ShareThis Page

Private donors supply scientists with crucial tools for research

| Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009

Fifty years ago, Dr. Richard Moriarty was the teenage son of a single mom living in working-class Lawrenceville, passing his weekends with scientists at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Today he is easing into retirement from a career as a pediatrician. And he still spends his free time with the Oakland museum's scientists. Except now he's able to give something back.

"I knew I wanted to be a doctor," said Moriarty, of Washington's Landing. "But I think I succeeded not only because I had a mom who was ages ahead of her time and said, 'If you want to do it, you can, but you have to work hard' ... but because I had people at the museum saying, 'You know, kid, you've got a little spark but you need to keep pushing.'

"So now it's my turn to pay that back, because the folks at the museum were very influential at a time when I needed that kind of thing."

Moriarty is president of Carnegie Discoverers, a group formed two years ago to give museum members exclusive opportunities for behind-the-scenes tours with museum scientists.

The tours gave Moriarty and other members an appreciation for what the scientists do -- and what they could do if they had the money. They asked the scientists for a "wish list" of equipment or supplies that cost less than $2,500 but aren't in their master budget.

"These scientists are used to asking for grants for zillions of dollars and, unfortunately, people who give out zillions of dollars aren't interested in giving you $1.95 because it's just as much work as giving out zillions of dollars," said Moriarty. "So this was a new concept to them."

The idea caught on quickly, said Barbara MacQuown, director of the Carnegie Patrons Circle and Giving Societies.

"But I don't think anybody ever dreamed that it would be so successful," she said.

The Discoverers collected six requests, ranging from a $700 computer program to create a public Web site about crustaceans to $2,500 in deer-proof fencing to protect an endangered plant.

Moriarty took the wish list -- which totaled $10,835 -- to the members and asked if they'd give money toward any of the requests.

"Somebody could say, 'I really like this idea and I've got $700, so I'll pay for all of it,'" he said. "But it would also work if members said, 'Well, I can't afford the whole thing, but here's $200.'"

Moriarty worried he wouldn't be able to collect the entire amount. Then Lauren and Adam Sufrin of Fox Chapel offered to cover $10,000 worth of wish-list items.

"All the requests had merit and it was hard, for me at least, to choose one over the other," said Adam Sufrin. "None of them were frivolous, and they were all very reasonable, and in the letters they sent to Dr. Moriarty you could see how the granting of these items would improve their work."

Moriarty had no problem collecting the remaining $835 from the 150 Discoverers.

Timothy Pearce, assistant curator and head of the section of mollusks, spent a few quiet hours Friday sorting tiny punctum minutissimum -- Latin for "very small dot" -- snails out of dried leaves, using a stereomicroscope bought with a $1,745 grant from the Discoverers.

"We really needed this," said Pearce, explaining the section's other microscope is on loan from the University of Pittsburgh and could be reclaimed at any time.

David Watters, curator and head of the anthropology section, is eagerly awaiting a scanner. It will enable delicate glass plate negatives of historic museum digs to be transferred to a computer database. When the Discoverers ask for future wish lists -- something Moriarty plans to do -- Watters said his department will throw its name in the hat again.

"We have all these rolls of motion-picture film from expeditions in the past," he said. "If we could convert them onto DVD, that would allow us to take a closer look at this film and learn about the methods and processes used in past exhibitions. ... These are modest investments, but there's a great deal of return."

Additional Information:

Discover something

Carnegie Discoverers is a fundraising group with $125 in annual membership dues, which include four yearly behind-the-scenes events with Carnegie Museum of Natural History scientists. For information, call 412-622-3131.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.