When Emily Graslie arrived in Chicago last year to start her newly created job at the Field Museum, her reputation preceded her. As the museum’s so-called chief curiosity correspondent, Graslie was hired to transplant The Brain Scoop, her DIY video series, to the Field—and brought with her a legion of fans who’d fallen in love with a young woman who had the nervy idea to narrate her necropsy of a wolf. “I did that naively,” says the 25-year-old. “When I came to the Field Museum, I talked to some people here, and they said, ‘That was pretty ballsy for you to do that.’ ”
What the Field is to the natural world, Graslie is to the museum itself: Her job is to dissect the venerable institution, opening up its insides to show how it functions. In her weekly video series—still called The Brain Scoop, named after an actual tool used by embalmers—Graslie prowls around the research wings, interviewing scientists, cajoling them into removing specimens from jars of formaldehyde and, on occasion, opening up an animal or two. In March, the show peeked in on the dissection of a rare two-faced calf.
Graslie grew up in Rapid City, South Dakota, and says that until her final semester at the University of Montana, her nearest exposure to natural history museums was gazing upon the wall of animal heads at the local Cabela’s, a nationwide outdoors chain. On a whim, the fine arts major went to the university’s zoological museum to sketch and discovered a different world. Practically overnight, Graslie became the understaffed museum’s most dedicated volunteer—working there and also blogging about it.
Her outreach effort piqued the interest of a Missoula-based YouTube star, who eventually helped Graslie produce the original Brain Scoop. Another ardent fan flew Graslie out to Chicago for a guest appearance at an event for Field Museum members. “She immediately captivated us,” says Meg Keslosky, the museum’s director of communications and the person who encouraged Graslie to bring her series to the Field. “What we saw in Emily was an infectious enthusiasm.”
What drives that enthusiasm? You, the visitor. Graslie says, “I’m really interested in the reactions people have. Four-and five-year-old children love the dissection videos.” —Whet Moser