The Paleontology Research Lab at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences – the home of FossilPhiles – has glass walls facing the exhibits space. As we work, visitors to the museum can look in and see what actual scientists are doing on a daily basis. It can be distracting at times to look up and see that you’re being watched, and it feels a bit like being an animal in a zoo.
But the benefit of this is that our science and that the work that we do is on display for the public to see. More and more these days, it seems that the public perception of science is that it is only done by scientists for other scientists, and we aim to dispel this myth. We wanted to work with local middle and high school students in order to bring members of the public into the lab and have them meaningfully contribute to active scientific research. Visitors are then able to look in and see what we’re doing and the fossils we work with. By making our images and digital models publicly available (coming soon!) we can increase access to the vast diversity of fossil life held in our museum collections. This way we are able to demonstrate that anyone can be a scientist, and that there is a public benefit to science and paleontology.