MillipedeWhirl has worked at the Field Museum for ten years. She’s worked for a number of departments and divisions in that time doing a wide array of different jobs. We have joked that she seems to be collecting various divisions as a twelve year-old boy might collect baseball cards and have gone so far with the joke as to tell it to several of her current and former supervisors. But one thing she has not done in all of those years work at the Field Museum is to attend Members Night.

Members Nights are the museum’s annual Open House. Individuals who have agreed to become members of the museum get an opportunity to enter the collections and research areas typically off-limits to day-to-day visitors. What I quickly learned after Whirl began working at the museum is that only a small percentage of what The Field Museum is involved in is visible to the typical visitor on the floor. The Field Museum is a working research institution, not just a collection of dusty artifacts from long ago civilizations and exotic lands. Hundreds of scientists associated with the museum perform primary research in Anthropology, Botany, Geology, and Zoology. Members Nights are the museum’s way of inviting interested people behind the scenes to explore that vital aspect of the institution.

Horn from the MarquesasThis year, Whirl’s boss invited her to represent the Insects Division for the Zoology department. She had never done this before and so she attended for a short while on Wednesday night to get an idea of what to expect. On Thursday I went with her to explore on my own and to take a few photographs of her department and the other departments presenting exhibits at the museum.

Some highlights of this year included the preparation of a cheetah for display, newly received artifacts from the Marquesas islands, and hissing cockroach races. I also learned that fluorite is the state mineral for Illinois.

It is often that when Whirl and I talk about our work it seems like we are speaking entirely different languages to one another. The chance to see the museum in the same light that she does– if only for a few hours– was a treat.