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.
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.
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.
To celebrate National Fossil Day (October 11, 2017), the National Science Foundation featured four paleontologists on its social media accounts and on Science360 Radio. Dr. Laura Wilson was one of the featured scientists. Her and Sternberg Museum Adjunct Curator Mike Everhart’s recent Science Friday segment was featured on the air, and pictures of her research were shared across social media platforms. Laura currently has two National Science Foundation grants to support the paleontology collections at the Sternberg Museum.
NSF Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/US.NSF/posts/10155566238757900
NSF Twitter: https://twitter.com/NSF/status/919190210910531585
NSF tumblr: http://nationalsciencefoundation.tumblr.com/post/166433503138/fossils-hunting-in-the-kansas-sea
NSF Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nsfgov/
Two images include fieldwork with Quinter High School students in the Late Cretaceous Smoky Hill Chalk (Niobrara Formation) in Western Kansas. Laura and students from the Advanced Biology class (along with their teacher) excavated a mosasaur fossil in the spring of 2014. The third image is of the internal bone structure of a Hesperornis leg bone from the Arctic.
We can’t think of a better way to celebrate National Fossil Day than with Fort Hays State University paleontologists!
Though it may not be news to paleontologists and visitors to the Sternberg Museum, not everyone in the country knows that Kansas was covered by an ocean 85 million years. To address this, Sternberg paleontologists had the opportunity to take to a national stage and talk about the ocean that covered Kansas in the Cretaceous. On Friday September 15th, Chief Curator/Curator of Paleontology Dr. Laura Wilson and Adjunct Curator of Paleontology Mike Everhart appeared on public radio’s Science Friday. The Saturday before, they recorded their segment at Wichita’s Orpheum Theater in front of a sold-out studio audience. Fielding question from host Ira Flatow and the audience, Laura and Mike discussed the paleontological history of Kansas, the Western Interior Seaway that covered Kansas, and the extinct animals that filled the sea. They also got to touch on subjects close to their research. Mike has studied many of the vertebrate groups that lived in this Cretaceous Seaway and is known as a mosasaur expert. Laura studies the seabirds that lived in the Seaway and works on putting together the ancient ecosystem structure. If you missed it, the segment is available online.