You may know her from a childhood visit to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) or from a trip to the movies to see the hit film Night at the Museum. She’s the magnificent sight that grabs you when you first enter the museum’s rotunda on New York’s Central Park West—a 50-foot-tall Barosaurus rearing up to defend her terrified young from an attacking Allosaurus. What you probably don’t know is that she is there because museum curator emeritus and Rutgers alumnus Eugene “Gene” S. Gaffney, ’65, hatched an idea over lunch.
Knights at the Museum
Gaffney, a world expert on turtle fossils, is not the only Rutgers alumnus to make a mark on America’s foremost natural history museum. Four other alumni are featured here, and they and other alumni who work at the museum are the present day link in a relationship between Rutgers and AMNH that reaches back to at least 1877. That’s when Anthony Woodward, recipient of a rare 19th-century honorary doctorate from Rutgers College, became the museum’s first librarian.
The five alumni are scientists, and their mostly behind-the-scenes work ranges from analyzing and preserving specimens, to writing and teaching about their disciplines, to spending weeks and even months on expeditions to Antarctica, Australia, Costa Rica, Namibia, and elsewhere in search of new museum specimens. They advance the world’s knowledge of meteorites, planetary formation, vertebrate and invertebrate evolution, mammalian fossils, Aztec and Incan culture, termites, dragonflies, and more, and make sure that sound science is behind museum displays and programs that many of us have come to love.
All five say Rutgers played a key role in the journey from student to scientist. From Clare Flemming’s “omigosh” moment in the class “Comparative Morphology of Vertebrates” to the senior research project that hooked Joe Boesenberg on a geology career, Rutgers coursework, fieldwork, research, and faculty mentorship shaped the professional lives of these explorers of the natural world.