Collections Progress Report: September 2018

In 2016, the Sternberg Museum’s Paleontology Department was awarded two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants to support collection improvement projects. For the past two years the collection staff has been working hard on grant initiatives, so we wanted to update you on our Year 2 progress!

This year we added 89 new specimens to the collection, bringing the collection’s total to 21,634 fossil records.

Christina Photographing

Imaging specimens is a priority of both grants, and over the course of Year 2 the collection staff has captured 7675 photographs of fossils.  This includes the entire invertebrate fossil collection, as well as a couple hundred vertebrate fossils. Images can be viewed on the new (grant-funded) online database that was just launched this summer.  More photos are being added regularly.
Additionally, two vertebrate fossils have been 3D scanned with more planned for the next year.

Data-sharing is a big NSF initiative, and we are part of multiple collaborations to make the Sternberg Museum’s fossil data accessible to everyone. Data and images are not only shared on our new database, but images from the Western Interior Seaways fossil collection are also available on the Cretaceous Atlas of Ancient Life. During a summer workshop, we hosted Kansas middle and high school teachers to develop teaching activities using museum data and fossil pictures. This will take the Sternberg museum’s fossil collection into science classrooms around the state (and beyond).
KAtlasThrough these grants, five graduate and 12 undergraduate Fort Hays State University students have been funded to work in the paleontology collection. In the course of their work, they have been exposed to new scientific research, new software and technologies, and a different view of natural history. They have also gained valuable experiences with teamwork, independent work, data management, and organization.

With one more year left on each grant, we are looking forward to more imaging (2D and 3D), data sharing, collaborations, and professional development opportunities. Please follow the FHSU paleo program on Twitter @FHSU_Paleo for collection updates!

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Collections Data Go Live!

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The collections of items held by a museum form the backbone of a museum, providing the basis for exhibits, education, and research.  Because we strive to present clear educational material in our exhibits, there isn’t enough room to incorporate all of our objects into public displays.  Additionally, many of the items are not complete, well preserved, or stable enough for display. However, they still have education and research importance. So the Paleontology Department has been working hard to transcribe information into a digital format, photograph specimens, and import all of the fossil data into a new publicly accessible database on the Sternberg Museum website. We are excited to announce that the database is now live!  Check out https://sternbergca.fhsu.edu/ for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Sternberg Museum’s paleontology collections. And don’t forget to check back – we will be adding more photographs and 3D scans of fossils over the next few years as we make our way through the entire collection.

The digitization and archiving of our collection in a new relational database is part of a National Science Foundation “Collections in Support of Biological Collections” grant to the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.

#FHSMteach2018

During the last week of June, the Sternberg Museum hosted Kansas middle school and high school science teachers for a STEM teacher workshop. This endeavor was part of one of the National Science Foundation grants to the Sternberg Museum to improve the quality of and access to the Museum’s paleontology collection data. The theme of the workshop was “Museum Data in the Classroom”.  The paleontology department has been working hard for the past two years transcribing and improving fossil data, taking pictures of fossils, and putting these data into a database. This workshop gave us an opportunity to show science teachers how these data can be used in their classrooms.

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STEM teachers explored the paleontology collection to gain a better understanding of the fossil specimens and data stered at the Museum.

Ten teachers from around the state worked together to develop classroom activities that incorporate data, images, and 3d scans of Sternberg Museum fossils. After trial runs in classrooms, followed by revisions, these activities will be available to other educators via the Sternberg Museum website and other K-12 educational websites. Other highlights of the week included exhibit tours as an introduction to Kansas paleontology, behind-the-scenes collection tours, and a visit by the FHSU MakerVan (a mobile MakerSpace that can be fitted with 3D printers or other educational support materials that can drive to schools around the region). Workshop participants also enjoyed exploring trails, breweries, and restaurants in Hays!

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Student Spotlight

Fort Hays State University undergraduate students play a big role in ongoing paleontology collection projects at the Museum. Because of the two National Science Foundation grants awarded to the paleontology department, there are four undergraduate students funded to help with digitizing and archiving fossil specimens and specimen data. As the school year comes to a close, we would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge these students and thank them for their dedication.

Jehoiada “J.D.” Schmidt is a 4th year Biology/Wildlife Biology major who is also pursuing a Justice Studies minor. Although he is more interested in a career working with live animals, he says “working in the paleontology collection has exposed me to an area of biology that I had not really considered very much (dealing with dead things), and has shown me how amazing and diverse the species of this world truly are!”

Kelsey Mills is currently a junior Geosciences major interested in a career in paleontology. Museum work is a big part of the world paleontology, and Kelsey’s experiences have led her to “an understanding of how museum collections are run, and how to fully operate a museums data base. It has also allowed me to put what I have learned in the classroom to good use.” After FHSU, Kelsey hopes to study hadrosaur dinosaurs paleobiology in graduate school.
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Hannah Horinek is a sophomore Geosciences student who plans to pursue a graduate degree studying paleontology. For Hannah, “working in the collections is like a dream come true! I love getting to come in every day and help advance the Sternberg toward our goal of digitizing the Cretaceous specimens; it really fills me with a sense of purpose.” Even though she spends her days working with Cretaceous fish, she is interested in researching Devonian fish when she gets to graduate school.

Amelia Growe is a senior Biology major interested in entomology (insects). Though her academic interests are outside of paleontology, she has embraced museum work. “The Sternberg has given me valuable work experience and helped me develop professionally. Contributing to the iDigBio digitization effort is something I take pride in.” After graduating, she will pursue her Master’s degree in Biology at FHSU.  Her research will focus on mosquitos.
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Fossil Revival

Specimen collections form the backbone of exhibits, education, and research at a natural history museum. The most complete and well-preserved specimens are usually the ones highlighted in exhibits, while fragmented and incomplete specimens are held in collection rooms behind the scenes.  The latter specimens may not be pretty or obvious as to which animal or plant they represent, but they are still important to preserve.  A biologist wouldn’t study just one meadow lark to understand everything about the entire species, and a paleontologist wouldn’t want to study just one Pteranodon fossil to try to understand everything about pterosaurs. So, scientists collect many specimens – including partial and fragmented specimens – hoping to form as accurate a picture as possible about these animals and how they lived. Additionally, we use these specimens to train students of all ages in the process of science, we show them off during tours, and we share relevant information and images online for public access.
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Of course, the easiest way for the public to learn about our specimen collections is through interpretive exhibits. Visitors not only see what ancient and modern plants, animals, and ecosystems look like, but can learn about the research done on those organisms. Exhibits are a great way for scientists to share their research.  Pictured here is a Niobrarasaurus dinosaur skeleton being laid out for a new exhibit being constructed at the Sternberg Museum. By designing this exhibit, we have the opportunity to showcase specimens that have never been on display or have not been on display recently.  And we are also able to share new research undertaken by FHSU students, faculty, and staff on some of our fantastic fossils.