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National Museum of Natural History names Kirk Johnson as Director

Kirk Johnson, chief curator and vice president of research and collections at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, has been appointed the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History, effective Oct. 29.

As a vice president of the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, Johnson is part of a team that leads the museum and manages its $40 million annual budget. The museum, which receives 1.4 million visitors per year and has a staff of 400, launched a $170 million capital campaign in 2005.

Johnson will oversee more than 460 employees, an annual federal budget of $68 million (museum’s federal budget in FY 2012) and a collection of more than 126 million specimens and artifacts—the largest collection at the Smithsonian. The Natural History Museum hosts an average of 7 million visitors a year. Its scientists publish about 500 scientific research contributions a year.

As chief curator at the Denver museum, Johnson oversees a 70-person research and collections division (including curators, registrars, librarians, archivists, conservators, technicians, administrators and assistants) and manages its $3.5 million annual budget. He is responsible for the museum’s 24 collections, and he led the completion of the museum’s first comprehensive long-term collections and research plan. He has served as a curator of paleontology since he joined the museum in 1991.

From 2001 to 2006, Johnson was the chair of the museum’s department of Earth sciences. Between 1991 and 1995, he was one of two scientists who led the development of “Prehistoric Journey,” the museum’s permanent exhibition about the history of life on Earth. From 1989 to 1990 he was a postdoctoral research associate in the department of botany at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He was a marine geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in California from 1982 to 1983, and he has been a research associate at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle since 1991.

Johnson is on the steering committee for Earthtime, a community-based scientific initiative aimed at improving the resolution of geologic time, and he serves as the associate editor for Cretaceous Research. His professional memberships include the American Association of Museums, the Geological Society of America (fellow since 2002), the Botanical Society of America, the Paleontological Society and the International Organization of Palaeobotany. Johnson is the author of numerous scientific papers, and he has edited seven scientific volumes. He has written nine books, including his most recent, Digging Snowmastodon: Discovering an Ice Age World in the Colorado Rockies, which was published by the museum and the People’s Press in 2012.

Johnson has a bachelor’s degree in geology and fine arts from Amherst College, a master’s degree in geology and paleobotany from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in geology and paleobotany from Yale University.

Jonathan Coddington, associate director for research and collections, will serve as acting director of the museum until Johnson’s arrival in October.

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