First Person

Rocks of the ages

Jane Pickering, new head of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, unveils a gallery of minerals and much more.

Jane Pickering, executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture.
Photograph by Pat Greenhouse/Globe staff
Jane Pickering, executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture.

When I was 20, I spent six weeks in the mammal department of the Natural History Museum in London MEASURING STUFFED HEDGEHOGS. It wasn’t until I had that object-rich, hands-on experience that I saw how amazing museums could be. It was the behind-the-scenes experience that TURNED ME INTO A TOTAL MUSEUM FREAK. I’ve spent the rest of my life in museums.

In the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture — the MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY, the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the Semitic Museum, the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Mineralogical and Geological Museum, the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, the Herbaria — some have more of a public presence. But we can bring them together and PROVIDE A VISIBLE PUBLIC PRESENCE for all of them.

Asking me to choose my favorite object in our collections is like asking me who was my favorite child — impossible to choose — especially if you had 27.5 million children. My favorite object on my way to my current office is a LITTLE STUFFED LION CUB in the Africa Gallery. It’s so cute.


The new mineral hall opening on April 6 is a reinvention of the current collections. There are still the STUNNING, INTRIGUING MINERALS AND ROCKS that people have been enjoying, but there are also new ones that have not been on public display before. We’re also HIGHLIGHTING RESEARCH GOING ON in the department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. We’re looking at the dynamic processes and events that have shaped earth.

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There’s a METEORITE THAT YOU CAN TOUCH. Seeing all the photographs and video of the meteorite landing in Russia, I look at the meteorites we have and think, “Wow, I can imagine what it must have been like when they came through the atmosphere.” — As told to Shira Springer

Interview has been edited and condensed.