative collections, the project advances the institutional priority to preserve and make accessible its collections. Awarded through the NEH CARES: Cultural Organizations program, the grant also helped ensure the retention of critical positions in the anthropology and integrative collections departments during the COVID-19 pandemic by defraying personnel costs for the 11 staff members involved in this project.


Through a $33,407 continuing agreement with Bureau of Land Management in Utah (L20AC00275), Dr. Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs, is furthering paleontological fieldwork in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, one of the best preserved and most continuous records of terrestrial life in the late Cretaceous, 95 to 75 million years ago.

The Bureau of Land Management in Nevada has also awarded the Museum an agreement (L20AC00502), initially for $45,000 over three years, for a project led by Dr. James Hagadorn. This project is enabling the Museum to conserve and curate a collection of fossils recently donated to the Museum by the late Stew Hollingsworth of Grand Junction. These fossils are at risk and hold high scientific and educational value. This collection of approximately 4,000 specimens, comprising 200 fossil lots, is anchored by a world-class assemblage of trilobites collected from BLM lands in Nevada. The collection has high scientific potential because it includes some of the oldest trilobites in North America, as well as ~5-7 new species that Stew was not able to describe, and is accompanied by excellent provenance data (including previously unrecorded localities). This project provides the Museum with the resources to finally survey, sort, prepare, catalog, georeference, image, rehouse, and make this unsung paleontological treasure available to the research community and the public.



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 offers a wide variety of engaging exhibitions, programs, activities and scientific research to inspire public appreciation and understanding of the wonders of Colorado, Earth and the universe. The Museum is located at 2001 Colorado Blvd., Denver, CO, 80205. Information: or 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. The Museum is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Connect with the Museum on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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