Campus News

Room to grow

Georgia Museum of Natural History expands with additional 14,000 square feet of research, exhibit space

The Georgia Museum of Natural History, housed on the UGA campus, has the largest collection of natural history specimens in Georgia. Despite a thriving outreach program, the museum’s space on South Campus was cramped and hard to reach.

That has changed now with a new 14,000-square-foot museum annex—a change that will bring new strength to the museum’s research, teaching and public service.

Boasting a consortium of 11 natural history collections, ranging from tiny insects to whale skeletons, the museum also houses an archaeological laboratory that sheds light on how people lived centuries ago in Georgia.

The new annex is part of the UGA administrative services warehouse, on the Atlanta Highway just past Sam’s Club, which formerly housed a furniture store. Warehouse space for the University of Georgia Press and central receiving is also in the building now.

“This is a superb curation area with excellent security and climate control, and it gives us room to grow and to build on our collections,” said Bud Freeman, director of the museum and senior public service associate with the Institute of Ecology at UGA. “Our collections represent an irreplaceable storehouse of information about the natural history of Georgia and the Southeast.”

The most impressive space in the new annex is a massive room with steel shelving for thousands of specimens in the museum’s fish, herpetology, invertebrate and genomics collections, most of which are in storage on the UGA campus and available to researchers and students only with difficulty. But the new annex has much more, including research laboratories, offices and space for collection cabinets.

The museum’s collections date from the late 1930s for some fish species, but collections are still donated and obtained regularly. In fact, Freeman recently went to Darien on Georgia’s coast to bury a Right Whale killed by a ship strike. When the skeleton is later exhumed, it will join several other impressive whale skeletons in the collections.

“Right now, a museum supporter, Gene Keferl of Brunswick, is in the process of donating a huge collection of freshwater mollusks—some 9,000 lots—that will greatly expand our holdings,” said Freeman.

The museum also, over the years, has benefited through donations from other university collections, including some 250,000 specimens of flying insects donated by Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis).

One important part of the museum that reaches public school students around Georgia is the Science Box program. There are 17 kits that the museum shares with science teachers and which contain specimens and artifacts such as skeletons, skins, mounted specimens and fossils, as well as information on ecology and biology and life history. Students also receive for their use books, puzzles, posters and handout materials for guided classroom study.

“With our outreach program and visits to the museum by students, faculty and others, we probably serve at least 10,000 people a year,” said ­Freeman. “Our Web site gets about 3,000 individual visitors a day from all over the world, too.”

The museum, part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, held an open house for the annex in February, and the job of moving specimens from campus to the new space is now under way. Freeman expects the space to be fully utilized within a year.

Four departments in the Franklin College support the collections: anthropology, plant biology, geography and geology. Entomology and plant pathology in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences also support collections. A recent survey among the nation’s universities maintaining museums of natural history shows UGA’s museum to be ninth largest. More than 100 scientists from throughout the world use the collections in their research.

“All the collections in the museum have regional significance and most have national if not international recognition within the scientific community,” said Freeman.