Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Halfway Mark- Learning and Improving

The internship is halfway over and there have been quite a few exciting projects and finds in the first 10 weeks. One day, while conserving and cataloging specimens, a furry find was made. Inside a slide, right next to the specimen, was a larval skin of a beetle! How the larval skin got into the slide and how the beetle got out remains a mystery. This is a great example of why the conservation work we are doing with old collections is so important. 

There have been some really nice scans done of microfossils as well. Thanks to the Microscopy and Imaging Facility, we have started 3D printing some of the clearest CT scans here at the museum. It has, however, been a bit of learning curve.

Before you can even think about printing a 3D model, you must first spend time enhancing and editing the 3D image. Here at the American Museum of Natural History we use a program called VGStudio MAX. When a CT scan comes through you hope that the image is clear and that there is little to no sediment infill in the specimen. Even with a perfect scan, it still takes about 2 hours to have a printer-ready specimen. When the scan comes back with infill or "background noise" it can take anywhere from 4-8 hours to edit the image. At first every scan takes 5+ hours and the software can be tricky to get used to. Everyone is different, but I felt comfortable using VGStudio MAX by week 4.

Once you have edited your image, you are ready to start setting up your printing process. One factor we had to look at was which orientation we should print the specimens out for the clearest image. As seen below in the first attempt at printing out AMNH-FI 97614 Hopkinsina magnifica, the bottom model looks a lot nicer and smoother than the one on top.

Another problem is sizing. Because each specimen and scan is different, the scaling settings must be customized depending on the fossil. AMNH-FI 107593 Asterorotalia pulchella printed out too small and had to be redone so all of the details could be seen properly. 

Sometimes everything can be programmed correctly and the printing still go wrong. There were issues with the printer's plastic filament while printing out AMNH-FI 64208 Anomalina pacoraensis which led to this incomplete 3D model.

However, after a few mishaps and mistakes, we are starting to have a nice collection of 3D printed microfossils. 

From Top to Bottom: AMNH-FI 19954 Anomalina mantaensis, AMNH-FI 107593 Asterorotalia pulchella, AMNH-FI 97614 Hopkinsina magnifica

All smiles after printing out this unique foraminifera! 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Activities between Summer 2015 and Spring 2016

A lot has happened since the 2015 summer interns left the museum. Two former interns traveled to GSA in Baltimore to present posters on projects completed during their time at the American Museum of Natural History and there is a new intern here for the spring.

Lindsay Walker and Shaun Mahmood both made the trip to the 2015 GSA Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Lindsay presented a poster titled “Workflow for Conserving and Digitizing Historic Microfossil Collections at the American Museum of Natural History.” Her presentation focused on the conservation efforts and rehousing techniques used by the interns throughout this microfossil project. https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2015AM/webprogram/Paper263981.html

Shaun’s poster presentation, “3D-Printing Microfossils” was focused on the processes used from start to finish in the CT scanning, imaging, and printing of selected holotype microfossils at the museum. https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2015AM/webprogram/Paper265890.html

A student at University of Chicago, Katalina Kimball, presented a poster titled “Live/Dead Comparisons of Ostracodes in Temperate Lakes Reveal Evidence of Humans: Low Fidelity in Impacted Lakes, but High Fidelity in Remediated Lakes,” To add a visual aid to her presentation, Katalina requested an stl file of an ostracod created here by one of our interns, which was then 3D printed at her university. It's great to see how the work being done here is helping out scientists at other institutions.

In order to CT scan and image more microfossils, a new intern is here for 20 weeks from February through June.

Kelsey Barnhill graduated from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in Geology and a minor in Marine Science in December 2015. During her time as an undergraduate she studied abroad at Universidad de Oviedo (where she took her first Paleontology course- In Spanish!), spent a semester at UNC’s field-based Institute of Marine Science, and was a 2-year Division 1 Varsity letter winner in Women’s Fencing. The San Diego native will be spending her summer as a science intern aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus as a member of The Ocean Exploration Trust’s Corps of Exploration. Kelsey will begin working towards her Paleontology M.S. this fall at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology where she will also be cataloging and digitizing part of their invertebrate fossil collection under a research assistantship position.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Week 8: Then and Now, Final Post

Women, for centuries, have been integral to the science, study, and conservation of invertebrate paleontology/zoology. However, until recently, they were rarely acknowledged for their work and incredible contributions to their respective fields. Female trailblazers of natural history and science include Mary Anning, Libbie Hyman, Mary Leakey, Patricia Kelley, and Susan Kidwell, to name only a few. All the interns would like to acknowledge and put the spotlight on two of today's trailblazers, Ellen Thomas and Bushra Hussaini, who have led this microfossil preservation and conservation project at the AMNH.

Morgan was thrilled to have worked with Ellen for eight weeks
Ellen Thomas

Early on, Ellen was interested in the sciences, but thought about chemistry and biology, not geology or paleontology. Then she went to Utrecht University (The Netherlands) information days in 1968 to look at options in the sciences, and was told that women do not study geology. That was the fire and drive for her to decide to become a geologist. She never looked back, earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Geology, then a Ph.D. studying benthic foraminifera. For the next 35 years or so, Ellen has studied microfossils to make major advances in the field of paleoceanography, which eventually led her to the AMNH. To us interns, Ellen is the "foram expert" and we take every Tuesday to absorb her knowledge and admire her passion for the historic foraminifera and ostracod collections for the benefit of future scientists.

Sam and Bushra enjoying the spectacular view over Central Park West.
Bushra Hussaini

Travelling with her father in the northwestern parts of Pakistan developed Bushra's love for mountains and nature. However, it was not until she got involved with rocks, minerals, and mapping at the University of Karachi did she passionately pursue her Bachelor's and Master's in Earth and Environmental Sciences while being the only woman to graduate in the top 10 students of her class. Immigrating to the United States in 1984, Bushra found a job working as a research assistant at Lamont Doherty Geological Observatory. She eventually ended up working at the AMNH as a Senior Scientific Assistant and has been managing the Fossil Invertebrate collections since 1997. We all consider Bushra to be kindhearted, patient, understanding, intelligent, and witty. She has shown all the interns what it means to be a respected professional and mentor.

Today, four more female trailblazers have made their mark at the AMNH. Lindsay, Morgan, Brittney, and Claudia each have bright futures and inevitably will rise to the top of their respected field of study. It has been a pleasure to work with all of them.

Acknowledged invertebrate paleontologists on the steps of the AMNH during the early 1900s and today's stars making their mark 100 years later.

Week 6: More than Microfossils

Working on collections that haven't been looked at in nearly 100 hundred years always comes with challenges, and sometimes even some creepy crawlies. The collection previously used wooden boxes to store slides containing micro-fossils and these boxes allowed, and welcomed, some unwanted and unexpected critters of the arthropod variety to set up camp next to our micro-fossils.

This was found in a box of miscellaneous slides by Sam while rehousing specimens. The intruder, identified as a carpet beetle, was found alive scampering away across the table. 

This creepy crawly was found while Brittney was rehousing slides. There were two of these mysterious web-like cocoons on one slide, and several throughout a study collection. It appears to have a leg, possibly molted, of unknown origin dangling from the cocoon.   

This ostracod, Cythereis asperima, from the Schmidt 1939 collection was not only fastened onto the slide by glue, but cob webs too! There were nearly ten slides that exhibited evidence of arachnid presence.  

These intruders of creepy crawlers frequent museum collections, especially if the collection isn't properly cared for. Finding these on our slides and in our collection reiterates the importance of this project. Specimen preservation, and collection managing have changed significantly since these microfossils were first accessioned. For example, the reason why so many ostracods of the Schmidt, 1939 collection were covered with spider webs is because the glue used to secure the specimen to the slide is organic and apparently attracted spiders. In order to remedy this widely accepted use of organic glue in museum collections, the specimens must be cleaned and moved to fresh slides, and the old slide is discarded to prohibit any more unwanted guests.  

As time continues our methods and processes of collection management will continue to advance, allowing museum collections such as the AMNH microfossils, to be preserved and safe for years to come.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Week 5: Day at the Museum

We've had a lot of adventures here at the museum so far! All of the interns have been learning and developing new skills and tackling some pretty intimidating challenges.

Lindsay calmly gets her work done, and Sam never loses his cool. Claudia handles the pressure worst of all.

For example, Lindsay, Sam and Claudia were given a collection of Permian fusulinids from the late Paleozoic. This collection included over 500 slides!

The collection needed re-housing, entry into the database and lots of imaging! Everyone gained a few new grey hairs, but were very proud of the finished products.

A light microscope image of the holotype, Pseudoschwagerina vilcanotensis.
Another challenge for the interns is CT Scanning. This amazing technology allows us to create 3D images of our microfossils and see the outer shell and internal structure at great resolution.

Processing these files can be slow, but Morgan finds plenty of coffee helps get the job done.

However, you can't beat that amazing view!

 Top: Bulimina rectospinata Bottom: Globorotalia menardi

The work that we are doing at AMNH is very important for the preservation of the collections and for scientists interested in microfossils around the world. And if stress ever builds up too much, we can always take advantage of our employee discount at the museum store!

Swag modeled by Brittany: AMNH fleece jacket and T. rex-embroidered AMNH scarf! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Week 4: Half Way There Captions

Morgan can't get enough processing of CT scans in the Microscopy and Imaging Facility.

                     Brittany thrilled about curating invertebrates in the Vertebrate Paleontology department.

Claudia has never seen so many hard rocks as she did in the Planetary Science division.

                                           Sam trying to hide behind the 500+ thin sections of the Robert's collection.

Lindsay expressing her disbelief and disappointment at the frozen tissue lab.

                    Bushra showing the interns the magnificence of the Invertebrate Paleontology collection.

Claudia enjoying her BLTF while out in Central Park for lunch.

Week 3: Is Beauty Really Only Test Deep?

  (http://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/460:_Paleontology acessed on 7/14/15)

There is no denying that interest in macrofossils partially stems from how aesthetically pleasing (or interesting) they are. However, microfossils are incredibly easy on the eyes as well... as long as the light on your microscope isn't on a blindingly bright setting. This week we will be highlighting some of our most beautiful Foraminifera and Ostracods, as well as the Computed Tomography scanning that is used when we want to explore internal structures. Because beauty isn't only test deep, right? 

Elphidium fax fax, a paratype associated with David Nicol's publication titled "New West American Species of the Foraminiferal Genus Elphidium", published in the Journal of Paleontology, 1942.

Elphidium fax barbarense, a paratype associated with David Nicol's publication titled "New West American Species of the Foraminiferal Genus Elphidium", published in the Journal of Paleontology, 1942.

Tuberitina bulbacea, a holotype associated with Galloway and Harlton's publication titled "Some Pennsylvanian Foraminifera of Oklahoma, With Special Refrence to the Genus Orobias", published in the Journal of Paleontology, 1928.

Bairdoppilata pondera, our beautiful Ostracod this week, is a holotype associated with Jenning's publication "A Microfauna from the Monmouth and Basal Rancocas Groups of New Jersey", published in the Bulletins of American Paleontology, 1936.

Elphidium cynicalisa holotype associated with Jenning's publication "A Microfauna from the Monmouth and Basal Rancocas Groups of New Jersey", published in the Bulletins of American Paleontology, 1936.

Cibicides burlingtonensis, a holotype associated with Jenning's publication "A Microfauna from the Monmouth and Basal Rancocas Groups of New Jersey", published in the Bulletins of American Paleontology, 1936.

Aren't they pretty? Give them a round of applause! Or at least try..

(https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B9nWTuCCcAAoStA.jpg acessed on 7/14/15)

So what happens when we want to see beyond the external structure of a specimen? Luckily, here at the museum we are equipped with a CT scanning machine, or "Computed Tomography", which translates to the imaging of objects by sections with the use of a penetrating wave. A CT scanner bombards an object with x-rays as the object rotates around a central axis. As the object rotates, thousands of images are collected from all angles, which are then compiled to create a 3 dimensional reconstruction of the object. This allows us to see beyond the surface of a specimen! 

Below is an image of a project that intern Lindsay Walker is working on. She is finishing up the reconstruction of  Foraminifera Guadryina from Diamond 1928, an unpublished master's thesis. 

You can see in the lower right corner of the screen capture that the scanning of the image allows us to see the different chambers of the organism, all without having to do any physical opening of the specimen. 

Below is intern Claudia Deeg completing the reconstruction of Epistomina flinti, a holotype specimen from Galloway and Wissler's publication titled "Pleistocene Foraminfera From the Lomita Quarry, Palos Verdes Hills, California", published in the Journal of Paleontology, 1927.

Last but not least, intern Morgan Black completed a reconstruction of holotype specimen Cythereis tremoidia, from  R.A.M Schmidt's Columbia University Master's Dissertation, titled "Miocene Ostracoda from Yorktown Formation Virginia", published in 1939. Below is a video of the final product. 

Not only are these microfossils useful, but they sure are good-lookin'!