CSI True Science Detective: Thanks and farewell, Rebecca Johnson

In the frontline against poaching of endangered species and illegal trade of animals are a bunch of scientists at the Australia Museum.  This is the story of one of their scientists.


We’ve been delighted to have scientists and manager Dr Rebecca Johnson of the Australia Museum in Sydney curate for us this week.  Rebecca showed us that the distant savannahs of Africa can be linked to the scientific labs on the other side of the world, that a museum can be critical to tracking criminal activity through the smuggling of animals and animal parts. Most of us have been to a museum at some stage in our lives, usually as kids on a primary school excursion.  Museums are a repository of objects and artefacts – they can be cultural, scientific and so on.  They can, like the Australia Museum, be old neo-classical edifices, or glassy contemporary ones like the Melbourne Museum.  But as Rebecca showed us this week, rather than being static storehouses and curated exhibitions of esoteric objects, museums are active, lively places that are the first communication point between science and the public, and they are also research institutions.  Rebecca’s work includes managing facilities that trace animal species through genetic analysis, especially in samples that can sometimes come through customs. It truly is CSI: Australia Museum and the scientists are detectives.


Here’s Rebecca’s team:




Rebecca’s team work on both tracking animal-derived parts for customs as well as conservation genetics.  After all, to understand which specific species are being traded, you need to know where they live and how they vary genetically. This week’s samples included a baby penguin and a huge rhino horn.

We had a tour round the facilities and day to day activities of staff at the museum, saw some of the samples being worked on and how these genetic analyses are carried out. Best of all, we had a tour of the excellent Tyrannosaurs exhibition which runs there until July:



Which led to a #museumselfie with our curator:




which led to a #museumselfieday with snaps from around the world. If you missed any of the adventures we had, you can catch up with the Storifys: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3.


It’s been a big week at Real Scientists, with our awesome curator taking us through the museum; we introduced two new staff members and we also reached over 11,000 followers.  Thank you to all of you for your support and we hope you’ll continue supporting our Real Scientists project.

So a huge thanks to Dr Rebecca Johnson for her most excellent week as a True Science Detective and for throwing open the doors of the Australia Museum for Real Scientists.  You can follow her continuing adventures on twitter at @DrRebeccaJ.

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