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!


Monday, August 12, 2013

Week 7

The second to last week of interning was certainly a memorable one. We were rewarded this week with a tour of the Cryogenics Lab, a look through the collections of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, a rooftop gathering overlooking Central Park, and finally a night out with NINJAS.

 During the tour of the Cryogenics Lab on Wednesday we were able to see how tissues and DNA are preserved and how important liquid nitrogen is to the overall process. The samples are stored in large metal tanks which are heavily insulated.  They're so insulated, in fact, that even if New York lost power for two weeks, the tank samples would still be safe.

Thursday's highlights of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Dept. included holding a part of the Earth's mantle collected during a volcanic eruption, seeing "Mars in a cup," and feasting our eyes on a beautiful thin section of a meteorite. After work ended on Thursday, we spent the evening wining and dining on the rooftop of Neil Landman's (curator in charge of invertebrate paleontology) building. The experience gave us an exceptional view of Central Park bordered by the "Concrete Jungle."

 Finally, Friday provided an exciting night of sushi, sake, magic, and being served by ninjas at the restaurant appropriately called Ninja. Our time here at AMNH is just about up...but the memories and experiences we have had will long be remembered.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Week 6

Another week, another Foram project.  Unless, of course, it's an Ostracod project, maybe peppered with a few Braciopods or Gastropods, just for good measure.  This week we all are working hard on finishing up a few publications, starting some new ones, and, as usual getting to know the collections and the museum just a little bit better. 

This week we went on a tour of Mammalogy, a favorite of quite a few of the interns here.  Part of Mammalogy is housed in the oldest part of the museum, the previous home of the library.  The floor was made of glass panes, which, since we don't have any pictures, you'll just have to imagine with the aid of this picture of glass.
Isn't it awesome?!

Some other cool parts of the tour were seeing Tasmanian Tigers (now extinct), fossas, and even a Hero shrew, which has a startlingly strong spine.  The vertebrae of the Hero shrew are intricately joined together making the spine strong enough to support the entire weight of a full-grown human.
There were also many pictures taken and much data entered.  Here are some cool Forams and Ostracods of the week!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Week 5

The rehousing, imaging, and databasing marches on this week!  Also, we had a tour of the Ornithology Department.  Some of the highlights of this tour was seeing an extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker, an array of colorful Kingfishers (a favorite of our tour guide, Paul Sweet), a variety of nests and eggs, and the preparation lab.  We also got to talk with a researcher who was looking at the variation of structural feather colors among Rollers using a device that he could hold over any feather and it would output that feather's exact color.

Here are some of our favorite foram and ostracod pictures from this week!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Week 4

   So this is the end of week 4. Or, technically last week was, so this is a little on the old side. You might even say it's a little...dated. (Paleontology humor). This week started much as the others: taking microfossil pictures, photoshopping, rehousing, general collection clean-ups. A good deal of us interns at this point have gotten towards the end of a project or two, meaning we're at the stage of sweeping out the bottoms of collection boxes to sort out wayward fossils. This usually looks a lot like this:
I guess you could call this a little...microjostled. 

   Within the specimens rehoused and imaged, there are many that fit your average idea of forams or ostracods:
A little microdocile in terms of appearance, if you ask me. 

But this week, like every week, turns out many particularly interesting specimens, including some spectacular dyed holotypes, and even some with apparent hitchhikers:
   But besides these cool critters, the week had other perks, including another lecture by our visiting scholar, Ellen, and a fascinating tour of Exhibitions. We even got to see a model of an upcoming exhibit! Yet again, it was really special and very enlightening to see another inside of a museum department. This one showed us just how much time goes into every step of the exhibit process (the planning and inital designing of the model they showed us took 6 months by itself), and the tours before that helped show just how many resources are hiding behind the museum walls. We're just scratching the surface right now, but hopefully this next week will let us dig even further.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Week 3

Week 3 has come to a close. I cannot believe that we are going to be half way through our internship soon. This week we had a lot of fun museum activities, as well as a full week of work with the collection. We went on a tour of the Herpetology Department, and saw a lot of cool specimens. When asked about his favorite specimen housed in the collection, our guide David told us he thought the remains of Lonesome George was one of the more unique specimens. Lonesome George was the last of a certain species of Galapagos tortoise who recently died. Ellen Thomas also came in again on Thursday to give us a lecture on cladistics. The cladistics lecture was really quite interesting and afterward we walked around the fourth floor of the museum, which is an exhibit about the origin of vertebrates that is arranged by clades. The work continues on the rehousing, imaging, and databasing of the specimens. Everyone has finally gotten into the groove of using the camera and photoshop so the pace of work has picked up a bit this week. Some of the foraminifera that have been imaged this week are especially beautiful, and here is an example of a few.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Week 2

Our second week as interns participating in the Microfossils project has officially come to a close. I think we can all agree that time seems to be flying by. Whether this is because of the amazing experts we have had the chance to work with so far, or the awe-inspiring experience of working behind the scenes at the museum—I guess we’ll never know. After receiving our projects during the first week and learning all about what was expected of us, I think we all assumed it was going to be a plug and chug task. We would just rehouse, database, photograph and edit. We all know what they say about people who assume. The truth is, not everything has gone smoothly. There have been slides with unidentified specimens, specimens that have disappeared, and images that would just not come out clear (just to name a few). You would think that with every mystery slide, missing specimen and blurry picture, that this would be frustrating and honestly… sometimes it is, but we all understand the importance of what we’re trying to do and that keeps us moving forward and inspires us to keep learning. One thing that is extremely important for this project is accuracy and the best way to be accurate is to understand exactly what it is that we are doing. Having Dr. Ellen Thomas come in and explain to us the importance of Foraminifera and Ostracods has helped put this project into context. Now when I look under the microscope I don’t just see a shiny little shell, but a small yet complex organism that serves as our window into the climate of the past. With Ellen’s enthusiasm for the topic, it makes it hard not to grow an honest interest in the subject. We are all truly lucky to have her on board. So far, this internship has been one of the greatest experiences that we’ll ever have and we look forward to seeing what lies ahead in the coming weeks! - Beth Gerstner

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Week 1

Week one of interning at the museum has been exciting, educational, and entertaining. Our activities included an orientation, being finger-printed, group lunch on the museum steps, tour of the vertebrate paleontology department and anthropology department, and jam-packed rides on the elevators. Each intern has received a project and we are all making great progress. It is safe to say these 8 weeks will pass very quickly due to the fun and exciting work environment. The six of us have quickly began to bond and have transitioned from colleagues to friends in a matter of days. Stay tuned for week two's blog from the Foraminifera Focus Group.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Foraminifera Focus Group: 6 Interns VS. Thousands of Microfossils

The Interns:

Samuel Martin - an upcoming senior at Southern Illinois University who is majoring in Geology. Currently I am involved in climate change research in Antarctica using foraminifera. Transitioning to the big city from the Midwest has been quick and fun.

Amanda Lanik: Hi I'm Amanda! I just graduated from SUNY Geneseo with a degree in Geology. I'm from Canandaigua, NY, which is a small town in the Finger Lakes. I'm really excited to be working with microfossils this summer and cannot wait to explore the museum and New York City!

Autumn Von Plinsky recently graduated Yale University (class of 2013) with a degree in Art. Her background in painting and theater tech hasn't gotten her very well acquainted with Foraminifera, but hopefully this internship will.

Rabia Ashfaque: I'm a graduate student at the School at Visual Arts in New York, currently pursuing a Masters in Art Criticism and Writing. I started out at the AMNH as a volunteer in the exhibitions department. Two-and-a-half years later, the volunteer has become an intern trying to wrap her head around the complex, fascinating and visually stunning world of foraminiferida!

Beth Gerstner: I will be starting graduate school at the City College of New York this fall and what better way to get focused than cataloguing foraminifera. If nothing else my handwriting skills will improve ten fold! But in all seriousness, I'm very excited to be part of this internship. I've always loved the museum and I want to be involved behind the scenes in any way that I can.

Courtney Richenbacher: Hello! I am from Iowa and recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in geoscience and a certificate in museum studies. I will be starting graduate school this fall for a masters in museums studies. I have little experience with forams and am excited to learn as much as possible to help me with my future in museums!