New & Noteworthy

Archive for July, 2010

26 Jul 2010

White House Directs Agencies to Consider Collections in FY 2012 Budget

On 21 July, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a joint memorandum providing guidance to federal agencies on the formulation of science and technology priorities in the fiscal year (FY) 2012 budget.

The four-page document includes a provision on federal science collections: “Agencies should implement strategies for increasing the benefits for science and society derived from scientific collections by following the recommendations in the report by the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections and efforts outlined in the National R&D Strategy for Microbial Forensics.”

The memo also directs agencies to invest in high-risk, high-reward research, support multidisciplinary research, and engage in international scientific collaboration.  Additionally, the memo outlines priorities in the areas of energy, environment, health, agriculture and economy.

Click here to read the complete memorandum.

22 Jul 2010

Collection Managers Asked to Participate in Survey on Best Practices

The Documentation Committee of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) requests your participation in a survey involving best practice topics pertinent to natural history museums.  The survey seeks to better understand the information and resource needs of the natural history collections community, including museums, parks, university collections, and other organizations caring for natural and cultural history collections.  The purpose of the survey is to identify, collect, and provide information about best practices specific to natural history collections, including current helpful resources.  Holes or gaps in best practices need to be identified and addressed.  This survey is the first step in identifying these holes.

The results of this survey will be used to guide the creation of an in-depth resource website on natural history collections best practices, to be hosted by the SPNHC at  The results will also be published in the SPNHC Journal, “Collection Forum.”  All answers will remain confidential and no results will be publicly associated with an institution or individual unless specific permission is granted.

Participation in the survey should take about 10 minutes.  To participate, visit

19 Jul 2010

Shell Collection Sheds Light on Pre-Oil Spill Pollution

A collection of over 10 million shells housed at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences is being used by scientists to better understand historical levels of environmental contamination in the Gulf of Mexico.  The collection, dating back to 1812, includes more than 100 oyster shells collected from the Gulf between 1887 and 1960.

Shells can serve as a record of water pollution, as mollusks incorporate ingested contaminants, such as hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls, and heavy metals, into their shells.  Scientists are currently comparing the composition of shells in the museum with oysters collected after the BP oil spill.  This analysis should reveal if water pollution levels have changed throughout the region in the wake of the oil spill.

“You never know what these things will be useful for,” said Peter Roopnarine, the leader of the ongoing study, whose first results are expected by September. “Each individual shell is going to give us a record back in time.”

13 Jul 2010

Reminder: North American Living Plant Collection Survey Closes August 1, 2010

Botanic Gardens Conservation International — US, United States Botanic Garden, and Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum are conducting an important survey to document all living plant collections in North America as part of a regional and global assessment.  Survey organizers thank those who have already contributed their collection’s taxa list to the PlantSearch database, and encourage other collection professionals to participate before the survey closes on August 1, 2010.

This effort will help to fill the gap in our knowledge of plant diversity and threatened plants in cultivation.  It’s quick, easy, and free to participate.  Simply upload a spreadsheet of taxa held in your collections to the PlantSearch database.

To participate, visit  Please contact Abby Hird at or (617) 384-5774 if you have questions or require assistance in completing the survey.

09 Jul 2010

Study of Pollution in National Parks Draws Upon Collections

Two recent publications on pollution in National Parks utilized natural history collections to establish baselines of environmental contamination.  Published in the June 15 issue of Environmental Science and Technology, the studies found that pesticides and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were prevalent throughout National Parks in the western United States.

“I think what continues to surprise me even though we’ve been studying this issue for a while now is that when we think of parks, we think of them being very pristine and especially with the more remote sites within the parks, we think of them as being pristine, but, in fact, there is deposition of pollutants within those sites and it can be significant in some of those areas,” said Staci Simonich, an associate professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University and an investigator on both of the studies.  Simonich noted that the pesticide pollution is so routine in contemporary society that researchers had to use museum specimens to find baseline data that existed prior to pesticide use.