Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Final Days

With less than a week left, we are scrambling to tie up loose ends and put everything in order for next
year's interns. This entails rechecking each project that we worked on this summer, making sure specimen documentation is complete and easy-to-understand, organizing our digital data (pictures, CT scans, database entries), and updating instructional materials for future workers.

This Week's Tour 

As a break from frantically organizing our microfossils, four of us got to hang out with Julie Feinstein and Alana Gishlick in the frozen tissue collections for our weekly tour.

The Ambrose Monell Cryo Collection (AMCC) is hidden away in the museum's labyrinthine basement. To reach it, we walked through the carpentry and metalworking departments. Next to an open-air loading dock, we found the AMCC's unassuming entrance. Once inside, we were greeted by the AMCC's collection manager, Julie Feinstein, in a small room that resembled a dentist's waiting room. Unlike a dentist's waiting room, however, there is a window in one of the walls that looks in on several enormous liquid nitrogen-cooled vats. 

Juile showing us how the tissues are stored
At about ten years old, the AMCC is the museum's newest collection. The AMCC stores samples of frozen animal tissues in tiny vials. Researchers extract DNA from these samples to study evolutionary relationships. Just one vial, with a capacity of a few milliliters, contains enough genetic material for a lifetime of research.

Because of the nature of the collections, the cryogenic collections space is kept completely sterile. Their facilities are state-of-the-art; samples are stored in trays inside passively cooled liquid nitrogen tanks. The liquid nitrogen comes in through specialized high-pressure insulated pipes, maintaining a constant level of liquid nitrogen in the tanks. Without the specialized pipes, the extremely cold liquid nitrogen could expand and cause an explosion. They are filled to about mid-calf height with liquid nitrogen, but the tank stays below -150 degrees Celsius because of the cold nitrogen gas filling the rest of the tank.

Even the filing system in the frozen tissue collection is high-tech. Each specimen vial has a barcode that, when scanned, brings up the sample's electronic database entry. It's a completely different world from portions of the invertebrate paleontology collections, where we worked to revise much older organization strategies.
Alana peering into the Liquid nitrogen vats
We were invited to look into one of the vats (with protective eye gear, of course) to see the storage conditions of the specimens and ogle at the boiling nitrogen. The nitrogen vapor cascades over the sides of the vat because it is heavier than the air in the room. It was an unforgettable experience!

Fossil of the Week

Polymorphina torta: photomicrograph on the left and CT scan in GLC_player on the right

We have chosen this foram because of its awesome internal structure. It also resembles a spaceship/a twisted leaf/a fish and is aesthetically pleasing to us. Rebecca discovered this as she was post-processing CT data this week. There is more to this foram than meets the eye! Note the difference between the photomicrograph and CT scan image. We experimented with a free 3D viewing program, GLC player, this week. The results were impressive, as you can see in the beautiful 3D image above.

The Summer in Review

Over the last eight weeks, we made 3,015 entries in the electronic database, took over 350 images of type specimens, and CT-scanned more than 30 microfossils. It's been a productive summer, and we all have high hopes for the future of this project. Thanks to everyone who made this possible: the National Science Foundation, AMNH, Bushra Hussaini, Lindsay Jurgielewicz, Alana Gishlick, Ruth O'Leary, Neil Landman, and the staff of the micro-imaging facility!
Alana and the Interns: An Up-and-Coming Girl Band
Finally, we want to thank YOU, our readers, for following this summer's adventures in microfossil curation. Come back next year for further updates on AMNH's microfossil rehousing and digitization project.

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