by Erika (age 12, @KNEstemGirls)

“New species are discovered all the time, and sometimes they’re found in the drawers of museum collections, basically hiding in plain sight.”
– Nancy Simmons
Curator-in-Charge, Department of Mammalogy, AMNH

Nancy Simmons is Curator-in-Charge of the Department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. She studies bats and has written several books on them. After an amazing tour of the Mammalogy Department, I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

Why do you think STEM is important?

Nancy: Well, you first have to think about what STEM means. STEM means Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. All of those things together form the very basis of what we understand about the world. How we make things, use things, how the natural world works, and the interactive world in terms of engineering. To me, they are the most important things that exist.

What is your favorite spot or exhibit in the museum?

Nancy: I really like my office. That’s where I spend most of my time (*laughs*). I think my favorite exhibit is in the Hall of North American Mammals. I love the moose diorama and I’ll just stand in front of it. It is my favorite spot in the museum.

What is your favorite specimen in the museum?

Nancy: It’s very exciting when you first start learning how to do something so my favorite specimen would be the first one I ever collected which is in the collections now, for scientists to use any time they want on that particular species of bats. In a 100 years from now it will still be here and 500 years from now I hope it’ll still be here and will still be used by researchers.

What was the coolest or most amazing thing you discovered?

Nancy: Well, one of the neatest things I got to do was to describe a fossil of the most primitive, oldest known bat. That particular fossil, which is 52 million years old, was used to answer a question we wondered about. There are two different specializations which lead to success for bats, the first being able to fly and the second, being able to use echolocation as a sonar. They basically use sound to sense their environment. We always ask the question, ‘Which came first – Echolocation or Flying?’ We have now learned that flight came first thanks to the fossil.

You can learn more about Nancy Simmons’ research here.