myFOSSIL eMuseum and Curation Team

By Jennifer Bauer (@jbauer)

Research Museum Collections Manager, University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology and former FOSSIL Postdoctoral Associate

 

The myFOSSIL eMuseum has undergone some remodeling over the last year. The back end structure now corresponds to museum data standards. This means that the myFOSSIL eMuseum uses similar underlying data language to other large museum databases like the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History!

Now, after you upload fossil specimens through the database, a team of volunteer curators examines your data. The curation team will research your fossil specimen and based off the images you provide and the information entered determine if the information can be verified. Specimens with high quality images and associated data will also be sent to iDigBio, so we can share your amazing fossils with the scientific community. iDigBio has a portal where people can search all museum collections that have digital records of their specimens. The curation team may comment to help clarify missing aspects or help you improve your data collection skills. This is something everyone has to work at! If you are interested in learning more about how to curate high quality data check out our YouTube series by clicking here.

The curation team is currently composed of Samantha Ocon as lead curator, Bill Heim, Gloria Carr, and Matthew and Christa Speights. The goal of creating a team is so that each person brings their own skills and expertise to the project. Bill Heim is a shark expert, Gloria Carr has expertise in vertebrate fossils of the Pacific Northwest, and the Speights are exerts in marine invertebrate fossils. Learn more about the mission, vision, and team by clicking here!

Other new updates to the myFOSSIL eMuseum include the ability for you to export your collection as a spreadsheet! Head to your profile, click on specimens, and look for the download CSV button. Additionally, you are able to print out specimen labels for your specimens through your specimen page! The development team is now working to implement a filtering system as the primary display for the eMuseum, so check back in to explore the community uploaded specimens by time period or taxonomy!

New layout of your personal specimens page where you can easily download a csv or specimen labels!

Networking at NAPC

by Gloria Carr (@gloria-carr)

I had a great time at NAPC, I learned a lot and it was really great meeting with the Dry Dredgers. My club, the North American Research Group (NARG), is much younger and it was really good to see what we could become after fifty years or so, Cincinnati is really showing what amateur/professional partnerships should be! I’m very excited about MyFOSSIL and I feel it is becoming a GREAT resource already. This is such an exciting time to be in paleontology, even as an amateur. It was so inspiring to see what everyone else has done. I hope in the future I will be able to contribute more. As a result of this conference I’ve joined the Paleontological Society and I’m looking forward to networking more.

Group photo after the FOSSIL symposium.

2017 FOSSILs4Teachers! Professional Development Landing Page

This event was organized and led by Jeanette Pirlo

The goal of this workshop was to connect K-12 educators with fossil clubs to help them better integrate fossils into their classrooms. Members of fossil clubs also brought with them fossils to share with the educators so they had their own specimens to bring home with them.

The goals for the 2017 Fossils for Teachers Professional Development were:

  1. To increase collaboration between professional or amateur paleontologists and K12 educators.
  2. To provide actual fossils that can be used in the classroom.
  3. To develop lesson plans using fossils and paleontology and related subjects. (For example geologic time, evolution and climate change).
  4. To increase your general knowledge of fossils and paleontology

Materials about or for the event:

Application (no longer accepting applicants)

Working Agenda

Newsletter Education Article about the event written by Danielle Brennan

Connecting Fossil Clubs with K-12 Teachers, Connected Science Learning publication

Lesson Plans developed by educators and paleontologists:

 

Group photo of FOSSILs4Teachers! participants. Photo by Jeff Gage.

Imaging and Digitization Workshop for Avocational Paleontologists

By Jeanette Pirlo

This past July, the FOSSIL Project co-hosted an Imaging and Digitization Workshop for Avocational Paleontologists with iDigBio.  The goal of the workshop was to increase the number of myFOSSIL community members digitizing their private collection and sharing it through the myFOSSIL eMuseum. Over three days, 22 participants from across the country enhanced their preexisting techniques, and learned new techniques from our resident imaging expert, Zach Randall.  By focusing on simple imaging skills using low-tech items like cell phones, tablets, and point-and-shoot digital cameras, participants learned the importance of lighting, focus, and background (Fig 1).  They also learned how to use image manipulation software to enhance their images.

Imaging and Digitization Workshop for Avocational Paleontologists participants. Photo Credit: Jeff Gage

We began the workshop by discussing workshop’s goals and built a list of goals that the participants had (Fig 2). We made sure to include participants’ goals into each talk and hands-on activity, to ensure that both parties got the most out of the workshop. The workshop continued with talks and hands-on activities to familiarize participants with their imaging tools. Click here to read the full workshop agenda. As our participants are paleontologists at heart, we wanted to provide them with a chance to collect their own specimens to image.  We took a field trip to a local Gainesville creek on the second day, and spent the morning collecting fossils (Fig 5). While in the creek, PhD student from the College of Education, Richard Bex, surveyed the interactions occurring between our participants.  Results of the interactions are being analyzed and will be published at a later date.

The final day of the workshop was focused on manipulating images using open source software like GIMP (Fig 3-4).  We also practiced on apps available on smart phones and tablets for those participants who do not have access to computers at home.  Participants also spent the remaining portion of the last day on uploading images of their personal collections to the myFOSSIL e-museum.  A main goal of the workshop was to increase the number of specimen images in the e-museum. The images that display high quality and are considered research grade, will receive GUIDs and be ingested by iDigBio for research potential.  By the end of the workshop, over 120 new specimens had been added to the myFOSSIL eMuseum.

Figure 1: Imaging Workshop participant demonstrates proper imaging techniques by manipulating lighting, enhancing the specimen by providing a matte background, and properly using a scale bar in the image. Photo Credit: Jeanette Pirlo

Figure 2: Participant goals for the workshop. At the end of the workshop, the majority of these goals had been discussed, with the exception of doing black light photography. Photo Credit: Jeanette Pirlo

Figure 3: Imaging Workshop participant using GIMP to improve the quality of his images. Photo Credit: Jeanette Pirlo

Figure 4: Imaging Workshop participant using a free app on her Android smartphone to improve the quality of her images. Photo Credit: Jeanette Pirlo

A program evaluation was sent to participants at the end of the workshop.  Results are still being processed, but many of the responses are summarized in the quotes below:

  • “I also plan to use the myFOSSIL eMuseum as my primary database for recording and tracking my fossils. I currently use a Google Sheet to record my fossil data, but the myFOSSIL data is more complete and brings together data that I typically keep in disparate places into one location. With the ability to download the data, I can store it for my own records.” – 2019 Participant
  • “The workshop exceeded my expectations. I have been taking and manipulating digital photos for over 20 years and I still learned a lot that was very useful. I’ve immediately implemented many of the things I learned in the workshop and can see a drastic improvement in the quality of the photos of my specimens.” – 2019 Participant
  • “Everything I expected was done very well, it was organized well, time was well spent, adding a field trip was a good idea, we had time to collaborate with each other after the meeting in the hotel. It was a nice diverse group that you selected.” – 2019 Participant

These results will be used to improve and enhance future workshops.  We aim to have an Imaging 2.0 workshop for next summer, focusing on 3D imaging.  We hope to provide similar opportunities for avocational paleontologists and improve their photogrammetry techniques.

Encouraging progress and exciting research at NAPC

by Matthew Speights (@matthew-speights)
Tom Bantel lectures for the Two to Tango session.

My experience at NAPC this June went far beyond what I would have expected. I went into the conference most interested in talks on vertebrate paleontology and amateur-professional collaboration. These did not disappoint, with some impressive talks on subjects such as Miocene shark extinction, the influence of hunting and environmental change on mammoth reproductive patterns, a whole seminar on dinosaur-bird evolution, and of course the FOSSIL Project seminar. It was truly encouraging to see the progress FOSSIL has made over the years (via the data on the increasing numbers and types of users), as well as to hear from fellow amateur paleontologists on the contributions we can make.

An aspect of the conference I was not anticipating, however, was the diversity of talks on palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. Particularly fascinating were studies that used fossil and subfossil material such as corals and shellfish to compare historical environments to modern ones, or used aquarium experiments to predict the future effects of climate change and ocean acidification.
The field trip to the La Brea Tar Pits Museum likewise exceeded my expectations. I had envisioned a typical museum, and instead got off the bus to the pungent aroma of petroleum, passed a lake with meter-sized bubbles of methane erupting, and saw the active excavation of fossils from sticky tar. The wealth of fossil material there was astounding; during our tour of the collections, I passed one area with column after column of bins stacked eight high, all with nothing but saber-toothed cat skulls.

Rows of Smilodon saber-toothed cat skulls in the La Brea Tar Pits Museum collections.

Current excavations at the La Brea Tar Pits.

Mastodon in the La Brea Tar Pits Museum.
A local lizard (genus Sceloporus) on Box Spring Mountain near Riverside.

And if that were not enough, I joined others paleontologists to enjoy California’s extant animals, hiking the chaparral-covered mountains, visiting UC Riverside’s botanical gardens, exploring Pacific tide pools, and visiting the Los Angeles zoo.

It was a fantastic trip, and I left encouraged about the state of amateur paleontology and with a greater appreciation for life on our planet, both extinct and extant. I would like to thank the FOSSIL Project for making all this financially possible, and look forward to what the future will bring for us.

Impactful discussions about increasing diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in paleontology

By Ian D. Browne, Ph.D. (@ian-browne)

Postdoctoral Fellow
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
Oklahoma State University, Center for Health Sciences

I have been a member of the Paleontological Society off-and-on for the past twenty years and am sorry to say that until this year I had never attended NAPC. As second author on a talk my supervisor had submitted, I figured this year would be no different. I honestly did not know what to expect of the NAPC meeting when Dr. Kent Smith told me I would be going in his place to talk about the work we do at Oklahoma State University to recruit and support future generations of Native American physicians and scientists as part of the Native Explorers program. On the flight out I assumed NAPC would be no different than any other conference I have attended. I could not have been more wrong and am so glad for it. The Paleontological Society’s commitment to fostering diversity and inclusivity in the field was absolutely palpable and felt to be light years beyond what I have observed at other meetings. This was by far the most positive meeting experience I have had in my nearly twenty years of attending scientific meetings.

Head to http://www.nativeexplorers.org/ to learn more about our program.

I found every talk in the “Engaging Diverse Communities in Paleontology” and “Broadening Horizons of Broader Impacts” symposia to be inspirational and continually found myself thinking “we need to do this with Native Explorers.” It was especially heartening to see that the “Engaging Diverse Communities in Paleontology” session was absolutely packed, standing room only. The “Exploring eLearning in the Paleosciences” symposium appealed to my work with photogrammetry and developing digital resources for use in the lecture hall and in outreach. I was glad to see so many talks focused on developing positive collaborations and interactions between “amateur” and “professional” paleontologists, though as was frequently pointed out the line between the groups is now, as always, nebulous and I hesitate to use those labels.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the FOSSIL Project for funding my trip to NAPC. Regrettably I was only passingly familiar with the FOSSIL Project prior to NAPC. The more I learned about the project, both before and at the meeting, the more I found I was kicking myself for not becoming involved sooner. Before returning to graduate school I spent most of my career working in natural history museums. Direct outreach and interaction with the public have always been important to me. So much of what the FOSSIL Project is doing dovetails with my own values and outreach goals. As the project transitions into the next phase of its existence I hope I will be able to do my part to ensure its continued success.

Summing up, I think what struck me most about the NAPC meeting is that while other meetings make an effort to address some of these topics, they always seem to be treated as subordinate to the “real science”. What was so refreshing was that the Paleontological Society clearly put these topics at the forefront. No matter how many museum drawers we fill, or papers we publish, we must ask ourselves if we are not working to ensure that everyone who shares this passion for fossils has the access and support they need to flourish, does any of it really matter?

 

Riverside California NAPC Convention 2019

By Linda McCall (@lmccall)

It was especially meaningful for me to attend the 50th Anniversary North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC) in Riverside, CA June 23-27 as a guest of the myFOSSIL Project.

These conventions are held every 5 years and I had attended the previous one in 2014 in Gainesville, FL at the kick-off of the myFOSSIL Project, so it was especially poignant for me to be attending this one at the Project’s close.

I am no stranger to working with professionals and presenting at paleontological conventions but I have  learned a lot in the ensuing years since the FOSSIL Project’s inception, becoming even more aware of the vast variety of opportunities that exist to interact with the broader professional community in a meaningful way.  The FOSSIL Project has also been invaluable in helping me connect with other amateur/avocational paleontologists from all across the country.  These are friendships that will last for the rest of my life and I am deeply indebted to the project for facilitating those introductions.

Presenting in the Two to Tango session. Photo by Sadie Mills.

As an active advocate for advancing the collaboration between the non-professional and the professionals sides of paleontology, this convention was particularly noteworthy in that for the first time ever (that I am aware of), an entire session was created by, dedicated to, and run by Amateur/avocational paleontologists.  Offered by the Dry Dredger Fossil Club from Ohio: Symposium 32: Two to Tango: amateur-professional interactions in advancing paleontological knowledge.  The session was chaired by Dry Dredger and Paleontological Society Strimple Award Winner Jack Kallmeyer and Dr. David Meyer.  There were 18 presentations – all well attended, some talks with over 60 in the audience.

It was an honor to be a part of this inaugural foray of the amateur/avocational community into the world of professionalism and I hope it will continue and serve as a model for future sessions to draw on.  The myFOSSIL Project and the NAPC Convention have enriched my life and I will be forever grateful for the lessons learned.

NAPC Experience

by Rich Bex (@richard-bex)

The 2019 North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC) was a memorable experience. Before joining the FOSSIL Project, I never thought I would have the privilege to attend, let alone present at a conference of that magnitude. During my time with the FOSSIL Project, I have had the opportunity to meet and converse with members of the paleontological committee through many of the events that FOSSIL has hosted or been a part of, as well as through social media as part of the FOSSIL Project social media team. Through NAPC, I had a chance to reconnect with many of our community members as well as meet many members of the paleontological community that I may never have met otherwise.

Presenting in the FOSSIL Symposium.

As many of my colleagues have probably stated, the conference had many high points. There were incredible keynote speeches, informative sessions, and well-run workshops. For me, the most memorable part during my five days at NAPC, was the symposium which focused on the past, present, and future of the FOSSIL Project. I felt very lucky when I was offered the chance to join the project two years ago.  For me, it was incredible hearing the discussions of their experiences with the project and what the project meant to them. Hearing their stories, gave me a sense of accomplishment because it made it seem like we had made a real impact on the paleontological community.

Attending the NAPC with the FOSSIL Project

By Jayson Kowinsky (@jayson-kowinsky)

The Fossil Project invited me to participate in a panel discussion at one of their symposiums at the North American Paleontological Convention (NAPC) in Riverside California.  The NAPC is a power packed conference chalk full of paleontology sessions, presentations, and posters that is hosted every 4 to 5 years.  It’s a week where one eats, breathes, and sleeps paleontology!

The FOSSIL Project arranged for a few sessions of amateur paleontologists to discuss and highlight the importance of amateurs in the field of paleontology and also to discuss the goals and accomplishments of The FOSSIL Project.

Before attending the conference, I decided, with some other FOSSIL Project friends, to go a few days early and visit Ernst quarries in Bakersfield (Sharktooth Hill Area) for a chance at finding Miocene marine fossils from the Temblor formation, which include sharks and cetaceans.

Jayson Kowinsky, Lee Cone, and Tara Lepore on the discussion panel for The FOSSIL Project. Photo by Sadie Mills.

C. hastalis shark tooth from Sharktooth Hill

Discussing how to use myFOSSIL for Avocational Contributions. Photo by Sadie Mills.

After the pre-trip to Bakersfield we drove down to Riverside for the NAPC kickoff and to meet up with other FOSSIL people that had just arrived.   The convention was very well organized and also very busy!

There were many symposiums going on concurrently and it was hard to pick which ones to go to and which ones to miss.   All of The FOSSIL Project sessions were wonderful and informative, including symposium 36 run by Jen Bauer, which I participated in.   The NAPC was also a great place to meet new paleontologists and reconnect with past acquaintances.

Finally, after the NAPC conference, I stayed a few extra days to checkout out the museums around LA, including, a hidden gem called the Alf Museum, the famous La Brea Tar Pits, and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County with its stunning dinosaurs.

Looking at the collections in the Alf Museum – An excavation at a tar pit in La Brea – The articulated juvenile Edmontosaurus (LACM 23504) displayed in the NHM of Los Angeles County.

A BIG thanks goes out to The Fossil Project for setting up the sessions, logistics, and inviting the many amateurs to speak at NAPC 2019!

What are conferences and why is NAPC different?

by MacKenzie Smith (@mackenzie-smith)

Greetings readers!

MacKenzie presenting in Two to Tango on NARG! Photo by Sadie Mills.

Conferences are, at least in my opinion, one of the methods of communication in science that are not frequently talked about or seen outside of academia. Since I’m one of those weirdos who likes to talk in front of groups of people, I was initially excited by the idea of conferences as an undergraduate, but my opinion changed on them as I moved on to graduate school. Conferences can take up a lot of time (and money) and sometimes are more draining than anything especially if there aren’t a lot of talks you are wholly invested in. NAPC was different though. Unlike most conferences I’ve attended before which were focused on geology or botany, NAPC had sessions on all aspects of paleontology. To me, this made it very worth while since the skills and knowledge base in one paleo field can be transferred to another or put into the larger context of the history of life. Since the sessions all had different themes I wouldn’t say there was one or several take away points. Likewise, I don’t think I could point a finger on ways I directly benefited other than increased awareness of other studies and the inspiration to keep working to keep up.

To keep up, I gave a talk of my own titled “Bridging the gap: Outreach and research contributions of the North America Research Group (NARG).”In it, I discussed NARG’s history, it’s outreach and major fossil discoveries. I also talked about the important role that fossil clubs play in inspiring and guiding people (generally, but not always youth) into the academic realm.

If you would like more insight from the conference including photos you can follow this link to a YouTube video on the conference: An inside look at a paleontology conference!

Signing off,

MacKenzie