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Academy of Natural Sciences Celebrates Bicentennial

January 18, 2012

The nation’s oldest natural history museum will turn 200 years old in March and will mark the milestone with a yearlong celebration befitting its extraordinary history of research, exploration and discovery which continues today.

The yearlong Bicentennial of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University will feature a major new exhibition opening March 24 called The Academy at 200: The Nature of Discovery. A special series of Town Square programs, some led by world-renowned experts, will focus on today’s critical environmental issues, and a science symposium will be held in the fall. For museum visitors, monthly themed activities, giveaways, and discounted admission days will provide fun and learning for the whole family.

The Bicentennial also marks the 30th anniversary of the Academy’s acclaimed Women In Natural Sciences program for Philadelphia public high school girls. The first complete history of the Academy, a beautifully illustrated coffee-table book, already is available to order. And dinner, prepared by top chefs inspired by the Academy’s specimen collections, will be served in October.

“This is an exciting time in the Academy’s history as we charge forward into our third century as one of the world’s great natural history museums,” said Academy President and CEO George W. Gephart, Jr. “We want to share our story with Philadelphians, Pennsylvanians, and Americans from coast to coast.”

Prominent People, Big Discoveries, Monumental Achievements
The history of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is chock full of prominent people—John James Audubon, Charles Darwin, James Bond, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson, to name a few; big discoveries—one biologist described more than 5,500 organisms; and monumental achievements—the museum was the first in the world to display a dinosaur skeleton. The Academy’s pioneering research continues to this day with groundbreaking studies on the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, climate-change in Mongolia, and coral reef fishes in the Bahamas.

The institution’s collection of more than 17 million plant and animal specimens, originally started at the first meeting of the Academy’s founders, is a vital resource for researchers around the world. Late last year, the Academy became an affiliate of Drexel University, creating a nationally recognized powerhouse for discovery in the natural and environmental sciences.

Now the public has a chance to join in the excitement of the Bicentennial and to connect with the Academy’s commitment to shaping a sustainable future. The festivities start Saturday, March 24. Here are some of the highlights. For ongoing updates, visit

Bicentennial Weekend, March 24 and 25. The bicentennial year officially begins with the opening of an exciting new exhibit, an amazing light and laser show, special guest appearances, fun hands-on activities, music, games, crafts, and, of course, birthday cake.

The Academy at 200 : The Nature of Discovery, March 24 to March 2013. Building on the Academy’s extraordinary collections and two centuries of scientific exploration, this major new exhibit celebrates the institution’s groundbreaking discoveries of the past and present and provides a glimpse into the future of one of the world’s great natural history museums. Visitors will “journey” alongside Academy scientists in search of new species, explore how people impact the environment, become immersed in the Academy’s labs, and more.

A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science (University of Pennsylvania Press), March. Written by Academy Curator of Art and Artifacts and Senior Fellow Robert McCracken Peck and scholar Patricia Tyson Stroud of Wayne, Pa., this is the first complete history of the venerable institution. On April 25, Peck will present an illustrated talk and sign copies of the book.

Family-Themed Programs, April through February 2013. Each month museum visitors are invited to explore a different natural history or environmental theme through hands-on activities, encounters with scientists, and giveaways of feathers, rocks, shells and other objects to keep in a commemorative collection box.

Bicentennial Town Square Series: New Questions for an Old Planet, April 2012 through June 2013. Panel discussions and prominent guest speakers will examine current issues of sustainability and the environment.

Women in Natural Sciences 30th Anniversary, June. A celebration of women in the sciences will mark the anniversary of WINS.

Cuisine from the Collections, October 27. Noted area chefs will prepare a fun and funky dinner featuring a menu based on the wide range of animal and plant specimens in the Academy’s collections.

Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is America’s oldest natural history museum and a world leader in biodiversity and environmental research. For 200 years, the Academy has carried out its mission to encourage and cultivate the sciences, exploring the remarkable diversity of our natural world and sharing these discoveries with the public through innovative exhibits, publications, and educational programming.