Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Virtual Science Café: Cellphones, Whales, and Redefining 'Wild'

Archived Webinar

The Zoom webinar with Joshua Bell, Andrea Eller, and Nick Pyenson aired August 6, 2020, as part of the "Virtual Science Café" series. Watch a recording in the player above.


Need a dose of wonder? 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:

"Unseen Connections: A Natural History of the Cellphone," by Joshua Bell, cultural anthropologist and Curator of Globalization.

Summary: I bet you’re reading this on your cell. In only 47 years, cellphones have become the fastest spreading technology in human history, and this quick uptick has come with cultural impacts big and small. As an anthropologist interested in the relationship between the environment, people, and things, I’m looking at how mobile devices allow for new (and old) ways of reflecting on what it means to be human. In this talk, I share stories of 8 years of research on cellphone repair and use in the Washington, D.C., region and how it has led to a new Smithsonian exhibit opening in 2022.

"What Does It Mean To Be Wild?" by Andrea Eller, biological anthropologist and postdoc fellow.

Summary: I look at anthropology through the lens of nature. By asking what it means to be wild, I’m learning how animals survive in a world increasingly dominated by us — and what the future of our global biodiversity might be like. In my talk, I share the work of my EMPHASIS project and reveal how my studies of Smithsonian collections of primates from cities, zoos, and other human-impacted ecologies all over the world help us understand our future. 

"The Secret Life of Whales" by Nick Pyenson, research geologist and Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals.

Summary: We think of whales as icons of the sea, but the first whales were certainly not like the ones that you see today: They lived on land, had four legs, and were the size of a dog. How do we know this, and what does it tell us about how evolution works? Dive in for the surprising back story, and a glimpse of our shared future with these enigmatic giants.

Related Resources

Resource Type
Videos and Webcasts
Life Science, Anthropology and Social Studies