The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History has announced that Kirk Johnson will be its new director starting 29 October. Johnson is vice president of research and collections and chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. He studies Great Plains and Rocky Mountain fossil plants dating from 145 million to 34 million years ago and is an expert on the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary extinction event. He will replace Cristián Samper, who will be taking over the Wildlife Conservation Society, headquartered in New York City in August.
Johnson is an "excellent choice to continue a lot the initiatives that [Samper] has put in place over the last 9 years," says Smithsonian Natural History Museum ichthyologist Richard Vari, who was on the search committee for the new director. In a press release, Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough called Johnson "a perfect match," for the directorship of the Washington, D.C., museum.
The move will be a step up for Johnson, who as chief curator in the Denver museum oversaw at $3.5 million budget and a 70-person staff. In Washington, Johnson will be managing more than 460 employees and more than 126 million artifacts. The Washington, D.C., museum's annual federal budget is $68 million and it hosts an average of 7 million visitors a year. Johnson "brings the skill set that would allow him to scale up with reasonable speed," says Vari.