The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s newly reopened fossil hall features a familiar figure. And, we’re not talking about the iconic Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.
It’s Dr. Christine Brandon, an assistant professor of geological sciences at Bridgewater State University. She is part of a video shown in the same exhibit as T. rex at the august Washington, D.C., institution.
"It’s really cool,” said Brandon, who grew up in Brockton. “I never thought this research would get any attention outside of scientific circles.”
Brandon studies past storms. For her dissertation at UMass Amherst, she sought to compare Hurricane Sandy to others that battered the New York City area. By looking at sediment cores, Brandon found storm evidence within the past 400 years, but not earlier. That date coincides with when the Dutch settled the area and started harvesting oysters.
Oyster beds, Brandon explained, protect coasts from storms. As oysters were harvested, the beds disappeared, leaving the coastline more vulnerable to damage from hurricanes. Thus, evidence of storms appeared in Brandon’s sediment samples.
“Oyster beds act like a speed bump and reduce wave height and power,” she said.
The Smithsonian picked up on the research after Brandon’s work was published. The organization is highlighting it in The David H. Koch Hall of Fossils—Deep Time, which describes 3.7 billion years of life on Earth and helps visitors understand how their choices might affect the future.
“They were looking for connections between today and the past,” Brandon said. “I provided the past connection.”
But the story of New York oyster beds isn’t a thing of the past. Nonprofit Billion Oyster Project aims to distribute 1 billion of the mollusks around 100 acres of reefs as it seeks to restore New York Harbor.
Brandon, meanwhile, talks about her research with Bridgewater students. Her journey to inclusion in a prestigious museum shows anything is possible and offers a lesson in itself for students.
“If you had asked me as a college student, ‘Do you think you’ll be in a museum some day?’ I would have laughed,” she said. “When opportunities come along, take them, even if you feel unsure. Never tell yourself you’re not good enough to do something. Just try it.”
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