Paleontologists and science educators at Fort Hays State University’s Sternberg Museum of Natural History were recently in the news for their contributions to Kansas paleontology. Reporter David Condos of High Plains Public Radio and Kansas New Service wrote a wonderful piece (audio and text) on Kansas paleontology featuring stories and quotes from Curator of Paleontology Dr. Laura Wilson, Paleontology Collections Manager Dr. Aly Baumgartner, and Camps Director Mr. David Levering. Check it out!
UPDATE: Condos’s segment was picked up by NPR national and aired on Morning Edition!
“If we didn’t have these sediments,” Fort Hays State University paleontologist Laura Wilson said, “we would just be looking at the dinosaurs on land. And that’s only half the picture.”
In case you missed it, Dr. Laura Wilson was featured on the popular paleontology podcast Paleo Nerds in Spring 2021. Check out her interview (and the incredible splash page the Paleo Nerds team put together). Laura talks to Ray and Dave about the geology and ecology of the Western Interior Seaway – the ancient ocean that covered central North America 100-66 million years ago. Much of the information known about the animals and ecosystems in this Seaway comes from Wilson Paleo Lab research and the Sternberg Museum’s paleontology collections.
Paleo Nerds is hosted by paleoartist Ray Troll and ventriloquist David Strassman. Ray and David never lost their childhood enthusiasm for science and all things paleontology, and now share their enthusiasm through engaging interviews with paleontologists and science educators from around the world. Check out past podcasts for a spectacular line up!
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.
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).
Through 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!
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.