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!

Collections Data Go Live!


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 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.


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.

workshop tour
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!


Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 8/8

Sternberg Museum of Natural History Education Director, David Levering, lead a spring break study abroad trip of seven Fort Hays State University undergraduate students to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The students documented their adventures and explorations during the trip, and these travelogues will be featured here through a series of eight posts (with a finally reflection from David). Enjoy!

Ecuador and Galapagos Islands Spring Break wrap-up

By: David Levering

Paddle-boarding around a bay at Isla San Cristobal
Running the FHSU Study Abroad trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands was an incredible highlight of my career as an educator. Having an emphasis on experiential outdoor science education, there are few if any better places I can think of than these magnificent islands to show students the processes of evolution in action. The role of these islands in the history of science only adds to their mystique as an educational destination of choice for anyone interested in biology, evolution, or the development of human thought. Evolution is, for good reason, considered one of the greatest single ideas in human history. To visit and explore the Galapagos, a place so closely tied with this great idea, was a privilege for myself and my students.
Sparkling Violet Ear Hummingbird, one of 13
hummingbird species we saw in Ecuador

Group shot at Tortuga Bay on Isla Santa Cruz
I must take a moment to acknowledge the exceptional group of FHSU undergraduates that joined this adventure. Having a good group of students makes an enormous difference in the success of a trip such as this one. I count myself fortunate to have had an excellent group of bright, hardy, enthusiastic participants. If you are reading this, and have not yet perused the previous blog posts by the students, I encourage you to do so. They each did an excellent job communicating their experiences, and each post is well worth the read.
Nazca Boobies at Kicker Rocker, a fantastic deep-water
snorkeling spot we visited

Stick insect from the cloud forest we biked
through in Ecuador
I am excited to be working on a student trip for spring break of 2017, this time to the Amazon Rainforest. This jungle continues our theme of locations relevant to the history of science. In the Amazon, Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin who nearly proposed the theory of evolution first, spent many years collecting and studying wildlife specimens. His rigor as a field worker remain remarkable and inspiring, and is one of many excellent reasons our next trip will take us into this great wilderness. Most of the trip details are still being worked out, but we are well on our way. I expect we will formally announce the trip this coming August.

Thanks for reading, and go Tigers!

Oh, if you haven’t yet seen our highlights video from the trip, go watch it right now because it’s awesome!

Watch a video with highlights from the Ecuador/Galapagos adventure!

Ecuador Adventure Guest Blog Series 7/8

Sternberg Museum of Natural History Education Director, David Levering, lead a spring break study abroad trip of seven Fort Hays State University undergraduate students to mainland Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.  The students documented their adventures and explorations during the trip, and these travelogues will be featured here through a series of eight posts (with a finally reflection from David). Enjoy!

Day 7: The Last Day of a once in a lifetime trip
Location: Isla San Cristobal, Galapagos Islands
By: Julie Clement

Garden at our hostel on Isla San Cristobal
Today was our last day on the islands, and it started with a bittersweet morning. Some of you will ask what there could be sweet about leaving a tropical island. Well the answer is quite simple: we students hail from the middle of the United States, which means we don’t have stomach churning boat rides, nor are we used to being so close to the sun. Instead we are accustomed to miles of land instead of ocean, very different seasons, and weather that changes on a whim. By this point all of us were thoroughly sunburned and tired (despite liberal use of sunscreen), and generally ready to head home. As we left the hostel and headed for the café down the street, we had some choices to make. Our flight back to the mainland was scheduled for 1:20pm and we had the morning free. Some of us chose to bike ride around the town; others to headed to a museum down the way, while others of us didn’t make it to that. My group was the one that didn’t make it.
Isla San Cristobal – a place of beautiful water,
lovely friendly people, gorgeous scenery,
and more sealions than you can count

Sealions sleeping on the stairs
Galakiwi office and the cafe next door
The one thing that I wanted to do this last day was to take more pictures. I was the unofficial group photographer. But before we started our adventure, we had some last minute souvenir shopping to do, and I needed to mail postcards. You would think that a little square of paper would be fairly cheap to send, but you and I would both be wrong. I spent a few pretty pennies on postage for twelve postcards, but when they arrive it will all be worth it. After spending the last of my money on stamps, our group headed out to find this museum, I was of course taking pictures the whole way. As we got further away from the shops and people, sea lions littered the path. There was one right in front of us that we took pictures with, during this picture break we witnessed something we had only seen the aftermath of the whole trip, a sea lion climbing onto a bench. It is my most prized video. For those of you who haven’t seen a sea lion walk, they waddle and it’s adorable. As we continued on we had to go over a wooden walkway. On the other side there were some restaurants with a great view. When we came to the end of that street we thought we would find the museum, but it was nowhere to be seen. David our instructor had gone on his own and we later found out that we had a few more turns and a lot more walking if we were to find it. Since we failed to find the museum we headed to the Galakiwi office. This is the travel agency that we went through and there is a café right next door to their office. On the way back over the wall was an upside down boat, and on top the boat were three sea lions. One of them looked to be a baby and was snuggled up to his mom, and dreaming; it kept twitching. When we reached the café, the five us in the group settled down to relax and reflect. A few of us got ice cream, and we all looked at pictures and talked about the trip and what all we had done. Riding down a mountain on the second day may have only been five days ago, but it felt like a lifetime. The time we spent in Ecuador flew by and felt like forever all at the same. Our last morning on the islands came to a close all too soon.
A map of the Galapagos Islands at the museum on
Isla San Cristobal

A male lava lizard
A dragonfly on Isla San
Cristobal, 600 miles from mainland
There is something about leaving a place that you never truly believed that you would visit. The Galapagos Islands is one of those places that you think sure, I would love to go, but you never really think you are going to. It’s a destination unlike any other and not a trip many will ever take. Over the next twenty-four hours we made our way back to Kansas, and our once in a lifetime trip was done. The students in our group came from a wide variety of majors and backgrounds, but we all had one thing in common: We wanted to go to the Galapagos for the island biodiversity, not just the island part. We had plenty of time to kill in the airports and so we did a little math. By the time we were to get back home, our transportation was thus: 3 cars, 9 buses, 7 planes, 1 train, 2 vans, 1 bike (each), 7 boats, 3 trucks, 3 flippers, and more walking than we could have possibly kept track of, and some of us had 1 more bike, and 1 paddleboard. That was a lot of transportation for an eight-day trip, and every single one of them was worth it.         
Map illustrating our travel stops

Watch a video with highlights from the Ecuador/Galapagos adventure!