The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) have launched the Beyond the Box National Digitization Innovation Competition. The initiative will award $1 million to the individual or team who develops a novel way to accurately and efficiently capture digital images of insect specimens and their associated data from a standard museum drawer of insects.

“The Beyond the Box Digitization Competition is designed to inspire the ingenuity of the American public, and to engage scientists, engineers, and everyday inventors, in an effort to solve a problem that has been slowing the rate of scientific discovery,” said Dr. James L. Olds, Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences at NSF.

Whether through the beauty of a butterfly, agricultural significance of a honeybee, or the public health implications of a mosquito, insects influence the quality of human life every day.

“Insects are an amazingly diverse group of organisms that represent an overwhelming amount of living biological diversity on Earth,” said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis. “Very few insect species are pests and most play important roles in our ecosystems. They pollinate many of our crops, recycle nutrients and energy, and are sources of food for the other animals in the food chain. Unfortunately, despite all we know about insects, we have yet to describe all of the species of insects and, in fact, we are still discovering new species at a surprisingly high rate.”

There are believed to be more than 1.5 million identified species of insects on Earth. This is hypothesized to be three times the number of all other animal species combined. Amazingly, it is estimated that there are 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects alive in the world. That’s more than one billion times the number of people.

“We share the planet with so many insects, wouldn’t it be wonderful if when we find a new one in our backyard we could take a picture of it and have that matched to an image in a museum somewhere. We could learn the name, understand what its role in the ecosystem is, or understand if it is an invasive species that might devastate our garden or nearby crop fields,” said Dr. Norman Johnson, Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection at The Ohio State University, and the Chairman of the Planning Committee that established the rules for the competition.
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