- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wayne Clough pulls a thumb-sized computer flash drive from his pocket and marvels at how many of the Smithsonian Institution’s millions of objects can be captured on it.

The device holds sounds from endangered frogs, images from an archive of Depression-era paintings, a 360-degree view inside a Concorde supersonic jet and much more. The mini- archive reflects one way the former engineer, now head of the institution, aims to share the collection of the world’s largest museum complex online with more people than ever before.

“It is no longer acceptable for us to share only 1 percent of our 137 million specimens and artifacts in an age when the Internet has made it possible to share it all,” Mr. Clough told curators and scientists earlier this year.

Unlike his predecessor, who sought to maximize the institution’s potential as a visitor attraction and business enterprise, Mr. Clough is intent on building up the Smithsonian’s science, research and educational impact beyond its walls.

A year into his new job, the 68-year-old former president of the Georgia Institute of Technology is reshaping the sprawling complex of 19 museums, the National Zoo and numerous research centers spread from Massachusetts to Kenya.

It’s something of a back-to-the-basics approach for a place founded on science, with a mission to pursue the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

Mr. Clough wants to combine the Smithsonian’s resources to become a major voice on the toughest issues of the day. Among his key priorities: climate change, education and immigration.

“We can help our nation and the world face the grand challenges that lie ahead,” he told the Smithsonian staff.

They’re big goals. But he’s already begun transforming the somewhat stuffy “nation’s attic” (a term that makes Mr. Clough bristle) into a more innovative place.

“He is a scientist himself, and I think he really gets it,” said Eva Pell, who will become the undersecretary for science in January. “All the ingredients are there - it’s just a matter of bringing things together in a different way.”

Miss Pell, senior vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at Pennsylvania State University, said she was drawn by Mr. Clough’s vision for bringing scientists and even curators in arts and history together to collaborate on research. It’s an approach they think could spark discoveries.

To bolster the Smithsonian’s educational offerings, Mr. Clough recently secured a $1.3 million gift to hire an education director and create the institution’s first central office focused on K-12 learning. (Previously, 32 different units carried out their own educational programs.)

When the country celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday in February, Mr. Clough oversaw the first interactive online link to 5,000 K-12 students and teachers in 50 states and 75 countries with lessons focused on the 16th president. Six curators showed off Lincoln artifacts and took questions. Another online conference about climate change is planned for later this month.

Mr. Clough has also forged new alliances with colleges.

A broad research collaboration is in the works with scientists and scholars at the University of Maryland. And he signed a deal with George Mason University in Virginia to build residence halls and laboratories as part of a joint-degree program pairing students with researchers at the National Zoo’s 3,000-acre Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va.

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