Health Sciences

The Health Sciences Department serves Museum visitors through the exploration of the biological principles of modern human biology

The focus of the Health Sciences Department is three-fold. They create new knowledge in the field of human biology by utilizing community-based research methods to study how genetic variation influences the everyday experience of modern humans. They engage the community in human sciences by serving over 10,000 people a year through outreach in the community-based Genetics of Taste laboratory, Museum programs and events, and invited lectures and panels. Finally, the Health Sciences team cares for a collection dedicated to the preservation of modern human biology, including DNA, tissues, and gross anatomy specimens.

Featured Research


Health sciences at the Museum began with the opening of the exhibition Hall of Life, in 1987. The exhibition used hand-on exhibits and complementary education programs to engage visitors and schools in the health sciences. Building on this success, a Health Sciences Initiative was developed as part of the Museum 20/20 strategic plan , and a Health Sciences Department was established, with Dr. Bridget Coughlin hired as the first PhD-level scientist for the department. The Hall of Life exhibition area was renovated and reopened as Expedition Health in 2009, with a renewed focus on human biology using a Rocky Mountain region theme. In October 2009, the Museum hired Dr. Nicole Garneau as a second curator in the Health Sciences Department and launched the Genetics of Taste Lab, the first community-based participatory laboratory that studies molecular genetics. More than 10,000 members of the public participated in six research projects during the Taste Lab’s first 10 years.

2019 celebrated the 10th year anniversary of the Genetics of Taste Lab!

Health Sciences Collections

The research collection in the Health Sciences Department is comprised of biological items from modern humans

The modern human biology collection includes 10 years of DNA samples collected with informed consent from Museum guests from the Genetics of Taste Lab, a century of histology tissue preparations donated by the Shikes Family, and a small collection of wet, dry, and plastinated anatomical specimens.

Over half of the anatomical specimens are on public display in the Museum’s human biology and physiology exhibition, Expedition Health, with the remainder of the collection housed in the Avenir Collections Center for long-term preservation. Specimens not on display can be viewed digitally through the Museum’s Image Database (LUNA, under Health Sciences), which is easily accessible to the public.

Human Anatomy Specimens

The Health Sciences Department is home to an impressive range of classical anatomy specimens. In addition to traditional preservation methods, we also have a number of plastinated specimens procured through a partnership with the Plastination Institute in Guben, Germany. Plastinates offer a unique view into the human body by showing organs and tissue that has been infused with plastic so they are flexible, odorless, and very durable. For more on plastination, visit  the Plastination Institute (online or in person) in Guben, Germany.

Histology & Pathology

The Museum acquired 100 years of human histology history through a donation from Dr. Robert H. Shikes and his family. During his tenure as a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, he used many of his slides for teaching, and his extensive knowledge on the subjects of pathology and histology were highly recognized by the international community of doctors. His collection includes a great variety of different tissues, ranging from the heart to the kidneys and from the skin to the nerves. Volunteers, interns, and experts have been tediously organizing the slides and associated paperwork to provide future researchers the opportunity to pursue further study and research of his work.

Modern Human DNA

The Health Sciences Department is unique in the world of natural history museums. In addition to dinosaurs and zoology, we study modern humans. In our community-based Genetics of Taste Lab within the Museum’s popular Expedition Health exhibition, we gather data from our guests to better understand the role human genetics plays in taste, food preferences, and overall health. In this way, we are able to crowdsource large amounts of real data while having engaging educational interactions with the public, and grow an amazing collection of modern human DNA for taste perception studies.







Health Sciences Staff

Tiffany Nuessle, MA

Research Manager in the Genetics Lab

John R. Demboski, PhD

Vice President of Science

Melissa Bechhoefer, MS

Director of Integrative Collections

Courtney J. Scheskie, MA

Business Support Specialist III

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