Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Virtual Science Café: Asteroids, Neanderthals, and Fossil Atmospheres

Archived Webinar

The Zoom webinar with Erica Jawin, Rich Barclay, and Molly Kamph aired September 10, 2020, as part of the "Virtual Science Café" series. Watch a recording in the player above.


From vast outer space to the dirt beneath us, Smithsonian experts from the National Museum of Natural History take you into their world by sharing stories about the subjects they have dedicated their lives to exploring. This video contains three brief talks:

"Life’s Origins, and Its Ending? Asteroid (101955) Bennu Can Teach Us About Both," by Erica Jawin, Research Geologist

Summary: Asteroids are leftover materials from planet formation, and are some of the most ancient bodies in our Solar System. Some asteroids are even believed to contain the building blocks of life. But asteroids can also pose a major threat to life on Earth — think about the dinosaurs! Hear about how NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is currently investigating asteroid (101955) Bennu, and learn what asteroids can teach us about the origin of the Earth and the life on it, as well as how to better prepare for a potential asteroid impact!


"Revealing the Lessons of Deep-Time Climate Change Events," by Rich Barclay, Paleobotanist

Summary: One way we can understand the effect of current and future climate change is to look millions of years back into the fossil record to see what happened to organisms during periods of time in Earth history when there were similar changes in the atmosphere and climate. To do this I look to plants — ginkgo trees, to be specific. I talk about the Fossil Atmospheres Project and how a unique and powerful combination of traditional field work and data collection by citizen scientists is helping us use ginkgo leaves to understand the relationship between carbon dioxide and climate.

"Digging Up Dirt on the Shanidar Cave Neanderthals," by Molly Kamph, Collections Technician

Summary: As a museum tech who works behind-the-scenes, I’ve encountered amazing stories within the museum’s Anthropology collections, just waiting to be uncovered. In my talk, I share a story from my work with the fascinating archives and artifact collections of archaeologists Ralph and Rose Solecki, and what their collections from Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq can tell us about our enigmatic evolutionary cousins, the Neanderthals.

Related Resources

Resource Type
Videos and Webcasts
Earth Science, Paleontology, Anthropology and Social Studies