Blogs & Videos: Collections

What the Function? with Smarter Every Day!

Where biology and engineering meet: let's puzzle out what the function is for some of our specimens! QUIZ SHOW! Huge thanks to Destin from Smarter Every Day for his help with this episode; stay tuned for more soon, and be sure to check out his channel! 

http://www.youtube.com/smartereveryday Special Guests: Anna Goldman and Destin!

Video: The Team

Meet the other members of this inaugural team and learn about what skills are needed for the upkeep of this important collection. Check back in on Monday for the final video in the series for a first-hand look at the backbone for the whole collection – the infrastructure. See what goes into installing the collection’s compactor units and see how these nuts and bolts do more than hold everything together.

Not One, Not Two, But Four New Species!

In our recent history, it has not been uncommon for scientists to collect plant and animal specimens from the remotest corners of our planet, and then bring them home to be a part of a collection at a museum.  It’s also not uncommon for some of these specimens to remain undescribed (meaning that no official characterization of the animal has been published in the scientific literature) for years, due to the large number of specimens in the collection.  Many times, new species have been discovered hiding among the specimens in a collection, sometimes 50 years after the specimen was collected.  Of course, it helps if the animal is fossilized – this is the reason scientists are still discovering new species of dinosaurs that once walked the earth!

Hiding in Plain Sight at The Field Museum

Today, new species of mammals are often discovered in the more remote areas of our planet, and most of them are small animals, such as shrews, bats or rodents. To discover a new carnivore is an exceptional feat, and especially in the Americas. In fact, scientists haven’t discovered a carnivore in the Americas in 35 years! Recently, however, the “olinguito” was revealed as a new species in the raccoon family, although it was first noticed years ago in the collections at The Field Museum.

Species in a world that thinks there is a clear division between basic and applied science

Humans are an inconsistent lot, but you would think that might not apply as much when it comes to science, and yet it does.  Even in science are still plenty of ways in which topics lead to opposing and confused viewpoints.  Around my institution these days the terms “applied” and “basic” science are being kicked around at the same time we are discussing “species” as a theme that cuts across research programs.  In terms of birds, this comes just as the much anticipated last volume of Handbook of Birds of the World arrived in the mail (sent to the Bird Division by Lynx Editions because of photos Mary Hennen took from our collection for the volume). It includes articles describing 15 new bird species from Amazonia, and as I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, Jason Weckstein and I were co-authors on two of these descriptions with Jason overseeing the gathering of DNA sequence data that helped support the descriptions.  In all, ten of these 86 recently described species involve Field Museum staff and collections in some direct way. Then there is also the description of the new species of Hero Shrew, on which I am a grateful co-author based on work by mammalogist colleagues including Bill StanleyJake Esselstyn and Julian Kerbis with appeared in Biology Letters several weeks ago.

What do researchers want?

Nina Cummings, who ably heads our photo archives in the museum shared with me an interesting blog post she saw recently.  It was from The Library of Congress and was written by Bill LeFurgy, their digital initiatives manager of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.  The title of the blog post was “What do researchers want from institutions that preserve digital content?”  Here at the museum we are working through our digital initiatives so the post resonated on several fronts.  The opening statement included this: “User expectations influence so much of what stewardship organizations do. We collect and preserve all content primarily to support use.” 

Another Thursday night for the Bird Divsion

Over the course of a year we do plenty of evening events of all kinds.  It is always fun to go support people who work in the Bird Division when possible, but last Thursday (2 May) there were multiple events happening across the city at the same time.  Research scientist Jason Weckstein was down at the University of Chicago with graduating senior Jennie Lee who presented her thesis work on population genetics of Ramphastos toucans.  Jennie gathered all her data in the Pritzker Laboratory and we’re looking forward to having her continue with us this summer.  She did a great job on this project and drew rave reviews from the faculty reading her paper.  We expect it will be ready to submit to a scientific journal shortly.

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