Staff & Student News

Resident Graduate Student Nick Block (Zoology/Birds and University of Chicago) defended his dissertation on July 16.  The title of Nick’s dissertation is “Cryptic Diversity and Phylogeography in the Bernieridae, an endemic Malagasy passerine radiation.”  Nick’s Major Advisor is Richard and Jill Chaifetz Associate Curator Shannon Hackett (Zoology/Birds). Associate Curator John Bates (Zoology/Birds) and MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Mammals and Birds) also served as his committee members.  Nick will remain in the Bird Division as a postdoc and will teach The Biology of Birds at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Pritzker Lab hosted 25 interns this summer, representing both undergraduate and high school students.  The DNA Residency program, which includes four high school students and two high school educators, ended on August 2.  Educators created lesson plans for biology classrooms and the students created an iBook detailing their summer experiences.  From June–August, Pritzker Lab users collected over 40,000 DNA sequences on our DNA Analyzer.

Curator Larry Heaney, Research Associate Danny Balete (both Zoology/Mammals) and their colleagues received word at the end of August that they have been awarded a grant from the Committee on Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society for studies of the mammals of Mindoro Island, Philippines.  Their recently completed 12-year field research program on Luzon Island led to the development of a predictive model for the distribution and diversity of mammals on oceanic islands.  The team will test the model on Mindoro, and if it is correct, they expect to roughly double the number of mammal species known to live on the island.  Fieldwork will begin in January 2013.  The grant will be supplemented with funding from The Field Museum's Barbara Brown Fund for Mammal Research.

MacArthur Field Biologist Steve Goodman (Zoology/Mammals and Birds) was named as a member of the Scientific Counsil of a research group working from La Reunion Island (France) known as “Centre de Recherche et de Veille sur les Maladies Emergentes dans l'Ocean Indien (the Center for Research and Surveillance of Emerging Diseases in the Indian Ocean).”  The post is for five years and involves the evaluation of projects and an annual committee meeting to be held on la Reunion.

Research & Publications

Staff Scientist Jason Weckstein (Zoology/Birds) co-authored a paper entitled “A new genus and species of Philopteridae (Phthiraptera: Ischnocera) from the trumpeters (Aves: Gruiformes: Psophiidae)” with Michel Valim (former postdoc in Zoology/Birds, now São Paulo Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo) in the August Journal of Parasitology.  The paper describes a new genus and species of chewing louse (left) that parasitizes the endemic Amazonian bird family Psophiidae, the trumpeters, which are related to cranes.  Two other louse genera are known from trumpeters.  However, this new genus is particularly small and thus was overlooked by past researchers.  The new genus,Palmaellus was named in honor of Ricardo Palma (Curator of Insects, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa), who is one of the world’s leading experts on lice.  News of this honor has made the press in New Zealand, including a short slot on the “week that was” on New Zealand’s National Radio nine to noon show and a story published in the Dominion Post, both in print and online. Several specimens of this new genus and species are deposited in the Field Museum’s Insect Collections.  A PDF of the paper can be downloaded here.

Ornithologists from all over North America and the world gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia for the North American Ornithological Conference (August 14–18).  It was a terrific meeting, with The Field Museum being very well represented.  Resident Graduate Student Nick Block (Zoology/Birds and University of Chicago), who recently defended his dissertation at the University of Chicago, won a best student paper award for his presentation on Malagasy biodiversity “Parasites reveal despeciation of deeply divergent lineages in a passerine.”  Incoming UC doctoral student Shane Dubay also won an award for his presentation based on his Master’s research (done at the University of New Mexico with Dr. Chris Witt) entitled “Diversification by local adaptation to altitude in Andean Tit-tyrants.”  Resident Graduate Student Ben Winger (Zoology/Birds and University of Chicago) presented a paper on his comparative studies of genetic structure in birds across the Marañon River Valley of Peru, Research Assistant Josh Engel (Zoology/Birds) presented a poster documenting a novel migration path in African birds and suggesting two populations of Barred Long-tailed Cuckoos of the Afro-montane regions of East Africa should be considered separate species, and Resident Graduate Student Aaron Olsen (Zoology/Fishes and University of Chicago) presented a poster comparing waterfowl jaw mechanics in an evolutionary framework.  Also attending the conference were Associate Curator John Bates (who gave multiple presentations about a similar meeting The Field Museum will host in 2013) and Collections Manager Emeritus Dave Willard (both Zoology/Birds).  More than twenty talks during the conference acknowledged The Field Museum’s Bird Division, having either received loans or visited the collections to further their research. Above image: Collections Manager Emeritus Dave Willard birding on the beach in Vancouver.

Fieldwork & Collections

In July 2011, Genesis Medical Imaging LLC allowed the Anthropology Department to borrow a mobile CT scanner for a week to scan collections.  The success of that scanning project yielded a wealth of scientific information and much of the impetus for this year’s two special exhibits Opening the Vaults: Mummies and Images of the Afterlife.  This summer, Genesis once again offered a scanner free of charge for a  week, and the Anthropology Department gratefully accepted.  Non-staff project costs, such as the rental of a 480VAC/200A generator (to power the CT scanner) and 250 gallons of diesel to fuel the generator, were covered by private donations. 

                  A GE VCT64 medical CT scanner mounted in a specially adapted trailer was brought to the museum and set up in The Museum's west parking lot from August 20–24 (above image).  In all, 93 catalog items were examined including the ~15,000-year-old skeleton of “Magdalenian Girl,” the ~5,000-year-old Predynastic Egyptian mummy, several Pre-Columbian Peruvian mummy bundles and pottery, Late Period and Ptolemaic animal mummies, musical instruments from five continents, and magical items from Africa.  Altogether, 62 GB of data was collected, a significant increase compared with last year’s totals of 21 specimens scanned and 22 GB of data. 

                  A CT scan yields a stack of X-ray “slices” through the object under study.  The images can then be processed to yield extremely accurate 3-dimensional reconstructions of the interior of the objects, which can allow determination of age, sex, and species of wrapped humans and animals as well as details of manufacture and construction in artifacts.  Image right: Volumetric reconstructions from the CT data of the skull of "Magdalenian Girl": the restored skull as scanned (top), areas of restoration highlighted in orange (middle), and restriction to actual bone (bottom).

                  Some of the scanned items are currently on display and Anthropology hopes to secure funds which will support processing the CT scans to enhance interpretation of these objects.  Other collection materials are in storage, but the CT scans are still a valuable aid for elucidation.

                  Regenstein Conservator JP Brown, together with A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin and Adjunct Curator Jim Phillips, led the scanning project.  Object movement was organized and coordinated by Collections Manager Jamie Kelly and Regenstein Collections Manager Chris Philipp. Collections Manager Ben Marks (Zoology/Birds) provided extremely useful comparative material from the Birds collection.  Birgitta Rota, the Anthropology Department’s Operations Administrator, provided essential logistical support.

                  Warmest thanks go to all the interns and volunteers who helped with the delicate task of moving objects between CRC storage and the scanner truck: Sophie Hammond-Hagman (UCL), Maggie Geoga (Harvard), Andrea Rummel (Metcalf Intern, University of Chicago), Magdalyne Christakis (DePaul), Ashley Jehle (Buffalo State), Darren Vilimin, Mary Cochrane, Amy Zillman, Tatsumi Brown, and Cassie Carpinone. Image left: Volunteer Sophie Hammond-Hagman positions a Late period Egyptian cat mummy for scanning.

                  A major project such as this could not have been organized without the cooperation of many Museum staff outside the Anthropology Department.  Thanks are also due to Ernst Pierre-Toussaint (FP&O), Cliff Augustus (Protection Services), Nancy O'Shea and Emily Waldren (both Public Relations), Cate Goebel and Kenda Lovecchio (both IA), Rob Zschernitz (IT), and all associated staff members.  Special thanks go to Brian Pratt (FP&O) for keeping the power generator running 24/7 throughout the week, Sean Bober (IT) for setting up the network connection from the trailer to the Anthropology Department’s X-ray image server, Karen Bean and John Weinstein (both Photography) and Jared Berent (Science Media Producer) for their intensive visual documentation of the entire project, and Terry Bruce (Protection Services) for managing traffic flow around the dock.  This was truly a Museum-wide effort. Without the ready help we received at every turn from staff and volunteers throughout the Museum, it would have been absolutely impossible to accomplish so much in such a short time.

Header image: Regenstein Conservator JP Brown and A. Watson Armour III Curator Bob Martin position an Indonesian guitar for scanning watched by incoming Field Museum President Richard Lariviere 

This summer, a team of Anthropology staff members and interns completed the transport of the fabulous Bill Goldman collection of Mexican folk art to The Field Museum.  Several years ago, Bill, a former teacher in the Chicago Public School System, promised his collection and its documentation to the Museum, under the proviso that parts of it could remain decorating his abode until he was ready to donate them.  The collection is a great resource to the Anthropology Department both for its breadth and also for the personal connection that Mr. Goldman has with many of the artists and artisans.  Decades ago, Bill traveled to the Mexican states of Oaxaca, Michoacán, and Chiapas every summer.  While there, he would visit artists in each state, collecting pieces and documenting how they worked.  Even before this recent move of the collection to the Museum, pieces from the Goldman collection were featured in the Field’s temporary exhibitions on The Day of the Dead and Traditions Retold.  And, there remain a ream of stories still to be told. 

                  Associate Registrar Gloria Levitt, who was aided by Collections Assistant Andrew Leith, spearheaded the move of the collections from Bill’s home to the Museum with tact and forethought. In addition, six interns and volunteers in Anthropology, including Anthropology Alliance Intern Kirsten Madsen (University of Chicago), and Interns Alex Pirela and Callie Clay (North Central College,) Katie Melloh (Notre Dame) Aiyana Scully-Moorhead (Boston University), and Cassie Pontone, all helped in this major effort.  Many of the Anthropology Collection staff assisted further once the Goldman pieces arrived in the building.

                  The Anthropology Department, and especially Curator Gary Feinman, would like to take this opportunity to thank Bill Goldman for this incredible gift as well as for his generosity of time and good will as the team set up camp at his home.  In addition, all of the staff and interns involved in this move deserve the Department’s recognition for their dedicated and careful efforts on behalf of the museum.  Finally, thanks to the members of Anthropology Alliance for their help in making this incredible accession possible.  Above image: Bill Goldman and the Anthropology transport team.

Associate Curator Scott Lidgard (Geology) returned in mid-August from a month of research collaboration with developmental biologist Chris Lowe at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, California.  Scott and Chris are investigating how evolution creates new body plans, using colonial animals like bryozoans to help answer this question.  Different individuals—zooids—in a colony have evolved different forms, or polymorphs.  This polymorphism, in turn, can be seen as a laboratory to help discover how the same or different regulatory genes and developmental pathways are expressed in the bodies of larvae and of different zooid polymorphs within a single genetic individual (the colony).  This trip was only a first stage of the study in which Scott, a paleontologist, began learning techniques of total RNA extraction, analyzing and constructing a cDNA library, selecting “test” genes that are conserved across many animal phyla and are involved in establishing the organization of animal bodies, and eventually, visualizing where those genes act to shape the different-looking bodies of larvae and zooid polymorphs.  All of these bodies are stages in the cycle of life of a bryozoan.

The Anthropology Department recently completed the construction of archival storage mounts for its collection of twenty Sulka masks from the Pacific.  The masks, which are made by Sulka men over a period of months for a specific ceremony, are usually destroyed after they have been used in that ceremony.   The masks were collected for The Field Museum by A.B. Lewis during his expedition to the Pacific in 1911 and form primary evidence of the methods of manufacture in use prior to the impact of two World Wars on cultures in the Pacific.  The new housings are made of archival materials and are designed to allow the objects to be examined more easily by future researchers.  Read more on the process in Regenstein Intern Ashley Jehle’s blog post.

Public Education & Media Coverage

On August 31, C&R Media Interns Jared Berent and Kate Webbink released a new The Field Revealed Piecing Together Early Societies.  This episode features the work of Associate Curator Bill Parkinson (Anthropology), who studies 6,500-year-old societies in eastern Europe.  How did those societies form?  How have they changed into the world we see today?  And how can anthropologists find out after all this time, and with all the dirt, mud, and rocks in the way?  Watch the video and join Bill as he explores these questions.

A new What the Fish? podcast is out, Episode 6: Tales from the Field.  There are over 2.5 million specimens of fishes at The Field Museum and getting them is no easy task.  Tune in for this latest fish tale from the fish nerds, Assistant Curator Leo Smith, Postdoctoral Research Scientist Matthew Davis, Consultant and Volunteer Eric Ahlgren (all Zoology/Fishes) and Outreach Coordinator Beth Sanzenbacher (BioSynC).