The University of New Mexico has received a $3 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for an innovative graduate education program centered in the University’s science museums.

The Museum Research Training Program (MRT) is a collaborative effort among the Museum of Southwestern Biology, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, and the Paleobiology Collection in Earth and Planetary Sciences at UNM. Over the next five years, 75 graduate students and 40 undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds will participate in this interdisciplinary training program that uses UNM’s world-class museum collections to investigate cultural, biological, and earth science trajectories and processes at varying spatial and temporal scales.

The program focuses on critical contemporary issues, including past and future changes to the global environment and their impacts on human communities and biological and Earth system resources. Students will use cutting-edge imaging and material science technology to develop new ways to interpret museum objects, such as biological specimens, pottery shards, fossils, geological samples, and associated data.

The program, set to open to applications in January 2021 for Fall 2021 admission, leverages technical expertise and infrastructure in the Interdisciplinary Science Cooperative, which houses research centers with expertise in geochemistry, genomics, informatics, geospatial analysis, and high-resolution imaging and visualization, and the interdisciplinary expertise of the UNM Museum Studies Program.

“Since 1932, science museums have been at the center of campus life at UNM,” said Tom Turner, biology professor, curator of fishes in the Museum of Southwestern Biology, and the principal investigator for this project. “The university resisted a national trend of removing museums from campus, and instead made steady investments in infrastructure and hiring research faculty curators and museum professionals.

Museums are a vital part of the research, education and public service missions of the university, and this program capitalizes on UNM’s long-term investment. NSF recognized the enormous potential for new scientific discovery and student training that our museum-based program offers.”

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, and potentially transformative models for STEM graduate education to “train the next generation of scientific leaders to develop the skills necessary to tackle complex societal problems.”