Taking a last look at 2015 as the Smithsonian rings in its 170th new year

New Secretary, new panda cub, new museum (well, new renovation, anyway)–the Smithsonian rang in the new throughout 2015. Here are the highlights.



We rang in the new year with a new Acting Secretary and new possibilities for international expansion.

A new year brings new opportunities
Al Horvath served as Acting Secretary of the Smithsonian until June 30. Dr. David J. Skorton assumes leadership as the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian on July 1, 2015.

London calling: Will the Smithsonian answer?
An ambitious plan to turn the former Olympic Park in east London into a cultural and educational hub may feature Smithsonian programs and exhibits.

London Calling


February saw the Torch on the front lines fighting an invasion of the body snatchers and other nasties.

Outbreak! On the front lines of a measles epidemic
With the resurgence of measles infections on the rise across the country, Dr. Alexandra M. Lord, chair of the History of Medicine and Science Division at the National Museum of American History, reminds us of the historic threat from this disease.

It’s science: Zombies already walk among us
In honor of the season premiere of “The Walking Dead” in February, we’d like to remind you that zombies are real and they walk among us…on six legs.

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In March we were inspired by the creativity ingenuity of our colleagues and reflected on the legacy of Leonard Nimoy, who himself inspired a generation of uber-nerds.

Artists at Work
The exhibition “Artists at Work’ features the work of our talented Smithsonian colleagues. The subjects of these works and the materials from which they are made are as diverse as the collections of the Institution itself.  We’ve created a slideshow of the exhibition for those of you who can’t visit in person.

Dif-tor heh smusma, Spohkh*
A Smithsonian curator reflects on Leonard Nimoy’s passing and why “Star Trek” fans loved him. *Live long and prosper, Spock. Yes, we speak Vulcan. What of it?

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With spring in the air, the Zoo began its annual panda pregnancy watch. We also celebrated Jazz Appreciation Month with some ‘60s cool, because the Torch is hep, daddio.

Plausible panda pop provides potent popsicle; pregnancy possible?
Frozen sperm from a genetically valuable giant panda was transported from China to the National Zoo in hopes that artificial insemination will result in a new panda cub this year. Of course, the entire journey was documented on social media because that’s what we do now.

Cropped Mei Xiang

Discovering the cool at the intersection of art and music
Artist Keith Henry Brown shares his thoughts on how jazz has influenced his art as the creator of two of the promotional posters for Jazz Appreciation Month.

Booze, smokes and a snappy fedora join other relics of American history
Cast members of the iconic television show “Mad Men” dropped off some vintage swag at the American History Museum.



We did a little spring housekeeping in May. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Acting Secretary Al Horvath brought staff together to chat about the Folklife Festival, the renovation of the Freer and Sackler Galleries and the Inka Road exhibition at the American Indian Museum.

May All-Staff Meeting
View the webcast of the All-Staff Meeting with Acting Secretary Al Horvath, and check out the highlights of events and exhibitions around the Smithsonian.

Working to save the Bay (and the rest of the planet) for 50 years
The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center set up its first lab in an old dairy barn on the banks of the Rhode River.  Five decades later, SERC is at the forefront of research on the effects of climate change, pollution and invasive species on our coasts and waterways.

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In June we highlighted how our colleagues’ work takes the Smithsonian into our neighborhoods, around the globe and into the furthest reaches of the galaxy.

An honor to be chosen, an honor to serve
The first greeting visitors receive when they visit a Smithsonian museum comes from an officer with our Office of Protection Services. But some of our finest officers also reach out into the community to represent the Smithsonian. Take a look behind the scenes with the OPS Honor Guard.

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200-year-old shipwreck gives up its grim secrets about the slave trade
Long lost to history, a slave ship wrecked off the coast of Africa is giving up its secrets and hinting at the tragic stories of the enslaved people she carried.

Alien Ocean
Could a liquid water ocean beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa have the ingredients to support life? Smithsonian scientists are among those helping NASA find out.

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Appropriately for the month during which we celebrate American independence, in July the Torch highlighted America’s earliest colonists and the history of American enterprise.

America’s earliest colonists may have taken their secrets to the grave, but that doesn’t mean they’ll remain there
Old-fashioned field work and new-fangled technology reveal the identities of four prominent citizens of the first English colony in America and raise some intriguing questions about how they lived and why they died.

American Enterprise: The story of labor and power, success and failure, and the rise of the global economy
A new exhibition at the American History Museum chronicles the story of how the United States grew from a small, dependent, agricultural nation to one of the world’s most vibrant economies. It does not, however, explain Donald Trump.

American Enterprise Exhibit | Friends and Family Day | June 20, 2015


We stayed cool in August by celebrating the Smithsonian’s 169th birthday with some fun stories from the Castle.

Amy and the owls: Super cool!
At the Smithsonian, you’re always prepared for “other duties as assigned.” But some duties you can never be fully prepared for.

Deconstructing a Mystery
A rare photo proves to be the earliest ever taken of the Smithsonian Castle. It goes on display today, the 169th anniversary of our founding.

Langenheim Lantern Slide of Smithsonian Institution Building


September’s highlight was the continuing story of twin panda cubs born in late August. Although sadly, one of the cubs did not survive, Bei Bei (“Treasure”) will make his public debut at the National Zoo January 16.

Unless you spent August marooned on a desert island talking to a volleyball (in which case, welcome back─nice tan), you’re probably aware that we’ve experienced a bit of excitement—one might even say, pandamonium—at the National Zoo recently.

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In October, we celebrated the installation of David J. Skorton as 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and paid tribute to the breathtaking beauty of both nature and artifice.

Dr. David Skorton is installed as 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian
Magic was in the air—along with the sounds of electrifying jazz played by master musicians—as David J. Skorton was installed as the 13th Secretary of the Smithsonian in a ceremony Monday, Oct. 19, at the historic Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall.

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The best of “Nature’s Best”
A new exhibition at the Natural History Museum offers respite for the soul and inspiration for the spirit.

Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty
Irving Penn (1917 – 2009), known for his iconic fashion, portrait and still life images, ranks as one of the foremost photographers of the 20th century. Irving Penn: Beyond Beauty is the first museum retrospective of Penn’s photographs in more than 20 years.



Two of our museums—the newest and one of the oldest—offered spectacular visions in November.

“Commemorate and Celebrate Freedom”
For three nights only, the National Mall was alight with a beacon reminding us of the journey to freedom.

The Renwick Gallery reopens with a renewed sense of “WONDER”
The venerable Renwick Gallery has reopened in its third iteration in three centuries. In celebration of its enduring impact on American art and craft, nine artists have created nine awe-inspiring works that draw on the unchanging power of the natural world for their inspiration.

Renwick Wonder


The year came to an end on a sad note with the loss of one of our own, Evelyn Lieberman, senior advisor and assistant to the Secretary for external relations and longtime director of the Office of Communications and External Affairs.

In Memoriam: Evelyn S. Lieberman
Tiny, tough as nails, always impeccably coiffed and famous for the resounding thunder of her F-bombs, Evelyn Lieberman was an indomitable force of nature. Her management style, she said, with a glint in her eye that might or might not have been humor, relied on “fear and benign neglect” and any excuse or complaint was likely to be met with a tart “Don’t bother me with your personal problems.” A consummate professional, she demanded no less of her staff than she did of herself and was generous with her praise, her loyalty and her wisdom. Evelyn Lieberman was fearless. She spoke truth to power and held the powerful to the truth. She will be sorely missed.

Evelyn S. Lieberman (Photo by Tamara Hoffer)

Evelyn S. Lieberman (Photo by Tamara Hoffer)

Posted: 31 December 2015
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.