Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Week 4

Locating Publications in the Research Library

Many of the projects we have worked on are associated with at least one published paper (or in some cases Columbia University masters thesis papers). It is our to job to locate additional publications that use our specimens and make note of them in the database.
Most times we can find  publications online using the electronic resources that are available to us, but sometimes the publications are only available in print at the research library. Luckily for us the library is just downstairs from our lab.

Large collaborative effort ahead

This week we wrapped up some of our smaller projects and are moving on to one larger task.

Courtney worked on the project on her own last summer and cataloged over 500 specimens. At the end of the summer it was assumed that the project was completed, but we have located 8(!) more original storage boxes that are directly related to a publication by A.S. Warthin (1930). Each of the original boxes can hold up to 100 vertical slides.
original condition of the Warthin collection
In addition to the sheer number of slides, each slide holds an unknown number of specimens. Many of the slides are missing their specimens because they were housed without cover-slips. We need to properly store the slides to prevent further deterioration of the specimens and to assign catalog numbers so that they can be added to the fossil invertebrates database. Some of the specimens are types and will need to be photographed. We have our work cut out for us next week but we are up to the challenge.

Ostracods of the Week

We proudly present to you the ostracods of the week.
Cavellina fittsi paratypes from a 1929 Columbia Masters' Thesis
Rebecca takes full credit for the superior aesthetics of this image, which required extensive rearranging in Photoshop. You can see a wide variety in the size of specimens here. Ostracods are arthropods (like lobsters and ants), so they grow in a fixed number of growth stages, or instars. This can make it difficult to classify ostracods. 

Collections tour

 This week we had a tour of the ornithology department's collection.

 Nicollette even got to hold a bald eagle.

We have reached the halfway point of this project. It seems as though we started just a few days ago and we still have much to learn about updating collections.

Until next time,
The IP-microfossils tema.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Interlude: Why are microfossils important? What are these things?

Most people think of huge dinosaurs and mammoths when they think of paleontology, not tiny one-celled organisms with a calcite "test" (like a shell), or miniature crustaceans that can only be seen under a microscope. While these microscopic fossils may seem less exciting than a dinosaur or an ancient fish, they actually are in many ways more important to the paleontologist's quest to chronicle the history of life on earth. These tiny animals incorporate carbon in their tests and inadvertently preserve information about a host of environmental conditions while they are alive. When interpreted by paleogeochemists, the tests of foraminifers can be used to extract information about temperature, salinity, and facies changes. Their tests, while beautiful, are also quite useful in informing us of change on geological time scales. Similarly, the shells of ostracods are used in paleoclimate studies.

In addition to being useful for paleoclimate reconstruction, microfossils have been useful in industrial settings as indicator fossils. Because many species are short lived and environment specific, paleontologists use them to determine the geological age and environment in which the foram was deposited. Oil companies often employ paleontologists to determine when an oil bearing rock layer has been reached. Because of this industrial use for forams, many of the collections we are working with were collected as part of oil drilling operations. More about forams from UCMP

Extant analogs

Some of the organisms we encounter in the invertebrate paleontology lab have extant analogs that are studied by ecologists. Knowledge of habitats and behavior of certain genera in modern settings can help us to interpret the fossil record. Here are some videos that show some of the animals that are in the invertebrate fossil collections .

Live Ostracods

Video credit: nymdevente (youtube user)

Live Foram feeding

Video credit: foraminiferal (youtube user)

What are we contributing?

This conservation and rehousing project will make the microfossil collections of the American Museum of Natural History more easily accessible to researchers and the general public. Of over 7,000 specimen lots in the AMNH microfossil collections, most specimens are types. By photographing type specimens, we are making it possible for researchers to see images of specimens before they decide to come to the museum in person.

Before this project started, many specimens were difficult to locate in their storage spaces at the museum. We are ensuring that specimens are correctly associated with the publications that describe them, and that their storage location and other important data are entered in an electronic database.

Another important part of this project is rehousing the specimens. Many older slides were housed vertically, allowing for fossils to fall out of the slides when the adhesive holding them in place decayed. We are rehousing slides in metal holders with glass cover slips. The slides are then stored horizontally in boxes according to the publication they are associated with.
Work desk. At left is an original wooden slide box.

Specimens in their new home.
Hopefully, our efforts will contribute to the creation of an accessible collection for the use of researchers and microfossil enthusiasts around the world.

We hope this interlude helped you understand the fossils we work with and the importance of this project. Look forward to our next weekly update: The Adventures of Week 4.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Week 3: The Saga Continues

Hello again,
It's business as usual for the microfossils interns. Here is a recap of our week.

Week three was short and sweet due to the national holiday, but we still managed to get a lot done.
We assigned over 300 new AMNH catalog numbers. Some of us also got to do CT scan reconstructions in preparation for the samples we will be running next week.
Hard at work on the database

Disasters arise!

Sometimes the microfossils get away! Many items in our collection are from research projects that were done almost a century ago. Glue and tape begin to break down over time, so we must rehouse our material on new slides. Even with the lightest touch we are in danger of breaking fragile samples or having a sample 'jump' off of its original slide. When that happens, we do our best to recover our fallen comrades.

Shaun assisting in the recovery of an ostracod

Dustracod sighting

Sometimes samples that were thought to be missing are recovered near the working area or in the original box. We do our best to keep our collection as complete as possible.

In our attempts to locate ostracods, we stumbled upon a strange and interesting specimen.
"Dustracod"? "Dustram"? What are you?

At first we thought the specimen to be a foram or a lost specimen from last year's intern. It turns out it was just a spec of dust or perhaps a mineral from other researchers who visit our lab.
We thus named the "specimen" the dustracod and continued our search. We have yet to locate our slippery holotype.

WOW! Look at that photogenic fossil!

Here is a photo of a nummulite Kat photographed this week. There is evidence of the beginnings of pyritization - or pyrite decay - in this specimen.

A nummulite undergoing pyritization

A close up of the pyritized section

See? The mineral pyrite is forming in certain areas of the fossil. There is also a fine white dust seen in the cracks of the fossil. Though this may look like the matrix the fossil was found in, it is actually an early stage of pyrite decay. Unfortunately, this means that the fossil is in a state of degradation, and will soon be unable to use, unless something is done. Our rehousing project is a preventative action against this development, as one of the main reasons that pyrite decay occurs is because of increased humidity.

Tour of the Week

This week we visited the Icthyology department with Rad Arindell. We saw how they obtained and preverved specimens for their dried and alcohol collections. As a bonus we also got to see the famous "living fossil fish" Coelacanth.

That's a lot of alcohol!

The saga of microfossil digitization continues...
Until next time
-Ipmicrofossils team

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Week 2!

Hello Again!
We are entering our third week of the microfossils project and are gearing up for a foram and ostracod filled summer! Here is a recap of what we have been up to:

Our first week was all about getting acclimated to the process of cataloging and entering information into the AMNH fossils database. (See our previous blog for more details about our first week and to get to know the 6 interns.) We also had to adjust to being at the museum, which is a lot bigger than one would expect. We work on one of the longest hallways in the city which stretches from Columbus Avenue to Central Park West!
The Invertebrates hall way...
Needless to say, getting lost in the museum was a regular occurrence over our first few days. By the end of the week we were officially registered as interns of the AMNH.

Trial and Error!

While week one was about getting acclimated, week two was all about trial and error.  It’s a challenge to make sure that all six of us are following the same protocols, but as problems arise, we quickly develop effective solutions. We have been using our experiences to update the guidebook that will outline the most effective process of cataloging the microfossils collection in the future. 

We have had a few hiccups, but altogether we were able to rehouse and catalog over 400 unique specimens this week! We each worked on one or two projects and spent time entering information into the fossils database as well as taking photomicrographs.

Rebecca working hard on the database
As a part of this project, we have also been using the CT-scanner to make 3-dimensional reconstructions of some of our most pristine samples. With help from the lab manager, we generally scan the samples for 1.5hr intervals. Then, final reconstruction and creation of working images varies from sample to sample. We haven't yet figured out how to make the final 3D PDFs accessible to the public, but hopefully we will find a way to include these in an online database.

In other news...

Nicollette thinks this Ostracod is especially photogenic and has nominated it to be microfossil of the week. As there are no contenders and we are still  processing our first few photographs, this week's fossil of choice will be Healdia gillae.

A photogenic ostracod

All in all it's been a busy week

Until next time,
The microfossils team.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Warm Welcome to the Wonderful World of Microfossils! Week 1

Hello, blogosphere!

This year's crew of NSF-funded microfossil collections interns would like to take a minute to introduce ourselves before diving into the nitty-gritty of our first week on the job. We will regularly update this blog throughout the summer, as we work our way through revitalizing AMNH's long-neglected microfossil collections.

Now, meet the team:

Courtney is a graduate student at Western Illinois University pursuing a degree in museum studies. This is her second summer working on the Invertebrate Paleontology rehousing project and is excited to be back. She will be returning to the Midwest after this summer to start an internship at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE. After graduating she is hoping to work in natural history collections and is looking forward to what the future holds.

Nicollette is a Bronx native who is no stranger to invertebrate life forms.  While she studied geology at Oberlin College, she had the fortune of studying bivalves, gastropods, and even fire ants. Becuase she has never studied invertbrates that can't be seen with the naked eye, Nicollette looks forward to working in the microfossil lab this summer. Nicollette is especially interested in applying the fossil record to the study of paleoclimate and change over time. She loves the intersection of science and society and hopes to be a part of the discussion of climate change in the future. This fall, she will begin her Masters in geoscience at the University of Arizona (Bear down!).

Katherine (Kat) is a rising senior at Mount Holyoke College, currently studying Geology and English, as well as performing with the Mount Holyoke Symphony orchestra as principal cellist. She is from Laguna Niguel, California - a small town in Orange County - and is excited to get the feel of living in a real city. From the age of 5, she has wanted to be a paleontologist, and her passion for fossils hasn't wavered since. She hopes that the AMNH microfossil internship will bring her one step closer to her goal of being part of a vertebrate fossil prep team.

Shaun recently graduated with a B.S. in Geology from University of Houston and has a strong passion for geology and computers. He has also been working on georeferencing collection data to modernize the museum's databases. He is originally from Houston, TX.

Farallon is very happy to be a part of the microfossil intern team. Next fall she will be going into her third year in the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara, where she also does research on apicomplexan octopus parasites in the Kuris Lab. She is from New York City, where she lives with her family and four cats.

Rebecca just graduated from Oberlin College, where she studied geology (officially) and a smattering of other subjects, including Javanese music. Originally from Downingtown, PA, Rebecca is excited to explore the "real world". This summer of microfossil curation is actually her second position at AMNH. She's glad to be back. Future plans may include a stint in the National Parks, a fellowship in Indonesia, or anything else that comes her way.

The interns are supervised by the wonderful Bushra Hussaini, whose knowledge of the collections makes this enormous project much more manageable. We also are grateful to Lindsay Jurgielewicz for her help in coordinating the internship, Linda Scalbom for direction in the collections management process, and Ellen Thomas for her microfossil expertise.

After going through the inevitable paperwork that comes with a new job, Bushra gave us a tour of the invertebrate paleontology collections, which include the subset of ostracods and forams that we are working with. We were then each given our own projects. These were overwhelming at first, but we soon settled into a rhythm of writing out new labels, cleaning off dusty old slides, databasing, photographing, and cataloging specimens.

The picture below shows the sorry state some of these slides were in after almost a century of storage. The cardboard of the slide decays and falls into the well with the specimen, and must be cleaned out very carefully with a small paintbrush. The ostracod pictured below is about half a millimeter in length.

Also in our first week, we went on tours of the vertebrate paleontology and anthropology collections. We were able to see some of what goes on behind the scenes at the museum. Preserving collections as extensive as those of AMNH is no small feat; we were able to see the care and thought that goes into collections management (not to mention the shelves full of triceratops skulls, a dinosaur brooding a nest of eggs, an incredibly well-preserved 2,000-year-old Andean carpet, and countless shelves full of incredible anthropological artifacts).


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Science of the Imagination

   This post may be a tad late, but to leave these little guys to gather dust on our lab's computer hard drive would have been a shame. Either when staring at clouds for an extended period of time or up at the ceiling before you fall asleep, your mind inadvertently starts putting together connections-- morphing seemingly meaningless shapes into something mundane. After staring at pictures of Ostracods and Foraminiferans on Photoshop for hours on end, I experienced the same thing. In my mind, my conical foram picture looked like an ice cream cone, my oval shaped foram looked like a bunny. So naturally, I thought... why not actually turn them into those things? What I started was a chain reaction of amazingly creative foram/ostracod images overlaid with objects and animals. I will put these images here so the rest of the world can see how the imagination can run rampant even when doing the most scientific of tasks.

I would like to formally introduce you to species never before seen by scientists:

1. Hoppicus carrotless, a hopelessly depressing story of a species meeting it's carrying capacity. There just wasn't enough food to go around. Perhaps this is why this species went extinct.

2. Icecreamicus deliciea, a species that just seemed to melt into the fossil record.

3. Slimicus snailii , extinction caused by high predation due to the outlandish coloring produced by sexual selection.
4. Frogstracod - A new species apparently very happy to be discovered.
5. Unidentified Specimen #24427, possibly in the genus Turtulagus. We've been a bit slow identifying this one.

6. Impostracod, the mustache made this species very easy to identify.
7. Osctrakhan, a very formidable species with high intraspecific competition. Natural selection seemed to be working in his favor since we have a very high abundance of these fossils... though perhaps natural selection wasn't working hard enough since they are no longer extant.
8. Cytherura bananaformis, known for is remarkably well preserved yellow coloring.

9. Strawberriansus fruitus, origin of name unknown.

We hope you enjoy our creative masterpieces of overlaid fossil images! We spent a lot of time on them! (Of course all of this was done on our breaks....)
Wishing everyone all the best with their future goals and careers,

Friday, August 16, 2013

Behind the Scenes of the Foram Group

Over the span of this summer, each of us has learned so many new things, not only about this project but also each other. This blog is supposed to be about the microfossil project and our experiences with it, but what about the people doing the work? I know we gave you a brief bio on each of us but let’s be honest, you don’t really care about what school we went to or what degree we have. So I have decided instead to give you an insight into the people I have met and grown to love.

First there is Rabia. The thing I love most about her is that she always has a smile on her face. Every morning we are greeted with a “Good morning ladies!” or “What’s up!” She is always up for a good laugh and jokes along with Beth and I throughout the day. I also find her absolutely fascinating, which happens to be her favorite word. Being from Pakistan I have learned a lot about her, her family, where she is from, her culture, and so much more. She loves her food spicy and may have an addiction to frozen yogurt and cookies from Levain Bakery (not to mention coffee). Rabia is very dedicated to her work and always enjoys jamming out to Savage Garden when we need a break from microscopes and computers.

Then there is Beth. Oh Beth. She is a sassy Staten Islander with a love of mammalogy, her pet turtle, Mr. T, and reading. We have taken many adventures together including getting the cactus she has wanted forever, and finding the most delicious nachos in NYC. Beth is witty and quick to make a comment. She keeps us laughing so there is never a dull moment with her. Beth is hard working and has great sense of humor as well as a fabulous singing voice. She and Rabia both know the lyrics to practically every song that we have heard this summer. I hope to see her on television saving animals just like Jeff Corwin but I know she will become a great researcher and professor someday. Maybe I’ll even take her class.

Next is Autumn, who is difficult to describe but there is so much to her. She is quirky and one of the most talented artists I know. She has been commissioned to do a mural for her alma mater, Yale, and they couldn’t have picked a better person for the job. She is a wiz on photoshop and the sketches I have seen her do are amazing. She also likes to swing dance and cook. The lunches she brings makes us all look at our soups and salads with discontent. Autumn also happens to have an awesome pair of yellow pants and has a pun for practically every comment. She is hoping to do something art related in the future, possibly exhibitions. You may visit a museum and see an exhibit that Autumn designed. She has an eye for detail and I am looking forward to seeing her creations in the future.

Amanda is quirky as well but in a different way. She is a bubbly girl with a sweet smile. She is from upstate New York, where her family owns several goats, one named Buddy, a fluffy dog named Bonnie, and a bunch of chickens. She has a love for animals and a great fashion sense. One day after work, some of us went shopping and Beth and I decided to find the most unattractive piece of clothing in the store. We happened to come across a black dress with a giant cat face on the front. We decided to show it to Amanda and she loved it! So much so that she ended up buying it. She may be the only person who could pull off a dress like that. She is an optimist and wants to continue doing research on conodonts, an extinct eel-like animal. Amanda is organized and meticulous about her work and hopes to work in a museum in the future.

There are many words to describe Sam. Goofy, spontaneous, fun, dedicated, the list goes on. He makes us all laugh with his goofy sound effects and priceless facial expressions. He is always up for any adventure, challenge, task. If you want something done, he’s your man. Even though Sam is the youngest among us, he is confident and will take charge if needed. He is very driven and works hard on everything he does. There is no such thing as 99% in his book. Sam is most interested in becoming a curator some day and hopes to continue studying forams. His dream is to build up an Antarctic foram collection at whatever museum he ends up at, which will hopefully be the American Museum of Natural History. Sam has so many goals in life and I know he will reach them all and so much more.

And where would we be without our dashing Irish volunteer Conal. Conal traveled all the way from Ireland to work on this project. He has been so helpful with the tedious task of fixing slides, a job we all dread. He has also aided the department in several re-organizational tasks. Conal may be going to school for zoology but his interest lies in blood parasites, mainly malaria. That may seem a little dark but Conal’s personality is the exact opposite. He is quick-witted and loves to talk about books, movies, and music. This is the first time he has been to the USA and some of the memories he will take back with him include watching movies at Bryant Park and going to see the sunset at Sunset Park. Conal will be starting his third year at the National University of Ireland at Galway and we will all be interested in where he goes in the next couple of years. Hopefully he’ll give us a call when he visits, or even moves, to the United States.

We cannot forget Lindsay. Lindsay is supposed to answer questions and helps with technical issues, but in actuality she does a lot more than that. She is the Curatorial Assistant in the Vertebrate Paleontology Department. She helps manage the collections, dabbles with loans, and is curating all the collections left behind at the museum by past researchers. When she was younger she wanted to be a chef but quickly changed her mind when she had the opportunity to shadow a chef and realized it was not for her. She studied computer science in undergrad and accidentally fell in love with biology and mammals. I asked her what her dream job would be. “This one,” she replied simply.

Last, but absolutely not least, is our supervisor Bushra. Without Bushra we would not have learned anything this summer, and we really owe her a lot for inviting us to participate on this project. Just a little bit about her, she attended the University of Karachi in Pakistan where she received her degree in geology. Originally she wanted to be a world class traveler but after taking a mapping course she decided to pursue geology. Her first job out of college was at Royal Dutch Shell where she was a geophysical assistant mapping isochrone and isopach maps for the Salt Range of Pakistan. The most unique thing about that position was that she was only the second female geologist in all of Pakistan. She worked there for 3 years before moving to the United States where she took a job at Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory mapping bathimetry for the Oceanographic Department. After 4 years at the Earth Observatory, Bushra took a job at the American Museum of Natural History as the Collection Manager for the Invertebrate Paleontology Department and has been working here for 15 years. She is currently working on her Masters in geology and will be defending her thesis on establishing a digital database for Invertebrate Paleontology at AMNH in the coming weeks. We all wish her luck on her defense and thank her profusely for allowing us to work with her this summer. 

Thanks for all the great memories everyone! I will miss you all when I return home and will think of you often! Don't forget to keep in touch and we will have to plan a reunion in the future!