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New museum director takes over

New York native John Friel recently joined The University of Alabama as director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History. CW | Layton Dudley

Amanda Sare

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Friel recently joined The University of Alabama as director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History. He came to Tuscaloosa after spending the last 17 years at Cornell University, where his position was half 
administrative and 
half research.

Friel said he considers himself a professional ichthyologist, or an individual who studies fish. His main focus is fresh water fish, and Alabama is known for having a high diversity of fresh water fish and turtles. Friel said he has studied fish since graduate school at The University of South Florida. He traveled to parts of the Amazon, Africa and many locations in South America to study fish.

“I’m interested in going places where I can conduct research and not know what we are going to find in the water,” he said.

Friel said he enjoys learning about a museum 
item’s background.

“I love museums, but I don’t just love the objects that are inside of them but also the stories that are behind them,” 
he said.

When he first came to visit The University of Alabama and the museum, he said he fell in love with its building, 
Smith Hall.

“There’s a sense of history inside the building, I love the old pine floors and the way they creak,”
 Friel said.

Students are looking forward to seeing new exhibits at the museum under Friel’s direction.

“I love having such a unique museum right here on our own campus,” said Miranda Hardy, a sophomore majoring in math. “With the hiring of John Friel I look forward to all the new interesting [exhibits] he will create.”

Cornell did not have public exhibits, and being able to interact with the general public was a new feeling Friel said he was looking for when he originally applied for the job at The University of Alabama.

“My plan is to show more current research that is being done on exhibit,” Friel said. “My goal is to keep the historical strengths but also update things, make our museum more engaging.”

Bill Bomar, executive director of the museum, said the addition of Friel adds to the museum’s history of working with 
local scientists.

“Some outstanding Alabama scientists in geology, biology and anthropology have led the museum over the years and I am excited to have a scholar with Dr. Friel’s credentials in biology to lead our natural history museum staff in reaching its potential in the 21st century as we strive to collect, research and educate the public about Alabama’s rich biodiversity over the ages,” 
he said.

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Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894
New museum director takes over