By: Lauren Herman

 Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent for the Field Museum, speaking on the TEDxSacramento stage.

Emily Graslie, Chief Curiosity Correspondent for the Field Museum, speaking on the TEDxSacramento stage.

On the TEDxSacramento stage, Emily Graslie treated Sacramento to humor and knowledge around the topic of women in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering, and mathematics - engaging the audience about the value of curiosity.

No surprise in her delivery. Emily has a passion for speaking to audiences about the expansive world of natural history as a female vlogger and educator running The Brain Scoop – her own YouTube channel that helped to pave her way as the first and the world’s only Chief Curiosity Correspondent at the Field Museum in Chicago.

As a Chief Curiosity Correspondent, Emily makes interactive videos featuring the museum’s collections. The museum only exhibits one percent of its collection at any given time, so that’s where Emily takes charge allowing the public access to its massive wealth of knowledge that would otherwise go undiscovered.

Rather than explore how she obtained her current job, which is a popular question among her fans, Emily introduced her talk with one of the most watched episodes of The Brain Scoop focusing on sexism in the STEM fields. This video, featuring a sample of the sexist public comments that Emily receives, sparks discussion around women in the STEM fields introducing how sexism can seep into all fields undermining the work and curiosity of both women and men. Her message is simple; no matter male or female, we should all be curiosity seekers attempting to find and uphold the value of curiosity in our lives - a topic she expands upon in her TEDxSacramento talk. 

 

The Value of Curiosity

During her TEDxSacramento talk, Emily admits that one of the most valuable lessons of her job is that “...we are all inherently conduits and correspondents of curiosity.”  Holding this firm belief, Emily shared with the TEDxSacramento audience how curiosity was and is essential in the continuation of the museum as a public good and the preservation of natural history.

Emily prompted the question, “why do people go to museums? What were the reasons of the past, and what are the reasons of the present?" Emily proposes that there are individuals who go to museums for quality time with their family, individuals who go to museums because they feel obligated to go, and individuals who go to museums to seek answers to their questions and want a life changing experience. The latter describes a group of people Emily calls “the explorers.”

Emily advocates that every person should take on the role of the “explorer” and allow curiosity to lead us in our daily lives. Emily advises that the Wikipedia pages should not serve as our mode of knowledge; rather, knowledge should derive from our journeys of exploration within the museum - keeping it alive as a tradition to learn about our natural environment. 

 

The History of Natural History Museums

 Emily Graslie speaking about the collections of the Field Museum on the TEDxSacramento stage.

Emily Graslie speaking about the collections of the Field Museum on the TEDxSacramento stage.

Museums have their roots in the Renaissance – the age of enlightenment. During this time, preservation of human remains and animal specimens was easier than ever before. Preservation and collecting became a fad among the rich and academics, who competed for the most shocking and puzzling collections.

As collections outgrew the storage capacity of its owners, profiteering from the curiosity of the public sparked the idea to put these collections on public display. The concept of public exhibitions eventually gave birth to the public museum - an institution we now trust will document, study, and preserve our history for current and our future generations.

Museums allow us to experience a world apart from our own without jumping on a plane or to immerse ourselves in an eco system that preserves the environment and species of a particular time and place.  Standing in front of exhibits and displays allows us to imagine the unimaginable and ask questions of yourself and the world around us; curiosity naturally emerges.

 

YOU Can Be a Curiosity Correspondent, too!

Emily explains, “That’s the thing about curiosity. You can’t be curious about something if you don’t know that it exists. That’s why we all ought to be chief curiosity correspondents. We need these story tellers of our natural environment...Technology is not what is answering our questions...it’s people who are answering these questions for us.”

Do you know any of these fascinating facts about our world? Here are some things Emily discusses that are worth exploring from the Field Museum to quench the thirst of the “explorer.” Imagine what else is out there!

Artifact: Allende Meteorite – a piece of a meteorite shower that lit up thousands of square miles of Northern Mexico and Southwestern United States in 1969. 

What You May Not Know (Surprising Fact):  It contains abundant chondrules and large Calcium-Aluminum-rich Inclusions (CAIs) that are among the oldest objects formed in the Solar System.

 Shoebill - a rare species with no close relatives among living birds. Photo: Field Musuem.

Shoebill - a rare species with no close relatives among living birds. Photo: Field Musuem.

Artifact: Shoebill – large stork-like bird, named after its massive shoe-shaped bill, found in the swamps of central Africa. 

What You May Not Know (Surprising Fact):  If you saw this bird anywhere else, you would think it was a Muppet. It is an extremely unique bird with no close relatives among living birds. It looks unreal!

Artifact: Aztec Sun God Opal – a 35-Carat White Opal from Mexico, 16th Century.

What You May Not Know (Surprising Fact): The opal is carved into the shape of a human face. It is known as one of the most mysterious pieces in the Field’s Museum gem collection.

These are just a small fraction of what museums have to offer us – the unimaginable and unbelievable parts of our history that might have gone undiscovered and unknown. Imagine what else museums have to offer, and how our curiosity can be sparked by the questions and exploration of our natural history. If you have not seen her videos, Emily makes you want to learn more through her curiosity whether it’s the topic of women in the STEM fields, taxidermy, or rare mammals.

Once again, we owe Emily a thank you for delivering her wit and passion about natural history that motivates us all to reconsider the role of science and history in our lives. Are you up for the challenge to become a curiosity correspondent? The world awaits you!

Interested in more speakers from the This Changes Everything: Women event? Then, read these posts also:

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