With help from Sea Grant fellows, the 'Expert Is In' at the Smithsonian

NOAA's Knauss Marine Policy Fellows share their knowledge of marine science with visitors to the National Museum of Natural History.

The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s offsite link Expert Is In Program gives some of the seven million annual visitors a chance to talk with a specialist while they explore the museum. NOAA’s Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship brings early-career scientists to Washington, D.C., for a year to work with Congress or a federal agency and, in the process, provides a ready supply of “experts” for this program.

“The Expert Is In Program gives museum visitors the opportunity to connect personally with an expert — from marine biologists and oceanographers to policy and law specialists,” said Megan Chen, Ocean Education Specialist at the Smithsonian. These expert volunteers, including Knauss Fellows, help visitors interpret the Museum’s exhibits by explaining the coastal and marine ecosystems and resources on display at the Sant Ocean Hall offsite link, providing a window to a part of the planet most people only see from shore.

In 2017, the program hosted 12 fellows who, in total, participated in 18 programs and reached around 1,400 visitors.


Many of the species highlighted in the Sant Ocean Hall also show up on our dinner plates. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for managing these living marine resources, by protecting ocean ecosystems and providing productive and safe seafood.

Maggie Allen (2017 Knauss Fellow with NOAA Education) shared her knowledge on sustainable seafood for the Expert Is In Kiosk at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Maggie Allen (NOAA Education) shared her knowledge on sustainable fisheries, while the guests observed bycatch in various fishing gears and talked about where their seafood might come from. “Talking with folks from around the world really increased my understanding of what ‘sustainable fisheries’ means to the public. People really wanted to know what they could do to make more ethical food choices,” Allen said.

Marine ecosystems

Ocean habitats, such as coral reefs and seagrasses, are all part of a single, global ocean. NOAA research and science helps protect this system.

Maddie Kennedy (2017 Knauss Fellow with NOAA Sea Grant) and Christine Sur (2017 Knauss Fellow with U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources), share their knowledge on seagrasses for the Expert Is In Kiosk at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Maddie Kennedy (NOAA Sea Grant), and Christine Sur (U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources) shared their knowledge on seagrasses. Sur stated, “I enjoyed participating in the Expert is In Program because it provided an opportunity to interact with an audience beyond my day to day work as a Fellow. It was fun to talk to people of all ages and to see how excited some of the visitors were about the ocean. During my fellowship I found that I missed talking about research, so it was a great way to connect back to my science background.”

Endangered species

Under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are responsible for the protection, conservation, and recovery of endangered and threatened species. Working with the Smithsonian, NOAA helps educate the public on the importance of protecting the 161 endangered and threatened marine species.

Sasha Doss (2017 Knauss Fellow with NOAA Fisheries) plays an educational game about endangered species with the museum visitors for the Expert Is In Kiosk at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Sasha Doss (NOAA Fisheries) played a game in which museum visitors could pretend to be animal detectives and figure out which species were endangered. Doss says her experience “was really enlightening” and that it was “inspirational to see how much people care about endangered species and their conservation. Incredibly motivating!”

Ocean impacts

What's going on in the planet's ocean impacts all of us, even those of us who live far from the coast. The ocean, atmosphere, weather, and climate are interconnected. NOAA's Science On a Sphere® (SOS), an animated globe installed at the Smithsonian and over 130 other institutions worldwide, helps the public learn about these connections. 

Shelby Brunner (2017 Knauss Fellow with NOAA Climate Program Office) uses Science on a Sphere to explain why we study the ocean for the Expert Is In Kiosk at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
Trying out a new format for the Expert Is In, Shelby Brunner with NOAA's Climate Program Office used NOAA Science on a Sphere® to explain why NOAA studies the ocean. Brunner taught a high school class of native Spanish speakers and a family from Oregon about how scientists can use ocean data to anticipate what sort of snowfall they will receive this winter. Brunner said, “It also taught me how to [communicate] the work my office funds to the public by gauging what phrases and graphs really had them engaged.”

The 2018 Knauss Fellowship class began their year-long placements on February 1, 2018, and many new experts plan to participate in this valuable experience in the summer and fall. Check the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s calendar offsite link to see when the next ‘Expert Is In’.