Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pinhead Institute

Funny name, serious purpose.

Despite all the forces of regression and conservatism fighting progress at every turn, there are many efforts afoot to improve humanity. Any group that attempts to further science and science education deserves our support.

One such group is the Pinhead Institute, based in Telluride, Colorado.


Pinhead Institute is a Smithsonian Affiliate based in Telluride, Colorado that strives to promote science-education both locally & globally. An international network of the world’s leading scientists supports our many educational programs providing unparalleled opportunity to high-level scientific education in rural Colorado. Pinhead Institute educates and inspires children and adults in the greater Telluride region about the wonders of science and technology.

How we do this

We do this through engaging programs, direct interaction with scientists, and unique research centered internship experiences. The Pinhead Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, is a Smithsonian Affiliate, the first in Colorado. Our programs depend on generous donations from philanthropists who believe in our mission. Click here to join the Pinheads in promoting a science-smart tomorrow.


A historic Telluride/Smithsonian connection dates back to the early part of the last century. From the first time they met in 1905, Charles Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian from 1907 to 1927, and the famous Telluride entrepreneur L.L. Nunn were close friends. Over time, Walcott and his sons invested in Nunn’s businesses, and conversely, Nunn’s philanthropic foundation, the Telluride Association, funded a Smithsonian expedition to Siberia, a pet project of Walcott’s, to discover a frozen Woolly Mammoth.
In 1910, Nunn established the Telluride House (“Cornell Branch”) at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, as a scholarship residence for bright young men, many of whom had passed through Nunn’s various Institutes out West, including Nunn’s original Institute located in Telluride. Not coincidentally, Cornell opened its engineering school the same year.
In 1911, with the encouragement of Charles Walcott, then the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Nunn founded the Telluride Association, entrusting most of his fortune. The Telluride Association was founded to advance Nunn’s educational philosophies, which Walcott shared. Walcott’s eldest son, Sydney Walcott, became the first President of the Telluride Association. Walcott’s other two sons also become Constitutional Members of the Telluride Association at the same time.
It is this historic connection that launched the formation of the Pinhead Institute in 2001.  Started by Nana Naisbitt, Pinhead Institute was founded under the principle of providing our rural youth with the opportunity to gain exposure to some of the greatest minds in the field of scientific study.  Naisbitt instituted invaluable programs such as Pinhead’s “Scholar in the Schools” and the “Pinhead Internship Program,” two cornerstone programs to the organization.
Nana Naisbitt served as the Executive Director of Pinhead until 2006 when she took over as the Executive Director of Pinhead’s partner program, the Telluride Science Research Center.

Behind Our Name

Following his graduation from Oberlin College, L.L. Nunn moved to Telluride, Colorado in 1880 where he started a law practice and dealt in real estate. By 1890 he had become involved in gold mining, journalism, and banking within the small community. His bank, the First National Bank of Telluride, was the only bank in the county at the time.
In order to help his mining operations prosper, Nunn financed the world’s first commercial A/C power plant located just 5 miles from Telluride in Ames, Colorado. This plant, built by George Westinghouse, became part of the Nunn’s Telluride Power Company, which would later become part of Utah Power & Light. Nunn continued investing in the power industry and helped design the Ontario Power Plant in Niagara Falls, Ontario. To staff the power plants Nunn created a work-study program called the Telluride Institute. Upon completion of the course the graduates were sent on to gain further education through the issuance of scholarships. Many of these students went on to study at Cornell University, where they resided at Telluride House, managed by Telluride Association, which Nunn founded.
As story has it, these young men working at Nunn’s various power plants were kept track of by placing pins on a map in Nunn’s front hallway.  Nunn would warmheartedly refer to his young workers as “Pinheads.”  It is from this term that we get our name.
Today, Pinhead keeps its own map on the walls, tracking our own “pinheads” as they travel the world interning with top scientists and learning more about how science is the cornerstone to understanding & conserving our future.

The Smithsonian Institution

smithsonianaffiliatelogoThe mission of Smithsonian Affiliations is to diffuse the rich knowledge of the Smithsonian Institution in meaningful ways to a broad audience, in accordance with the highest aesthetic, intellectual and professional standards. Toward this end, Smithsonian Affiliations fosters and augments relationships with museums, cultural and educational organizations across the country. By facilitating the sharing of the Institution’s collections, exhibitions, scholarship and programming, Smithsonian Affiliations aspires to create experiences and opportunities to broaden perspectives on science, history, world cultures and the arts in the public we are committed to serve.

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