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Programs for Adults

Learning can be a life-long adventure. Join Virginia Living Museum staff biologists, naturalists and scientists to explore the natural world in special adult-oriented programs. Each activity-oriented program is presented in a relaxed, hands-on format and includes classroom instruction combined with opportunities to examine specimens from the Museum’s extensive collections and up close encounters with live animals. Come and share a journey of discovery with others who have an enthusiastic desire to continue to learn about the natural world of Virginia and beyond.

Advance registration is required for many programs. For more information or to make a reservation, call the Reservations Coordinator, at 757-595-9135, Monday-Friday, 9 am-4:30 pm.

Naturally Speaking Series

Sponsored by:

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The Virginia Living Museum’s Naturally Speaking Lecture Series returns for 2021 in a virtual fashion. Join us for our guest speaker at 6:30 pm for a 30 minute talk. Following the lecture, we will allow time for questions and a wrap-up.

This is a streamed, adult only event for donors, members, and non-members. Program is free but we ask you to register to join the webinar. Thank you!

Register Now!

Discussion Topics

Jan 21 | Conservation Paleobiology: Using the Past to Predict the Future of Extinction

Date: January 21, 2021

Time: 6:30pm

Speaker: Dr. Rowan Lockwood, Professor and Chair of the Geology Department at William & Mary

Over 99.9% of species that have ever existed are extinct. If scientists want to understand how extinction works, they need to understand the fossil record. The newly established science of conservation paleobiology uses fossil data to help predict which organisms and ecosystems are most likely to go extinct in the future. The fossil record provides over 500 million years of information on environmental changes, including global warming, that represent natural, repeated experiments in the history of life.

Dr. Rowan Lockwood will introduce you to the field of conservation paleobiology and techniques applied, including ancient DNA, biogeochemistry, and 3D digitization. Dr. Lockwood will highlight a handful of examples relating to Ice Age mammals, including Shasta ground sloths, cave bears, caribou, and wolves. She will finish with a case study focusing on her own research on Chesapeake Bay oysters, which emphasizes the importance of using fossils to establish a baseline for restoration.

Lockwood is a paleobiologist, who uses fossils to predict how modern oceans will respond to environmental changes in the future, including global warming and extinction. She works in the newly established field of conservation paleobiology, using data from fossils to help restore endangered ecosystems. Her research interests range from the conservation paleobiology of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, to the effects of ancient global warming on marine ecosystems in the southeastern U.S., to the impact of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction on the world’s oceans. Her research has taken her around the globe, from Kenya to the Great Barrier Reef, from excavating dinosaurs to ancient humans. Lockwood received a B.A. in geology and biology with honors from Yale University; an MSc. in Palaeontology as a Marshall Scholar at the University of Bristol; and a Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Chicago. In 2013, Princeton Review named her one of the top 300 professors in the U.S.

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Feb. 18 | Dr. Ela-Sita Carpenter - TBD

Date: February 18, 2021

Time: 6:30pm

Speaker: Dr. Ela – Sita Carpenter, Wildlife Biologist, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Black Birders Week

Dr. Carpenter is currently a naturalist educator for Baltimore City Recreation and Parks and a research assistant for the University of Missouri. She received a PhD graduate from the School of Natural Resourcesat the University of Missouri. Her dissertation research focused on environmental and socioeconomic drivers of bat activity and presence in Baltimore, Maryland. Dr. Carpenter is passionate about science communication and nature photography. 

March 18 | Some Like It Hot! Microbial Communities Inhabiting Hydrothermal Systems

Date: March 18, 2021

Time: 6:30pm

Speaker: Dr. Jessica Labonté, Assistant Professor, Department of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University at Galveston

Microbes (including bacteria, archaea, and viruses) are ubiquitous on Earth and have been found under conditions where no animal can survive. Microbes known as extremophiles, inhabit extreme environments such as geothermal hot springs with pH < 3, hypersaline environments with a salinity as high as 35%, and environments with extremely low concentrations of nutrients. One factor that can limit life is temperature; There is currently no known microbe that can tolerate temperatures higher than 122 ˚CHydrothermal systems display diverse and unpredictable conditions of extremely high temperatures and acidic pH, offering a range of environments that naturally test the limits of life as we know it. Microbial communities have been found within hydrothermal fluids, microbial mats on basaltic rock and chimneys, as well as within the neutrally buoyant hydrothermal plume, with varying energetic constraints on microbial activity and abundance. Moreover, hydrothermal systems are hypothesized to be the epicenters of the origins of life, making them ideal for studying evolutionary processes. They also display extreme conditions similar to what we could find on other planets.

The environmental conditions at Brothers volcano (study site of IODP Expedition 376 Brothers Arc Flux) provided a perfect setting to test the limits and adaptations of life. Preliminary analyses of the borehole fluids revealed temperatures up to 350˚C, pH as low as 1.8, higher salinity than in the upper water column, and very low concentrations of organic nutrients. My research uses a combination of molecular approaches and cultivation to characterize the microbial communities’ diversity and interactions in hydrothermal systems to understand the life of extremophiles.

Dr. Labonté received her B.S. and M. Sc. from Laval University, and her Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia. She was a post-doctoral researcher at Bigelow Laboratory before heading to Texas A&M University at Galveston, where she currently is an Assistant Professor. Her research focuses on determining the role of viruses and their hosts in aquatic environments, from the surface to below the seafloor, through the characterization of their relationships. Dr. Labonté participated as a shipboard scientist on IODP Expedition 376 Brothers Arc Flux and worked on cores from Expeditions 337 Juan de Fuca Ridge-Flank Hydrogeology and 357 Atlantis Massif Serpentinization and Life.

April 15 | Weather on Other Worlds: Studying the Atmospheres of Exoplanets

Date: April 15 , 2021

Time: 6:30pm

Speaker: Munazza Alam, PhD Candidate, Harvard University, Department of Astronomy, Nat Geo Young Explorer, and NSF Graduate Research Fellow.

Speaking on the search for other Earth-like planets!

May 20 | Bigger, Stranger, and (Maybe) Scarier than T. rex: Meat-Eating Dinosaurs from the Southern Continents

Date: May 20, 2021

Time: 6:30pm

Speaker: Dr. Matthew C. Lamanna


Almost everyone knows about the T. rex, but did you know that even larger and weirder carnivorous dinosaurs lived in the Southern Hemisphere continents at the same time? Come learn all about this menacing menagerie of meat-eaters–several of which are featured in the Virginia Living Museum’s upcoming exhibit Jurassic Giants – from Dr. Matt Lamanna, the dinosaur paleontologist at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Dr. Lamanna and collaborators have spent the past 22 years exploring the southern continents for dinosaur fossils, discovering many new species along the way. In the process, they’ve added to our understanding of the terrifying predators that called these continents home.

Matt Lamanna is the Mary R. Dawson Associate Curator and Head of Vertebrate Paleontology and the principal dinosaur researcher at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. He received his B.Sc. from Hobart College in 1997 and his M.Sc. and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999 and 2004. Within the past two decades, he has directed or co-directed field expeditions to Antarctica, Argentina, Australia, China, Croatia, Egypt, and Greenland that have resulted in the discovery of multiple new species of dinosaurs and other Cretaceous-aged animals. Lamanna and colleagues’ most significant finds include the gigantic titanosaurian sauropods (long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs) Dreadnoughtus, Notocolossus, and Paralititan. He also led the study of the bizarre bird-like dinosaur Anzu, better known as the ‘Chicken from Hell,’ and co-discovered dozens of beautifully-preserved fossils of the 120 million-year-old bird Gansus in China.

Most recently, Lamanna and collaborators named Sarmientosaurus, a titanosaur that is represented by the best-preserved skull yet discovered for this diverse and abundant dinosaur group, and Mansourasaurus, a titanosaur that fills a ~30 million-year gap in the fossil record of dinosaurs on the African continent. Lamanna served as chief scientific advisor to Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s $36M dinosaur exhibition, Dinosaurs in Their Time, and has appeared on television programs for PBS (NOVA), the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, A&E, the Science Channel, and more.