Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Virtual Science Café: Swimming Sea Snails, Microfossil Shells, and Identifying Human Remains

Archived Webinar

This Zoom webinar with Stephanie L. Bush, Brian T. Huber, and Sara C. Zapico aired March 11, 2021. Watch a recording in the player above. 


In this video, three Smithsonian scientists bring you into their world of wonder. Learn about snails adrift in the ocean, how microscopic shells reveal the history of climate change, and cutting-edge methods in forensic science.

"The Life of a Swimming Sea Snail," by Stephanie L. Bush
Did you know there are snails that spend their entire lives swimming or drifting in the ocean? From the sea surface to 2,000 meters deep and beyond, a group of open ocean snails, named pteropods, are taking advantage of Earth’s largest habitat: the open ocean. Marine scientist Stephanie L. Bush shares what these animals are, why scientists study them, and the trials and tribulations of planktonic life for organisms that comprise critical links in the food web. 
"Microfossil Shells Tell Big Stories About Climate Change," by Brian T. Huber
Paleobiologist Brian Huber has always been curious about the past. While conducting field work in Antarctica as a grad student, he was surprised to find bones of extinct swimming reptiles and fossil driftwood. Could Antarctica have once looked dramatically different and been much warmer? To answer these questions, he studies the shells of tiny fossils called foraminifera, which preserve a chemical record of the ocean temperature when they formed — a record of climate change as far back as the age of dinosaurs. 

"A Quest for an Identity: From Human Remains to Missing Persons Investigations," by Sara C. Zapico
Sara C. Zapico is a forensic anthropologist and biochemist whose research focuses on improving age estimation to identify human remains. It’s a crucial component for identification, but it’s extremely challenging in adult individuals. In her talk, she shares how, supported by the knowledge of the cellular basis of aging, it is possible to improve this estimate and close the gaps in identification cases. 

Moderators: Naimah Muhammad and Amanda Sciandra, public programs coordinators at the National Museum of Natural History.

Related Resources

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