Fragile fossil collections ranging in age from 55 million years old to recent collections of specimens from the 19th and early 20th century, will soon be protected, digitized and be made accessible to researchers due to a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of $350,000 awarded to three researchers at The University of Texas at Austin.
The specimens, located in the non-vertebrate paleontology repository of the Texas Natural Science Center, are currently situated in unsuitable storage conditions with significant temperature and humidity fluctuations. Many were collected during the original geological surveys of the state of Texas and much of the important identifying data is written on deteriorating paper labels, making information susceptible to loss and erroneous cataloging.
The team to conserve, relocate and digitize the fossils is headed by principal investigator, Ann Molineux, curator and collection manager at Texas Natural Science Center, and co-principal investigators Unmil Karadkar, lecturer in the School of Information and James Sprinkle, professor in the Department of Geological Sciences.
The specimens provide a snapshot of environment change over time and serve as invaluable markers against which modern surveys can be compared.
Digital images of key specimens along with associated data, such as labels, field notes, diagrams and collection localities, will be made available for public access through an NSF-sponsored open source database. The Web site will allow users to view selected specimens and map them on Google Earth, comparing against today’sgeography or that of the relevant time frame in geologic history.
With a goal of attracting high school students toward geosciences, the project will develop educational artifacts, such as digital field trips and fossil keys using both popular and open source mobile media platforms. The mobile applications will serve the general public, as well as teens and, more specifically, minority groups who increasingly use their phone as their primary access point to the Internet.