The Smithsonian Museum Support Center (SMCS) in Silver Hill, Maryland, just outside of the Washington, DC is one of the locations featured in Dan Brown's book and upcoming movie The Lost Symbol. In the book Pod Five of the SMCS is home to the super-secret laboratory where Katherine Solomon studies noetics, but in real life it is home to the National Museum of Natural History's scientific specimen collection. Pod Five is as wide as a football field and three stories tall and all the rooms are stacked from floor to ceiling with scientific specimens collected from across the globe.
I am working on collaborative project between the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, Mission Blue and Google Earth and today went back to the to talk with some of the curators about getting photos and data and to look at some of the scientific specimens from the Gulf of Mexico, including sponges, coral, tube worms, crabs, lobsters and a giant squid.
The collection is spectacular. Some of the specimens were collected by Charles Darwin. The lobster in this jar was collected in 1932 and was as thick around as my thigh (and I'm not exactly a skinny guy). There is some really cool stuff.
This is the giant squid that NOAA caught in the Gulf of Mexico alive last year. It is only the second giant squid ever found in the Gulf. This isn't, however, the giant squid that is featured in The Lost Symbol.
This is the giant squid that was featured in the book. My rough estimate is that he's at least four times larger than the first giant squid pictured above. Pretty cool, huh?
We also looked at a lot of the smaller stuff. Here is a short video of us in the crab room up on the second floor:
The reason we are focusing on the Gulf of Mexico is because this 150 year old collection is going to be very important in assessing the damage caused by the 2010 BP Oil Spill. Similar to the little anecdote of the crabs Bill Moser describes in the video, the scientific specimens in the Smithsonian collection, collections that were made before the spill, can be compared to collections made after the spill. I'm not a taxonomist or an expert in invertebrate zoology, but scientists who specialize in those fields will be able to compare population size, sizes of individuals, whether or not species are appearing in places where they were historically located and so forth. This type of data will help assess the extent to the damage. Again, pretty cool, huh?