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Science Never Stops

Explore highlights from The Academy's scientific research. Make sure to check out the Academy Blog for more stories.

Late Spring Butterfly Guide


The trees have leafed out and the days are much warmer. The equinox is a couple months past and we are nearing the longest days of the year. As the season continues to change, the types of butterflies we encounter while enjoying the great outdoors changes too. In light of this, it is time for the Academy's Late Spring Butterfly Guide, which highlights butterflies that can be found in the Philadelphia this time of the year. We are delighted to share with you our 11 favorites among the mid to late spring butterflies.

Click here to read the full Late Spring Butterfly Guide.

Black Birders Week 2022: Black Excellence in Birding

four images of birders around a black fist

Join the Academy of Natural Sciences for our first-ever Black Birders Week event: Black Excellence in Birding. Don your finest cocktail attire and meet some of Philadelphia’s most well-known Black birders, including Tykee James, Corina Newsome, Jason Hall, and the Academy's own Anwar Abdul-Qawi. Joined by moderator Kiana Habersham of the Academy's Women in Natural Sciences program, they will share their experiences of birding while Black. Tweet an invite to a fellow bird lover, fluff up your plumage for a feathery date night or simply sip cocktails and savor delicious appetizers as you enjoy good conversation with fellow Black birders.

Black Birders Week is a weeklong series of events to highlight Black nature enthusiasts and to increase the visibility of Black birders, who face unique challenges and dangers when engaging in outdoor activities. The event was created as a response to the Central Park birdwatching incident and police brutality against Black Americans. The inaugural event ran from May 31 to June 5, 2020. The week of events was organized by a group of STEM professionals and students known as the BlackAFinSTEM Collective.    

  • $50 per person (All-Inclusive Ticket)
  • $35 Academy members and African American Museum Members (All-Inclusive Ticket)
  • $25 Event + Food (Drinks not included)
  • $35 Drexel Employees (All-Inclusive Ticket, must show DragonCard)
  • $35 Student (All-Inclusive Ticket, must show student ID)
  • $85 Double Date (Two All-Inclusive Tickets)
  • $160 Four Pack (Four All-Inclusive Tickets)

register button

Guests must be 21+ to drink and will receive wristbands 

african american museum logo white AAMP lettering on purple background

Special thanks to the African American Museum for their support of this program. 

Event Schedule: 

Meet, Greet and Learn
5 p.m.

Stroll the red carpet (no binoculars necessary) to Dinosaur Hall, where you’ll find delicious refreshments, cocktails and everything you need to know about which Black birders you should be following on social media. Then journey to North American Hall to observe their work and meet and chat with these well-known nature explorers. Take a look at photos of fellow Black birders doing their awesome work. 

How to get your photo featured at this event 

Submit your own Black birding photo to by May 20, 2022, for a chance to see it featured during the event.  

Bird Walks 
6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Walk length: 30 minutes) 

Indoor bird walks? Tell me more! Talk birds as you take a 30-minute walk through the Academy with Corina Newsome and Tykee James. They will have all the details on the birds you can spot in the Academy’s dioramas.  

Ornithology Collection Tours
6, 6:30 and 7 p.m. (Tour Length: 20 minutes) 

Go behind the scenes for incredible, one-of-a-kind views of the Academy’s world-renowned Ornithology Collection. Meet Academy scientists and learn how the specimens in the Academy’s collection contribute to scientific research and discovery.  

Birding With Women In Natural Sciences
5–8 p.m.

Meet the incredible participants of the Academy’s Women In Natural Sciences (WINS) program. Learn about their experiences birding in the field. Check out and touch awesome specimens from our teaching collection! 

Panel Discussion: Birding While Black in Philly
8 p.m.  

Hear real-life experiences of birding while Black in the Philadelphia region during this important panel discussion. Discover the stories of local Black birders and ask questions. 

Opening Remarks 

  • Maurice Baynard, Vice President, Community Learning and President’s Strategic Initiatives, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University 
  • Nina Ball, Director of Programming and Education African American Museum  


  • Jason Hall, Founder, In Color Birding Club 
  • Corina Newsome, Co-Organizer, Black Birders Week, Associate Conservation Scientist, National Wildlife Federation 
  • Tykee James, Co-Founder, Amplify the Future; Co-Organizer, Black Birders Week; President, D.C. Audubon Society; Trustee, Wyncote Audubon Society, the Birding Co-op and Justice Outside; Elected Councilor, Wilson Ornithological Society
  • Anwar Abdul-Qawi: Lead Keeper, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University  


  • Kiana Habersham: Senior, George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science, Women In Natural Sciences Program, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Click here for the full schedule of activities and to purchase tickets.

New Species of Ancient Fish Discovered Along PA Roadside

illustration of grey fish with white spots 


During the late part of the Devonian Period (380-to-360 million years old ago), the world was a very different place than today — the climate, physical location and features of the continents have slowly changed with time. Over the past 30 years, paleontologists from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University have studied Devonian-age rock strata, mostly exposed along highway roadcuts, and collected large numbers of fossil fish across what is now Pennsylvania.

Read about the new species of Langlieria on the Academy Blog.

Academy Leads Effort to Map Philly’s Heat and Air Quality

two women with a child next to a car with a heat watch sticker

This summer the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University will lead a campaign to map heat and air quality in Philadelphia, working with community scientists so that residents have a stronger voice in the planning and implementation of climate change-preparedness strategies. 

Philadelphia was approved as one of just 16 communities across the U.S. and abroad to lead an Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaign, a joint initiative of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Integrated Heat Health Information System and CAPA Strategies, LLC. 

Click here to read the full Academy Leads Effort to Map Philly’s Heat and Air Quality story on the Academy Blog.

The Fish With the Fishy Name

preserved assfish yellow in color

“Mark, do we have any assfish?” 

It was not the question I expected when the Academy’s president, Scott Cooper, called upon my department, Ichthyology, for help.  

Ichthyologist Mark Sabaj discusses The Fish with the Fishy Name on the Academy Blog.

Lights Out Kicks Off for Spring 2022

lights out philly logo with blue background showing philly skyline with birds flying over 

Spring migration is upon us and millions of birds will be flying through Philadelphia along the Atlantic Flyway on their journey north to their breeding grounds.

Bird Safe Philly is once again asking community members to participate in Lights Out Philly to minimize unnecessary lights by turning off, blocking or dimming artificial lights from midnight to 6 a.m. during peak spring migration period, April 1–May 31.

Click here to read more about Lights Out Philly.

Little Organism, Big Impact

microscopic photo of a diatom a grey circular molecule surrounded by black background 

Our natural world is made up of incredibly diverse lifeforms that range in all different sizes, from the humongous blue whale and the giant sequoia to the tiny ant and minuscule plankton. So, it should be no surprise that some of Earth’s smallest creatures — such as diatoms — can actually have some of the biggest impacts on our planet.  

Click here to read our blogpost about the small, but significant diatom.

Hidden Works of Nature: The Microscopic World in the Library & Archives
Every other Friday, January 7 through April 15

Hidden Works of Nature

How did a 40-year-old draper with no formal education ignite the study of our microscopic world? How do archives document the Academy’s role in microscopy and the study of diatoms? Join us behind the scenes in the Academy’s Library & Archives as staff share collections that illuminate the stories behind scientific discovery.

These informal, 20-minute talks will take place at the top of each hour from 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.

Please meet outside the Library & Archives entrance, inside the Dietrich Gallery.

New Species Named and Described

owl with yellow eyes sitting on branch in front of green leaves photo by gustavo malacco
Alagoas Screech Owl, photo by Gustavo Malacco

Accelerated climate change and biodiversity loss, both driven by human activities, are threatening nature and people’s lives and livelihoods around the world. According to the International Union for Conservation’s Red List of Threatened Species — a major indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity — least 10,967 species are currently affected, increasing their likelihood of extinction. 

That makes the Academy of Natural Sciences’ description of five new species in 2021 all the more critical to understanding the natural world and inspiring everyone to care for it. The newly named birds, insect, fish and fossil fish add to the Academy’s world-renowned scientific research and research collection of more than 19 million animal and plant specimens dating back to the institution’s founding in 1812. 

Click here to read about the new species named and described by Academy scientists in 2021.

Say Freeze! Capturing the Microcosm

snowflake shown under microscope photo by snowflake bentley courtesy of schwerdfeger library
Photo courtesy of Schwerdtfeger Library

Have you ever wondered how we know that every single snowflake has a completely unique one-of-a-kind design? You can thank photomicrography — the art taking magnified pictures with a microscope — and the pioneering work of Snowflake Bentley. Bentley's work is currently on display in the Academy's Invisible World of Water exhibit.

Read more about the work of Snowflake Bentley on the Academy Blog.

Invisible World of Water
Open Now

Invisible World of Water

The first project in the Academy of Natural Sciences’ yearlong focus on water renews our appreciation for the vital element of water through artworks that combine the marvel and insight of both scientific and artistic inquiry.

Centered around two micro-phenomena — snow crystals and diatoms — the exhibition will present parallel histories of observation and show the interplay between the micro-cosmic and macro-cosmic. Diatoms — microalgae — the wondrous jewels of water encased in glass, exist in virtually every body of water, lie at the heart of the food chain and generate a major portion of the world’s oxygen. They are often compared to snow crystals. 

The exhibition includes illustrations from rare books (by Robert Hooke, Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg and Ernst Haeckel); Victorian-era arranged diatom slides by Harold Dalton and others; microphotographs by Snowflake Bentley and Ukichiro Nakaya; artifacts documenting the groundbreaking research of diatom scientist Ruth Patrick; contemporary ceramic sculpture by Marguerita Hagan; stop-motion imagery by physicist Kenneth Libbrecht; and high-resolution photography by Nathan Myhrvold. The Invisible World of Water considers the hidden connections and the flow between water, land and air through Earth’s hydrosphere.

Read more about Invisible World of Water on the Academy Blog.

The Name’s Bondi, Synodus bondi

syondus bondi fish specimen

Scientists at the Academy have a long history of contributing specimens not only to the collections of their primary field of study, but also to other collections throughout the museum. For example, Edward Drinker Cope is best known for his contributions to paleontology, but he was also an early driving force behind the creation of the Academy’s Ichthyology and Herpetology collections.

It remains common today for our researchers to bring back specimens from collecting expeditions for their colleagues in other departments. They may collect some mollusks while gathering fish or pick up some interesting specimens for sale in a market. Every so often their efforts may be rewarded with a new species named in their honor.

This is what happened in 1939 when Ichthyology Curator Henry Weed Fowler described a new species of lizardfish from Jamaica and named it Synodus bondi. The specimens used in the description were collected by an ornithologist from the Academy by the name of James Bond, a name made famous by Ian Flemming when he borrowed the moniker for his spy novels.

Read more on the Academy Blog.

Mystery in the Library

Sepia tone photo of woman sitting at desk with man at card catalog

A photo from 1909 sends Academy Archivist Jennifer Vess on a deep dive to explore the women associated with the library. 

Click here to read the entire story of the mystery in the library.

Reading the Leaves

pressed plant leaf on white background 

The veins in a leaf do more than store water for the plant; even plant leaves preserved as fossils. They can reveal what environmental conditions were like when and where the plant was growing.

Leaf veins are a passion for Zack Quirk, a National Science Foundation fellow and University of Michigan paleobotany PhD candidate, who’s been using the Academy’s Botany Collection to measure the length of veins in plants. He chose the Academy herbarium because of it wide range of specimens collected from around the world. To collect these plants on his own would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.

Click here to continue reading Reading the Leaves on the Academy Blog.

academy unscripted

Academy Unscripted is a new series featuring one-on-one conversations with Academy scientists. Explore more episodes of Academy Unscripted.

Episode 1 - Senior Director of Exhibits & Public Spaces Jennifer Sontchi talks with Interim Curator of Fishes Mark Sabaj

Is COVID-19 Affecting Our Water?


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many lifestyle changes around the globe, namely —  people are staying at home.

The onset of this extreme, sudden and nearly universal social isolation has prompted our Biogeochemistry Section scientists to ponder what kinds of changes in water quality they might see due to COVID-19.

With the large-scale shift to people working at home and sheltering in place, there will likely be an increase in suburban wastewater effluent. Effluent is an outflowing of water or gas to a natural body of water, from a structure such as a wastewater treatment plant, sewer pipe or industrial outfall.

Will this cause changes in water quality that we will be able to detect over time, as social distancing measures continue to be in effect?

Click here to read the full article on the Academy Blog.

Recycling 101

recycling bins on street

In January 2019, we learned that over 50% of Philadelphia’s recycling was being sent straight to an incinerator in Chester. The problem was part of a larger issue with recycling nationwide — that the market for purchasing recycled goods, with China being the primary buyer, had shifted greatly. In 2018, China decided to no longer accept recycled materials that didn’t meet new stringent rules around contamination and mixed materials. Soon, recycling, which had actually been profitable for Philadelphia, became an expense for the city.

One of the main reasons that much of Philadelphia’s and the United States’ recycling is so expensive to sell is that it is deeply contaminated. You can help address this problem by knowing what you can recycle and how best to clean your recycling. On the Academy Blog, find out the answers to these common questions about recycling in Philly:

  • How clean should my recycling be?
  • What can and can’t you recycle curbside?
  • What can you recycle at a special facility?
  • How can you reduce the amount of recycling you create?
  • What does yard waste and composting have to do with creating less waste?
  • What resources can help me recycle properly in the Philadelphia suburbs? 

Click here to read our Recycling 101 blog.

A Real Shocking Discovery


Academy Ichthyologist Mark Sabaj is one of the co-authors on the descriptions of two new species of electric eel.  

Scientists have discovered a new species of eel that can discharge up to 860 volts of electricity – significantly more than the 650 volts previously recorded by what had been believed to be the only type of eel in existence… until now.

Mark Sabaj, PhD, interim curator of fishes at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is well-versed in techniques for catching electric eels both with and without getting shocked. He contributed to a large study of electric eels as a member of a multinational team led by Carlos David de Santana, an ichthyologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Sabaj is a co-author on the descriptions of two new species, Electrophorus voltai and Electrophorus varii, published in Nature Communications.

Click here to read the full Q & A with Mark Sabaj on the Academy Blog.

Color Our Collections


Coloring can have many benefits for people of all ages. It can help enhance motor skills and vision, reduce stress and anxiety and improve focus. 

Click here to download a PDF coloring book made of images from the Academy's Library and Archives.

Mussel Survey

scientists look for mussels in river

In late September, Academy staff scientists and collaborators conducted a mussel survey on the Schuylkill River upstream from Boathouse Row. Their goal was to document the presence or absence of mussels and, in particular, whether there were any Tidewater Mucket (Leptodea ochracea) in this stretch of the river. This survey was the last in a series that was conducted throughout the lower Delaware River watershed.

Click here for details and to see more photos.

Four Ways to Cut Your Carbon

scientists on boat

Looking to reduce your personal carbon emissions? There are some big steps you can take. For example, if you need to travel a long distance, you can choose rail or even sailboat — to follow in Greta Thunberg’s wake — rather than flying. The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist last week completed a transatlantic journey by racing yacht to attend the United Nations summit meeting on global warming this month. Few of us fly every day, and fewer sail. So how can we do our part to reduce CO2 emissions (which contribute to harmful greenhouse gases largely blamed for driving global warming) in our daily life?

Click here for four ways you can reduce your carbon.

A Relic of Botany History

wildflower illustrations

Dr. Carl Ludwig Willdenow’s Anleitung zum Selbststudium der Botanik: ein Handbuch zu öffentlichen Vorlesungen (Dr. Carl Ludwig Willdenow’s Guide to Self-Study of Botany: A Handbook for Public Lectures) has been added to the Academy's library. Willdenow is a major figure in the field of botany. The book was not previously contained in our vast collection and contains several brilliantly colored plates. 

Learn more about the title's addition to the Academy:

Time Outdoors: It’s Healthy

academy scientists in creek

Doctors and psychologists have long recognized that spending time in nature leads to a healthier well-being, and a growing field of research aims to better understand and quantify the benefits of spending time in nature. Time spent outdoors is related to lower stress levels, decreased blood pressure, and a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as asthma, allergies, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

So, if the prescription is to spend more time in nature, what’s the dosage? A recent The New York Times article highlights some new findings, namely that researchers have zeroed in on the ideal amount of outdoor time for reaping nature’s maximum health benefits: 120 minutes per week. Two hours in a week doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it can sometimes be difficult to fit that time into our already hectic schedules.

Click here for some easy suggestions for adding 120 minutes of outdoor time to your week. 

Where Does Your Water Come From?

scientists on boat

The Wissahickon Creek watershed is 64 square miles and covers portions of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties in Pennsylvania. The Wissahickon is a small but important part of a larger system. It is a tributary of the Schuylkill River, which in turn is the largest tributary of the Delaware River. The whole Delaware River Basin covers 13,500 square miles and provides water for more than 15 million people, including half of New York City’s potable water supply. Do you know the source of your drinking water?

Read more:

Keeping Tabs on the Environment

scientists in stream

Summertime means the height of field work season for many Academy scientists. They can be found up and down the Delaware River watershed measuring fish, collecting algae samples, measuring sea level rise due to climate change, testing water for the presence of harmful chemicals and more. Wading in cool streams, hiking bucolic trails, walking through wetlands, and boating to find the fish are all involved. But so are smacking mosquitoes, sweating in waders, battling sun burn, and lugging equipment in heat and humidity. But all in all our scientists agree: it beats sitting in the office! 

Learn where our scientists are this summer.

Five Things You Can Do Now to Help the Environment

pristine mountain stream

Did you know that a recycling shipment with as little as 0.5% non-recyclables can be considered unusable and trashed? Are you aware that livestock is a major source of greenhouse gasses and that eating less could reduce your environmental impact? Have you tried adjusting your thermostat one degree to save 10% on your energy use? Learn five things you can do to reduce your footprint on our earth.

Read more:

Support Science

scientist with entomology specimens

Make a difference today with your gift to the Academy’s Annual Fund. The Annual Fund provides vital support for the Academy’s most critical needs, including research, collections care, education and exhibits. Your support of the Annual Fund will protect the Academy’s irreplaceable collections, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s botany collection and John James Audubon’s birds; support world-class research addressing today’s most significant questions in environmental science, biodiversity and evolution; help support science education for more than 80,000 schoolchildren each year; and fund outstanding exhibitions, educational programs and environmental forums for learners of all ages.

I Support Science: