Staff & Student News

MacArthur Curator Bruce Patterson (Zoology/Mammals) delivered an invited plenary lecture on the opening day of the I Congreso Ecuatoriano de Mastozoología (First Ecuadorean Congress of Mammalogy), from his desktop via Skype.  The congress was hosted by Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador in Quito and organized by Dr. Santiago Burneo, the new society’s first president and a collaborator on The Field Museum’s recent zoological expeditions to that country. Bruce's televised lecture was entitled “Research and conservation in the developing world: comparisons of Africa and South America.”  It identified some remarkable and heartening developments for research and conservation in Latin America and prescribed a prospective course for students to take in coming years.  Bruce recently gave plenaries (in person) at the 4th Bolivian mammal congress in Cochabamba (2009) and the 2nd Peruvian mammal congress in Arequipa (2010).

From November 14–15, The Biodiversity Heritage Library, The Field Museum and BioSynC hosted the Life and Literature conference.  The conference convened librarians, biologists, computer scientists, publishers, students, and other stakeholders to set the agenda for biodiversity literature digitizing and its networked environment for the next four to five years.  Focal topics included: Biologists and Biodiversity Literature Research, Informatics and the Public Record Publishers, Aggregators, and Authors: new models and access Learning and Education Building Collaborative Networks for Science and the Humanities.  The Life and Literature conference continued on November 16 with a smaller meeting with the goal to organize an African BHL and African contributions to EOL.  This meeting had representatives from Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, and South Africa.  The meeting was hosted by BHL and BioSynC and sponsored by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation.

Associate Curator Scott Lidgard and Research Associate Lynn Nyhart (both Geology) have been named “Gordon Cain Conference Fellows” for 2012 by the Chemical Heritage Foundation.  The Foundation “was built to recognize superior accomplishments in chemistry and related sciences,” and this unsolicited award will provide funding for a conference in early May 2012.  Scott and Lynn’s collaborative research on the history and nature of biological individuality will be the focus of the conference, “E pluribus unum: Bringing biological parts and wholes into historical and philosophical perspective.”  The object of the conference is to pursue the question: How can historians, philosophers, and biologists help each other to understand part-whole relationships in biology, both today and in the past?  Understanding part-whole relations in living nature has long been a fundamental philosophical problem for biologists, whether couched in terms of the nature of the biological individual, modularity, or levels in a biological hierarchy.  The problem links to biological questions about evolution and emergence, systematics, development, and functional morphology; philosophical questions about the nature of the organism and causation in biology; and the historical and cultural circumstances in which such questions resonate with parallel questions about the nature of society.  About twenty prominent scholars in the biological sciences and humanities have agreed to participate, and will share their perspectives on the problem of part-whole relations in a variety of different historical moments and guises, as it has touched different empirical problems in biology and Western culture.  In late October, Scott and Lynn met with executives at the Foundation in Philadelphia to work out specific plans for the conference.  The ultimate product stemming from this award is an edited book that will offer a synthetic, multifaceted understanding of part-whole relationships in biology, joining together the perspectives of biologists, historians, and philosophers.  This award adds to Lynn’s accolades earlier this year.  In March, she was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in History of Science and Technology for her collaborative work with Scott on their biological individuality project!

The Moreau Lab attended the 59th Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America in Reno, NV from November 13–16.  Presentations were made by Assistant Curator Corrie Moreau, Postdoctoral Research Scientist Stefanie Kautz (both Zoology/Insects), Graduate students Benjamin Rubin and Max Winston (both University of Chicago), and Timothy O'Connor, former undergraduate Intern in Zoology/Insects.  Research Scientist Torsten Dikow (BioSynC) also attended, presenting a talk entitled “Phylogeny and historical biogeography of Apioceridae and Mydidae inferred from morphological characters of imagines (Diptera: Asiloidea)” which summarized preliminary results on the evolutionary relationships of flower-loving flies and mydas flies, which is part of his NSF-funded REVSYS project.  You can see Torsten’s presentation here.

On October 21, Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck attended the 50th Anniversary Symposium of the Center for Meteorite Studies at Arizona State University.  The symposium was organized by former Field Museum Curator of Meteoritics and current Research Associate Meenakshi Wadhwa (Geology) and featured inspiring presentations about the past, present and future of meteoritics and cosmochemistry. 

From October 25–29, BioSynC hosted an IUCN Red List workshop to assess threats to over 640 species of cone snails, one of the largest assessments undertaken for this purpose at a single session.  Conus, being the largest genus of marine invertebrates, is of special significance to biodiversity.  The workshop opened with an address describing the challenges facing marine science as the impact of over-exploitation, habitat loss, rising sea levels and changes in the marine carbon cycle bring global fisheries to collapse and threaten the future existence of aragonite-secreting animals such as corals and molluscs.  Presentations were then given on the application of the standard IUCN Categories and Criteria and the taxonomic approaches to Red Listing.  The meeting then divided into six work groups each representing a different biogeographical region to review draft species assessments researched at University of York over the previous months.  Each group consisted of two or three experts for that region with representation from both academia and commerce, including leading malacologists and taxonomists but also major global traders in mollusc shells that are committed to conservation.  For more information and updates from the meeting visit the ConusBioSynC page.

On October 20, Coral Reef Specialist Beth Sanzenbacher (BioSynC) was on a web panel with Dom Raban, Managing Director of Corporation Pop, to discuss scientific accuracy and participatory design in educational virtual world projects.  During this panel, hosted by the International Journal of Learning and Media, Beth discussed the WhyReef project (and her team’s most recent publication, “Worked Example: How Scientific Accuracy In Game Design Stimulates Scientific Inquiry”).  To view the archived webcast visit IJLM.

In September, 21 delegates representing nine online biodiversity reporting projects (and one citizen science research project) from six regions of the globe met in Milton Keynes, UK, to talk about data sharing, compare and exchange free or shareable content and tools, plan next generation development to connect their projects more closely, discuss user experience, recruiting, content management, copyright, fundraising and other shared challenges, and then document the best practices.  The meeting is expected to result in jointly-authored papers about citizen scientist motivation and behavior, several collaborative grant proposals, and assorted experiments in cross-platform data sharing.  Slide presentations from the meeting are available here.  This meeting was co-sponsored by BioSynC, the EOL Learning + Education Group, and the EOL Species Pages Group.

Research & Publications

Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck (Geology) co-authored a paper published in the Journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta with his former Graduate student Matthias Meier.  The authors’ study sheds light on the origin of presolar graphite grains (see false color scanning electron microscope image) that were extracted about 20 years ago in Chicago from the Murchison Meteorite from the Field Museum collection.  Philipp, Matthias and the other co-authors measured the noble gases helium and neon in individual grains with an ultra-high sensitive mass spectrometer at ETH Zurich in Switzerland.  They found that some of the presolar graphite dust grains formed in explosions of massive stars before the birth of the sun, and even captured some of the gas from the explosion.  For the first time they detected the rare gas isotope neon-21 in a presolar graphite grain.  Other grains formed in the less violent environment of dying sun-like stars and captured gas from their stellar winds.  Results from this study of real stardust in the laboratory are used to refine and test theoretical models of stars.  The paper can be accessed online here

Fieldwork & Collections

Photo Archivist Nina Cummings reports that in early November, Photographer Karen Bean (both Library) finished digitizing a collection of images taken on the 1923–1925 Captain Marshall Field Central African Expedition to Uganda (then called “Belgian Congo”).  Field Museum participants on the expedition included Zoology Curator Edmund Heller and his wife, a bacteriologist, Dr. Hilda Hempl Heller.  The images show the collecting of mammals, reptiles and insects for the Field Museum.  This collection of 402 negatives was prioritized for digitization because they were made using cellulose nitrate film.  Used circa 1890–1930 for still and motion picture photography, cellulose nitrate film is highly unstable; deteriorating and eventually disintegrating completely.   After the digitization project was completed, the original negatives were placed in long-term frozen storage to slow deterioration and to preserve the negatives for future generations.  The majority of the Heller collection of photographs has never been published and none have been described.  The library staff hopes to identify species and geographic locations with the help of the scientific staff, and associate the images with the catalog records in the Museum-wide collection management system, KE EMu.  By digitizing and describing the Heller expedition collection, the photographs will be more useful to scientists, scholars and the general public for research.

Public Education & Media Coverage

This week The Field Revealed brings you a new video entitled “Night Shift with Mr. Harwa,” please enjoy this window into the behind-the-scenes work in C&R and share with your friends and family!



On October 14, Collections Manager Jim Holstein, Meteoritics Research Intern Asna Ansari, Robert A. Pritzker Assistant Curator of Meteoritics and Polar Studies Philipp Heck, Research Associate Nicolas Dauphas (all Geology) and Graduate student Francois Tissot (University of Chicago) participated in the 1st French-American Science Festival, organized by the Consulate General of France in Chicago.  The event was held at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and was eagerly attended by over 200 Chicagoland students from elementary through high school. The Field Museum and University of Chicago team explained with meteorites from the Collection of the Robert A. Pritzker Center for Meteoritics and Polar Studies, what researchers can learn by studying them and how to distinguish them from terrestrial rocks.  (See header image)

In mid-November, A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin (Anthropology) returned from Paris, where he spent three weeks teaching a course for 12 students studying abroad from the University of Chicago.  The courseis was entitled “Primate and Human Evolution” and consisted of three sections.  Bob teaches the middle section every year, which is devoted to an overview of primate evolution. That section included an excursion and a final symposium with presentations from eight French research teams working in biological anthropology or related fields.  Bob took the opportunity to discuss collaborative research possibilities with Dominique Grimaud-Hervé of the Paris Institute for Prehistory.  Dominique organizes the speakers for the symposium every year and, like Bob, has a special interest in brain evolution.  This year’s excursion began with a visit to the Museum of Prehistory in Nemours, located an hour south of Paris.  The Museum of Prehistory currently has a special exhibit devoted to the work of Elisabeth Daynès, the artist who produced the stunning reconstruction of “Lucy” that is one of the major highlights in The Field Museum’s Evolving Planet exhibit.  Bob and Elisabeth discussed provisional plans to generate facial reconstructions in connection with the ongoing mummy-scanning project in the Anthropology Department of The Field Museum.  In the afternoon, the students visited the Gallery of Anatomy and Paleontology in the Jardin des Plantes, where they collected information for a research project on the evolution of the backbone in primates.  As usual, the students did very well in the course.  There is also a significant spin-off: every summer for the past three years, Bob has hosted a Metcalf Intern from the University of Chicago, and every one has been a former student in the Paris course.