Although the museum is a place to look at interesting objects, it is also a research center; the staff conducts field work, teaches university courses and publishes reports as well as administers a full range of public service and educational programs. Particular emphasis is placed on materials and exhibits that support research, teaching and education in general. The Alaska Quaternary Center and the Alaska Tephrochronology Center provide an interdisciplinary forum for research in the Quaternary sciences.
The museum has extensive research collections in aquatic organisms, archaeology, plants, ethnography, art, geology, tephrochronology and terrestrial vertebrates. The Alaska Native Heritage Film Center produces films that document Alaska culture for instruction and public education statewide.