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September 7, 2009

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Smithsonian boss wants to share the knowledge

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 the United States archive of Depression-era paintings, a 360-degree view inside a Concorde supersonic jet and much more. 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," 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, Clough is intent on building up the Smithsonian's science, research and educational impact.

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

Clough wants to combine the Smithsonian's resources to become a major voice on the toughest issues of the day: climate change, education and immigration.

"We can help our nation and the world face the grand challenges that lie ahead," he said.

One of Clough's biggest challenges will be raising money to reduce the Smithsonian's heavy reliance on Congress for funding.

One thing he doesn't plan to change, though, is the free admission at the museums. The American people own those museums, he said.


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