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Osborn, Karen

Research Zoologist and Curator of Annelids and Peracarids


Evolutionary biology of deep, pelagic invertebrates, primarily Polychaeta and Peracarida

Geographic Focus

Public Biography

  • Dr. Karen Osborn is an invertebrate zoologist at the National Museum of Natural History specializing in pelagic animals, those that live up off the sea floor in the open ocean. She grew up loving animals and the outdoors but only chose marine biology after spending a year in Pohnpei, Micronesia. She was SCUBA diving every chance she got on the lush coral reefs that surround the tropical Pacific island. Seeing the huge variety of shapes and sizes of animals that make up the reef communities made her wonder how and why that much diversity of shape came about. How do all those different animals accomplish basically the same thing - survival and reproduction - with such different bodies and ways of living?  Karen returned to her undergraduate university in the midwest, Andrews University, and signed up for summer courses at a marine station in Washington state.

    Karen then completed a Masters degree at Western Washington University, an internship at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, her doctorate at University of California, Berkeley, and a postdoc at Scripps Institution of Oceanography before coming to the Smithsonian in 2011. She studies evolution of pelagic invertebrates, asking questions such as: What is this amazing and bizarre creature? How did it evolve? Where does it live? How does it use those strange, spoon-shaped bristles? Who are its closest relatives and do they live and function in a similar way? Karen's favorite part of her work is exploring the deep, open-ocean with a remotely operated vehicle or a manned submersible and observing the fantastic animals in their natural habitat.