Thursday, February 25, 2016

GRSciColl: Connecting to Collections

SciColl is currently hosting a workshop on the Global Registry of Scientific Collections (GRSciColl). This online database holds information on institutions and their wide array of  scientific collections, from mammals to meteors, and everything in between. We have gathered experts on collections and databases to discuss how to improve the registry for the needs of the community.

We are part of a larger conversation on the accessibility and relevance of long-forgotten specimens hidden in museums or in the corners of laboratories. Databases and networks in the field of anthropology are different from the biomedical sciences; the community of agricultural scientists is different from that of earth scientists. In one room, we hope to cross boundaries on how researchers and curators connect to collections, as well as the wider world.

Here are a few recent contributions to this conversation in the media:

  • Natural history collections represent our planet’s biodiversity today, as well as from a century ago. Some new species will only ever be found in the halls of these institutions as they are lost to nature: “Natural History Museums Are Teeming With Undiscovered Species,” The Atlantic (08 February 2016) 

  • Museums are often at the front of communicating science. Recent studies - from asteroid research to the water crisis in Michigan - show that this conversation should go both ways: “Scientists Should Talk To The Public, But Also Listen,” Scientific American (05 February 2016) 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Botanist and the Digital Age

Fig.1. George Washington Carver
Credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1906)

Last week, 25 specimens of fungi collected by the famed botanist and inventor George Washington Carver were discovered in the Wisconsin State Herbarium at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Born into slavery around 1864, Carver became one of the most prominent African-American scientists and is now well known for his research with peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

In the News: From Peru to Outer Space

Fig.1. Illustration of a plant growth chamber on Mars (Credit: NASA, 2015)

Scientists from NASA have teamed up with the International Potato Center (CIP) in Peru to grow potatoes in Mars-like conditions for the benefit of possible manned-missions to our neighboring planet. This experiment - perhaps inspired by Mark Watney of The Martian - is just another exciting piece of news in agriculture and food security this month.

From ancient Scandinavia to outer space, collections are pushing the boundaries of our agricultural understanding. They reveal the history of food security and offer a future for agriculture in a world that must feed 7.4 billion people.

Friday, February 5, 2016

In the News: Mammoth for Dinner?

Fig.1. Woolly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius) in late Pleistocene landscape
Credit: Mauricio Antón, 2004)

From ices cores to mammoth meat, this week is full of curiosities frozen in time. A return to these specimens reveals an important software error, a lesson in evolution, an answer to a decades-old question, and more:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ice Cores and the Ancient Man

Fig.1. AWI Core Repository (Credit: Hannes Grobe/AWI, CC-BY-SA-2.5)

In 2003, paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman at the University of Virginia hypothesized that early humans significantly altered the climate by burning large areas of forests to clear land for farming and grazing. The greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere - mainly carbon dioxide and methane - halted a natural cooling cycle and possibly prevented another ice age.