Kirk Johnson (scientist)

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Kirk Richard Johnson
Scientific career
FieldsGeology, Paleobotany
InstitutionsDenver Museum of Nature and Science, Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Kirk Johnson (born 1960) is an American scientist, author, curator, and museum administrator, and is currently serving as Director of Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.[1] Dr. Johnson is the host of the PBS Nova series, "Making North America", which is a three-part series that describes the shaping of North America, which aired on November 4, 11 and 18, 2015.[2][3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

Johnson was born in 1960 and grew up in Seattle, Washington.[5][6] He attended Amherst College as an undergraduate, where he received a bachelor's degree in geology and fine arts. He then attended the University of Pennsylvania, earning a master's degree in geology and paleobotany.[7] He received his PhD in geology and paleobotany from Yale University in 1989. While in graduate school, in 1987, he discovered an extinct species of linden leaf, which was named Tilia johnsoni in his honor.[8] His postdoctoral work included field research in the northern Australian rainforests, while he served as a postdoctoral research associate in the department of botany at the University of Adelaide.[9]


From 1991 to 2012, Johnson worked at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, first as a lead scientist, then the chief curator and vice president of research and collections.[10] In 2010, he led a nine-month excavation of thousands of Ice Age animal bones, including mammoths and mastodons, in Snowmass Village, Colorado.[10] In 2012 he was selected to lead the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., one of the Smithsonian Institution’s most popular museums on the National Mall.[9]

Selected books[edit]

  • Digging Snowmastodon: Discovering an Ice Age World in the Colorado Rockies (2012)
  • Cruisin' the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000-Mile Paleo Road Trip (2007)
  • Prehistoric Journey: A History of Life on Earth (2006) ISBN 1555915531
  • Ancient Denvers: Scenes from the Past 300 Million Years of the Colorado Front Range (2005)


External links[edit]