New & Noteworthy

Archive for June, 2012

22 Jun 2012

NSC Alliance Calls for Government Review of Costs of New Federal Collections

On 22 June 2012, the NSC Alliance wrote to President Obama’s senior advisers on budget and science regarding the establishment of new federal scientific collections.

The letter from NSC Alliance President Dr. Larry Page thanks the Administration for its actions to encourage federal agencies to identify and more adequately budget for federally owned scientific collections.  The letter points out, however, that federal personnel are sometimes unaware of specimens or data housed in non-federal institutions.  This oversight can result in the establishment of a new collection when one or more already exists at a nearby non-federal facility.

“In the interest of improved stewardship of taxpayer resources and increased government efficiency, we respectfully request that you direct federal agencies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis prior to establishing a new federal collection,” states the letters.  “We suggest that no new federal scientific collection be established unless it has been determined that funding an existing non-federal collection to curate the specimens will not be more cost-effective.”

The letter was sent to Dr. John Holdren, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, and Mr. Jeffrey Zients, Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Click here to read the letter to OSTP.

Click here to read the letter to OMB.

22 Jun 2012

Stay Informed about Digitization: Subscribe to the iDigBio Newsletter

Stay informed about the Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio) project by starting a free subscription to its monthly eNewsletter.  Subscribers receive information about upcoming workshops on collection digitization, information about digitization protocols, and more.

iDigBio is funded by the National Science Foundation and is focused on three key objectives:

  • Improve the efficiency and effectiveness of biodiversity digitization;
  • Provide a collaboration platform to share information about digitization within the collections community and beyond; and
  • Create tools and a web portal to enable the integration of specimen data, images, and other important attributes of U.S. museum specimens - from all taxa - in one central source for research and public access.

Start your free subscription by visiting

20 Jun 2012

Curators Suspicious of Specimen Loan Requests

Curators are growing suspicious of specimen requests from a museum in India.  According to an article published in Science Insider, natural history repositories all over the world have been plagued by e-mail requests from the Life Science Museum in Jhansi, India, which claim that the director needs assistance replacing specimens lost to unexpected disaster.

Andrew Bentley, a scientist and museum curator who manages the fish collections at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute in Lawrence, received such a specimen request from the Life Science Museum.  After donating 36 surplus specimens, he tried to contact the museum but his attempts quickly proved futile.  Bentley was unable to verify any information about the Life Science Museum or the alleged director Mohammad Haq.

Like Bentley, natural history collections around the world have reported receiving similar e-mails requests, from senders identifying themselves as Haq or Sheikh Taufique Rehmani.  Curators state that these emails specify species and sizes which are frequently used in schools and training programs.  Specimens like hagfish, lampreys, and ratfish, all of which are extremely valuable, have been requested by the mystery museum, which raises concern that contributions could be used for profit.

The legitimacy of neither the e-mails nor the institution has been confirmed, according to Science Insider, but some speculate that the e-mail requests are no more than a clever scam.

19 Jun 2012

Calling All Biologists: Showcase Science to Policymakers

This August, the NSC Alliance is sponsoring the 4th Annual Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits event.  This national initiative encourages members of the science community to meet with their elected officials.  Unlike other efforts to educate members of Congress about the importance of scientific research and education programs, this event occurs across the country – not in Washington, DC.

As part of Biological Sciences Congressional District Visits, scientists and representatives of research facilities will meet with their members of Congress to describe how science is conducted and why a sustained investment in research and education programs must be a national priority.  Participating scientists will meet with their elected officials at a district office or may invite them to visit a research laboratory, field site, or natural history collection.

Participants will receive information about federal funding for biological and environmental research, tools for improving their communication skills, and tips for conducting a successful meeting with an elected official.  Participating scientists will receive guidance and some assistance with scheduling meetings.

Participation is free, but registration will close on 15 July 2012.  For more information and to register, visit

13 Jun 2012

Researchers Digitize Ant Specimens in 3D

A team of scientists is trying to capture 3D images of every species of ant in the world.  They are using a new technique that allows the tiny anatomy of ants to be photographed.  The images will be posted online for use by other researchers, students, and the public.

So far, about more than 8,300 species have been photographed.  The images were made of 18,500 specimens in natural history collections.

Dr. Brian Fisher of the California Academy of Sciences is leading the effort.  Dr. Fisher told BBC Nature that they plan on imaging 10,000 specimens a year.  The team of researchers will visit museums around the world and systematically work their way through every box of ant specimens until the entire collection has been photographed.

The photography technique employed by the team takes dozens of pictures of each specimen, with each photograph in a different plane of focus.  The images are then combined into one picture that displays all of the details of the specimen.

“You can zoom in and see fine hairs, the eyes, all of this detail,” Dr Fisher explains. “And all of this, under a microscope, is not in focus.

Learn more about the initiative at

08 Jun 2012

Registration Open for Professional Development Courses for Informal Educators

Informal and K-12 educators can participate in free professional development courses this summer.

One course will focus on plant phenology and climate change.  The course will provide information on how to participate in Project BudBurst (, including suggestions for structuring your classroom involvement.  It will be offered in two sessions: 11 June to 9 July and 1 to 29 August.  The course will be offered in two sections, one for K-12 educators and one for informal educators at museums, botanic gardens, and nature preserves.

More information can be found at

08 Jun 2012

IMLS Seeks Public Comment on Revised Grant Guidelines

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has revised the guidelines for two of its grant programs.  IMLS is seeking public comments on the draft guidelines for the Museums for America and National Leadership Grants for Museums programs.  The guidelines for these programs have been revised to align with the IMLS Strategic Plan.  IMLS is seeking comments to assess how well these guidelines accomplish the following goals:

  • Make federal dollars more accessible by reducing complexity;
  • Increase clarity and readability;
  • Make it easier to see where a project idea fits best;
  • Make it easier to articulate the impact of project ideas;
  • Allow grantees greater ability to pursue comprehensive collections care projects by combining the purposes of the current Conservation Project Support and Museums for America programs;
  • Allow grantees greater ability to pursue professional development activities by combining the purposes and funding for the current 21st Century Museum Professionals and National Leadership Grants for Museums programs;
  • Provide greater ability for museums and organizations that serve museums to pursue National Leadership Grants that have broad impact for their communities and create models that can be adapted by others; and
  • Make it possible for IMLS to continue to support the full range of museums, large and small, and representing every museum discipline and every geographic area.

The draft guidelines are available for review at Museums for America ( and National Leadership Grants for Museums (

Comments will be accepted through 6 July 2012.  Please send comments to  Final guidelines will be posted no later than October 15, 2012.

07 Jun 2012

NSF Awards $13 Million for Assembling the Tree of Life

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is funding a new initiative to build a comprehensive evolutionary tree for all life on Earth.  The program, “Assembling, Visualizing, and Analyzing the Tree of Life” (AVAToL) has made three awards to scientists who will work to create a central place where researchers can go to see and analyze the entire tree of life.

“The AVAToL awards are an exciting new direction for an area that’s a foundation of much of biology,” says Alan Townsend, director of NSF’s Division of Environmental Biology.  “That’s critical to understanding a changing relationship between human society and Earth’s biodiversity.”

The program aims to overcome several difficulties that have plagued researchers.  One challenge is dealing with information about millions of species.  New computational tools for analyzing large data sets and heterogeneous data will be needed.

AVAToL will differ from past efforts in that is will create an open, dynamic framework that can be updated as new data becomes available.  Researchers will be able to access and edit the tree online.

More information about the funded projects is available at

07 Jun 2012

NSF Solicits Proposals for Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has announced the availability of funding to enhance and expand digitization of and access to existing biological and paleontological collections in the United States.

The Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections is seeking full proposals for its third round of funding.  Proposals will be accepted for new research themes (Thematic Collections Networks) and for partnerships with existing networks (Partners to Existing Network).

Of note, the name of the program has changed: “Biological Collections” is now “Biodiversity Collections.”

Proposals are due by 19 October 2012.  For more information, visit

05 Jun 2012

Digitizing Science Collections: Unlocking Data for Research and Innovation

Today, scientists briefed Congress, federal agency personnel, and nongovernmental organization representatives about the importance of the nation’s natural science collections.  The briefing explored how scientists and natural science collections managers are using new technology to digitize the nation’s natural science collections in an effort to increase access to these irreplaceable resources for research, education, and to inform our understanding and response to complex environmental problems.

Natural science collections are research facilities and infrastructure that house irreplaceable specimens and data.  Comprised of genetic, tissue, organism, and environmental samples collected over decades and centuries that constitute a library of Earth’s history, scientific collections are held at national and state museums, university science departments, and at botanical gardens, herbaria, aquaria, and zoos.

“Natural science collections are a necessary part of America’s scientific enterprise,” said Dr. Larry Page, president of the Natural Science Collections Alliance, the organization that sponsored the briefing.  “We need to make sure that the information contained in scientific collections is accessible to researchers now and in the future.”

New technologies and techniques make it possible to digitize the valuable information contained in biological collections so that it is available to scientists, educators, and students around the world at the click of a computer mouse.  In turn, these data is used in cutting edge research on the significant challenges facing modern society, such as improving human health, informing oil spill response and restoration, and addressing spread of invasive species and pathogens.

NSCA briefing

Biodiversity scientists have discovered and described 1.9 million species on earth, stated Dr. Mary Liz Jameson.  An associate professor of biology at Wichita State University, Jameson said: “This wealth of knowledge increases what we can say about the world.  Natural history museums serve as the repositories for the vast biological diversity of the planet.  They house centuries of data on the history and composition of global biodiversity, and these data are the foundation for managing our biological resources, assisting in the search for genes and biological products, among so many other things.”

“Digitizing natural history specimens is an important way to preserve our knowledge of Earth’s past and to drive modern research on topics that are relevant to society and policymakers,” stated Dr. Michael A. Mares, director of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History at the University of Oklahoma.  Mares further stated, “These vast resources have been held in trust for the people and are a vital part of America’s natural heritage.”

The presentations from the briefing are available for download by clicking the titles below.