The ruby slippers from "The Wizard of Oz" in the National Museum of American History (Photo: Jaclyn Nash)
Tony Cohn, host of the Smithsonian Sidedoor podcast, is back to ask Smithsonian experts the proverbial D.C. question, “What do you do?” As with previous sessions in this occasional series, he finds the answers to that question are uniquely Smithsonian. This time, Cohn goes behind the scenes for a look into some of the most sparkling of the Smithsonian’s treasures: the National Gems and Minerals Collection and Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers.
Jeffrey Post is a geologist and chair of the mineral science department at the Natural History Museum. As the curator of the National Gem and Mineral Collection, he and his colleagues are always seeking new gem and mineral acquisitions, and analyzing specimens to resolve scientific questions. In their research, they use powerful X-ray beams and other tools to study the crystal structures of gems and minerals, with special interest in diamonds (including the Hope Diamond), and fine-grained, environmentally significant minerals. Post has collected some fascinating stories over more than 30 years at the Smithsonian, and shares some of the most interesting.
Nearby on the Mall, there’s another department working with X-rays, but with a different goal in mind. Dawn Wallace is the object conservator at the American History Museum who is preserving the sparkle in the Ruby Slippers that took Judy Garland down the Yellow Brick Road. Wallace investigates how the iconic shoes were made in order to ensure they will glitter for future generations of film lovers. This means analyzing the more than 12 different materials that make up the footwear and how those compounds age, so a controlled and sustainable environment can be created for preservation and display of the most famous shoes in the world.