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The history and evolution of STRI,
through its science

January 22, 2020

STRI Library

In six months, two library interns classified more than 14,000 STRI scientific articles by location.

When David Serracchiani and Luz Cedeño began their internship at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) library in mid-2019, they were told that they would have to sort about 30 articles per hour.

Their mission was to quantify how much research had been carried out at each of the Institute's research stations. At 30 papers per hour, they would have to classify the more than 14,000 articles that STRI scientists have published since the institute has been present on the isthmus in a mere six months.

David, who studies graphic design, and Luz, who studies business administration, were a little nervous. How would they extract the information they needed so quickly? They imagined reading thousands of scientific papers, perhaps without even understanding them completely.

Now, having successfully finished the project, they are experts in Excel and in project management, since classifying thousands of articles required a high level of organization. And they are experts when it comes to addressing setbacks, since the articles mentioned in the bibliography were not always easy to locate.

In the process, they found out more than they expected about STRI’s evolution: Its beginnings in Panama were mainly years of species discovery. Panama’s flora and fauna were still unknown. Today, studies address more complex issues.

“As of the 2000s, studies are already more microscopic or deep,” Serracchiani explains.

In the end, this work will facilitate the search for information related to Smithsonian science available to the public on the Institute's bibliography website, which is compiled by Smithsonian Research Online, a service offered by the Smithsonian Libraries. The platform currently allows searching by title, year of publication and author. As a result of this project, the search options will be expanded to include STRI facilities.

A breakdown of the studies that have been carried out at the Smithsonian Institute in Panama since 1960, shows how important Barro Colorado Island has been for research.

For now, it is clear that Barro Colorado Island Research Station has been the most popular and prolific facility in terms of scientific production. Since the Institute was established in Panama, more than 2,500 studies have been published based on research on this island of 1,560 hectares resulting from the creation of Gatun Lake.

But perhaps the comparison is unfair. Barro Colorado was the first STRI station and, for many years, most of the Institute's scientists focused exclusively on studying the tropical nature of the island. It had an early start compared to the stations that emerged later. However, it is not a competition. Each research station of the Institute, in different parts of the country, has unique virtues and qualities. And these data demonstrate the value of all these sites for the advancement of science in Panama and the world.

“With this project we were able to observe the history and evolution of the institute, but we also understood how the biological history of Panama evolved thanks to the Smithsonian,” says Cedeño.

And to exemplify his point, a fact: in 1962, STRI published 13 scientific articles. In 2019, 523. That is, the publication rate climbed from approximately one paper per month, to more than one per day, advancing our understanding of the tropical world at an ever-speedier pace.

For further questions about the STRI Bibliography, you can contact the library at


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