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Funded Projects:

March 2010

It's busy, busy, busy in the Paleontology Repository, finishing up the NSF-funded digitization project and researching a new project on the history of the collections. Undergraduates Craig Draayer, Kevin Cutsforth, Kevin Murphy, Jared Rucker and Bonnie Beck have spent 55 hours each cataloguing and photographing specimens - totalling 2,476 specimen records in 2 months. Our connection with GBIF is still in the works and we are holding off upgrading to Specify 6 so that we can get the connection done before the grant project ends.

Our collection history project, Preserving 150 Years of Iowa's Fossil Collecting Heritage, is funded by the State Historical Society of Iowa with a REAP/HRDP grant. The goal of the project is to document the people behind the UI Paleontology Repository collections, especially local Iowans who have contributed greatly to paleontology through donating specimens. Many of these people are not professional paleontologists but their love of fossils created strong bonds with the Paleontology Repository. For the project, we are:

The project was developed by Museum Studies Intern, Kelly Oates, who wanted to work in the Paleontology Repository but had a history background rather than geology. She selected Samuel Calvin, Charles Belanski, and A.O. Thomas as her collectors. We soon realized the full potential of such a project and now five undergraduates are working on the project: David Majewsi, Myra Laird, Brittany Maltas, Bonnie Beck, and Diana Henry. Kelly is now a Museum Studies graduate student at the University of Western Illinois. We have trained in paper cleaning and repair with Kristin Baum at the UI Libraries Conservation Lab, recieved training in archive research from UI Archivist, David McCartney, and have consulted Preservation Librarian, Nancy Kraft, about digitizing labels and documents.

Three other students are doing projects in the Paleontology Repository. Miles Dietz is doing a project for his Advanced Collection Care and Management class, processing donations and developing donation procedures, standards and best practices. Since he began the project we have received a donation of meteorites for the Geoscience Department, two trilobites and a small petrified tree trunk! Miles is currently processing the St. Thomas collection which was purchased for the Paleontology Repository by UI physics professor and avid fossil collector, Charles Newsom. Matt Mayer is doing a Directed Study on the stratigraphic collection. Although this collection takes up nearly half the Paleontology Repository space, I know very little about it. Matt is making an inventory of the formations and their localities and is also studying any cephalopods he finds for his senior thesis. Rachel Spengler, Museum Studies Intern, is helping us develop new grant proposals involving more digitization and developing education resources.

Although fieldwork has finished for the Tarkio Valley Sloths Project, research continues apace. Undergraduate Justine Hart is doing a morphometric study on the scapulae (the only bone recovered from all three Megalonyx jeffersonii), supported by an Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduatesaward. She is using a microscribe to measure the bones and is including scapulae from other fossil specimens and from modern 2-toed and 3-toed sloths.


July 2008

We continued working on our NSF project to digitize priority collections. Graduate students Holly Berg and TracyAnn Champagne, and undergraduates Alex Wall, and Myra Laird, catalogued, curated and photographed specimens. IT graduate student Juw Won Park assisted with the development of our educational resource: Tropical America Virtual Field School. Originally we had planned to digitize the Amoco South Florida collection and associated data and use this to create an interactive educational resource. Holly and Juw Won created a zoomable map of south Florida showing the hundreds of collecting localities with a drop down query for selecting data by locality (showing all species) or by species (showing all localities). However, Professor Brian Glenister, who had led the Amoco South Florida field trips for 30 years, donated his entire photograph collection to the Paleontology Repository and among these 7,000 slides were XXX photos of field activities in South Florida! We had to incorporate this resource and came up with the idea of creating a virtual field trip to South Florida using Glenister's photos. A UI Innovations in Instructional Computing grant funded commercial digitization of the collection, and employed undergraduate Mary Bubb to research and develop an interactive website. Art student Chris Annis assisted with the preparation of slides for digitizing. Undergraduate Myra Laird inventoried the slide collection and created an interactive reef dive. We were awarded a REU supplement to our NSF grant for undegraduate Tawny Bailey to create a public-friendly version of our on-line database. Fossils In My Back Yard is the result. Visitors can click on a county on the Iowa bedrock map for an illustrated list of fossils that we have from that area. There will also be fossil identification aids, information about evolution, and "highlights" of our collections.Another grant, this one from the Iowa Science Foundation, allowed us to purchase two Viking Metal cabinets and supplies to curate the three Tarkio Valley sloths. Undergraduate Meghann Mahoney volunteered to curate the collection. She has turned curation into an art form!

curated Megalonyx jeffersonii sloth boneMeghann Mahoney sloth curation


September 2006

Holly Berg works on entering data into Specify

Work has recently begun on the second phase of a two-phase project upgrading the Paleontology Repository Collections. The first phase involved physical reorganization of the collections. The second phase is focusing on computerization (data development, data sharing, an illustrated specimen catalogue). In this phase of the project we plan to input data for priority collections into Specify Collections Database, make digital images of all the type specimens and make them available online, develop links with taxonomic databases such as NMITA, and develop links with community database projects such as the Paleontology Portal, Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and Faunmap.

December 2005


It’s been an incredibly busy year in the Repository! We finished up the NSF-funded Repository Reorganization Project, culminating with a poster presentation at GSA, and submitted a new proposal: “Computerization of the Paleontology Repository” (PI = A.F. Budd; co-PI's = J. Adrain, T. Adrain, C. Brochu). NSF awarded us $284,724 to digitize parts of the collection, upgrade server hardware, and share collections data with database projects such as the Paleontology Portal, and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. We’ll also be able to employ two half time graduate research assistants for the next three years. The project is due to start in April 2006.

Meanwhile, Biology undergraduate student, Lori McCleary, is curating the paleobotany collection with the help of an Iowa REU grant.  Lori has been working with Jeff Schabilion (paleobotanist, Biological Sciences) to document the collection and research the history of T. H. Macbride’s South Dakota cycadeoid collection. An exciting discovery was made while tracking down the original specimens. One had been sent as a gift to the British Museum in 1894, but subsequently had been mislabeled as a cycadeoid from the Isle of Wight. We were able to confirm that the specimen was from South Dakota when we discovered a nineteenth century photograph of it in our glass plate negative archive. Lori’s poster  (McCleary et al. 2005) was presented at the UK’s Paleontological Association Annual Conference at Oxford University in December.    

Many other students have been involved with Repository projects this year. Museum Studies Intern, Mari Horton, helped devise and carry out a survey of the collections to determine curation “levels” and priorities. This was a joint project with David Lewis, Collections Manager in the Palaeontology Department of the Natural History Museum, London. We presented a paper at the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections annual conference which was also accepted for the conference proceedings volume.  Interns Tim Davis and Tamsen Foote worked with the Calvin Photographic Collection, which joined up with Iowa Heritage Digital Collections, a fantastic on-line resource of Iowa’s historic archives and images ( Tim and Tamsen also organized the Shimek/Wylie photographic collection transferred from Biological Sciences. Undergraduate student, Bradie Kiefer, helped update the specimen loans system by organizing the paperwork and sending out almost 80 overdue loan reminder letters. We think we may have started a loans chain letter! Reminders to return or renew loans borrowed by UI faculty started coming in with the replies! On average, 20 - 30 loans a year are borrowed or sent out through the Repository.



Geocience undergraduate, Holly Berg, worked on the NMITA database which is being migrated to a new system. She meticulously checked hundreds of images and webpages, and corrected and organized the digital files and data. In addition, Holly completed a Directed Study to create an archive for the Repository. Several untidy stacks and boxes of Strimple, Furnish and Miller correspondence, notes, drawings, photographs and other papers connected with the Repository are now organized into archival boxes and readily accessible with the help of a finding aid. Within a week of completion, the archive was used to solve authorship of a manuscript discovered in the collections.          

As always, the Repository has been involved with several outreach projects. This year we provided activities at the Mid America Paleontology Society (MAPS) Expo, Cedar Valley Rocks and Minerals Society Show, International Center Earth Day, UI Riverfest, Iowa Association of Naturalists Spring Workshop, Iowa State Fair, and the Geoscience Halloween Open-house, as well as visits to and from local schools. A big “thank you” is due to all the students and faculty who helped with these activities. Our booklet “Millie and Sam’s Fossil Hunt” (written by Tiffany and Julie Golden) is proving very popular, and several hundred copies have been sold so far (proceeds go to MAPS for future printing).

During 2005, twenty-nine researchers visited the collections including: Rich Slaughter and two students (U. Wisconsin-Madison Geology Museum), Donnie Dressler (student, San Diego State U.), Derek Briggs (Yale U.), Ruddy Raff (U. Indiana), Ed Landing (New York State Museum), Anne Cohen (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute), Pete Kroehler (Smithsonian), I. Stefanova and Herbert E. Wright (U. Minnesota), Chris Wigda (student,  U. Kansas), Greg Erickson (Florida State University), Forest Gahn (Smithsonian), and Heyo Van Iten (Hanover College). 

We answered approximately 80 enquiries from the public (with the help of Brian Witzke and Ray Anderson – thanks guys)! We received two cash donations to the A.O. Thomas Memorial Fund, which supports the purchase of reference books for the Repository, and 937 type specimens (SUI numbers allocated) and 136 non-type specimens/lots.

Adrain, T. S., Lewis, D. N. and Horton, M. M. 2005. Improving curation standards in paleontology collections ‑ where to start? Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections Annual Conference, The Natural History Museum, London, UK. SPNHC 20th Annual Meeting and Workshops, C. G. Miller and P. G. Davis (eds), p. 23-24.

Adrain, T. S., Budd, A. F., Adrain, J. M., and Golden, J. 2005. UI Paleontology Repository Reorganization Project: improving standards in collection care and access. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 37(7): 284.

McCleary, L. Adrain, T., Schabilion, J., and Hartwig, N. 2005. Piecing together Macbride’s cycadeoid collection at the University of Iowa.49th Palaeontological Association Annual Meeting, Oxford University. Abstracts with Programme, p. 51.    



December 2002


Graham Young assesses the coral collection.

Phase 1 of the Repository Reorganization Project is almost complete. Graduate research assistant Jamie Toennies is finishing curation of the conodonts and has begun curating the fish collections ready for reorganization in Phase 2. Geoscience senior Lindsay James is re-organizing the Tertiary mollusks as part of an NSF REU project. She has also been working with undergraduate Cyndi Simpson on a website about the University's 1918 Barbados-Antigua Expedition. Julie and Tiffany have been busy updating the type collection database, now running on the latest version of Specify (v3.2). They attended the SPNHC conference in Montreal in May where Julie gave a talk and Tiffany a poster. Graduate students Danielle Shapo and Tin-Wai Ng organized the recently bequeathed Crossman Collection during the summer (both were funded by NSF). More work is needed before we can fully assess the curation requirements of this extensive collection of echinoderms and other fossils.

As part of the Repository Reorganization Project, Jed Day (Professor of Geology at Illinois State University) assessed the Belanski Collection "seconds" which had been stored in their original 1930's packing barrels until about two weeks before his visit! Graham Young, Curator of Geology and Palaeontology at the Manitoba Museum, visited more recently to evaluate our Paleozoic coral collection. We are now in the process of curating both these collections.

April 2002

Phase 1 of our Repository Reorganization Project is well underway. With the help of a moving crew, we moved 14 old wooden cabinets and 12 old metal cabinets to our Oakdale Repository. With them went the Paleozoic ammonoid collection and the Davidson Collection (Silurian fossils of Iowa). While we waited for delivery of our new cabinets, several people made suggestions about how we could use the new space - dance floor, table tennis and putting were just a few! Trilobites were the winners however, and 8 new metal cabinets are now filled with the SUI trilobite collection and Jonathan Adrain's research collection. The remaining cabinets (14) will house our expanding type collection, the reorganized mollusk collection, and large specimens.

Right: Tin-Wai dismantles the old metal cabinets, ready for the Oakdale move.

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