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Contents tagged with collections

  • Behind the Scenes: Foundations of a Story

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    Tags: collections, collection, specimens, specimen, data, museum collections

    Created: 9/1/2015      Updated: 7/29/2016

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    Museum collections are filled with all types of objects – fish in jars, textiles, oil paintings, mammal skins, fossilized plants, historic photographs. These tangible items, the specimens and artifacts, are very cool and I’m only a little biased. But, the really good stuff is something more intangible. The really cool stuff in museums is the data associated with those objects. 

    Why is data more cool than the real item, you say?

    Detail of the label for a Passenger Pigeon specimen

    With data, we can tell the story of each specimen and artifact. Here is a label from a Passenger pigeon specimen, Ectopistes migratorius, which states:

    “Purchased by Mr. James Richardson, of [the] Am. Museum of N. Hist. [American Museum of Natural History], in the flesh, in the New York Market.” 

    Passenger Pigeons are an extinct species; the last member of their species died in 1914. This specimen was collected along the Canadian River in 1889, two and a half decades before they went extinct. The pigeon was shipped to New York for the purpose of being sold as food, where it was being sold in a local meat market. That a staff member of the museum purchased the bird and then added it as a scientific specimen to the museum’s collection is fascinating to me. It sparks questions in my mind -- Why did they collect this specimen? Did they have knowledge about the species’ decline at this time? Were they in the habit of scouring city markets for different species? Other species have been re-discovered this way, most notably the Coelacanth.

    Without data, the specimen, artifact, or piece of art is only that. We might be able to identify it and give it a name or title, but we won’t know how that particular piece fits into the larger puzzle that lets us understand our world. We won’t know who the artist was or why the piece was created. We won’t know where the animal lived or when or be able to discern how it interacted with its environment. The story is truncated, as is any knowledge that we may have gained.

    In the process of caring for the Academy’s museum collections and archives, it is not just the specimens and artifacts that we are preserving, but the information about those items as well. The relationship between a specimen and its data is protected as these components are not nearly as useful separated from each other.

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Introducing Discovery Day

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    Tags: discovery day, specimens, collections

    Created: 2/2/2015      Updated: 8/8/2016

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    Have you ever seen something in nature that you just couldn’t identify? On Saturday, February 28, we'll be sharing our experts with you during our very first Discovery Day! Our entomologists, paleontologists, and urban ecologists will help identify your discoveries. Whether your specimen is a feather, fossil, shell, rock, plant, photograph, or observation you can join our experts at the Museum from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to learn more about it! As a bonus, visitors who bring a specimen to identify on Discovery Day will receive free admission.

    Discovery Day promotional poster

    Don't have a piece to bring in? Don't worry! You'll still be able to speak with our experts, ask questions, and learn about some of the Museum’s own discoveries by examining some specimens from our own collection up close.

    Join our experts in the Nature Museum’s Wilderness Walk on February 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to discover more about your natural treasures, or maybe even stump our scientists!

    Please note, our experts will not be giving appraisals during Discovery Day. 

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  • Motion Film Collection Highlight: Leon F. Urbain (1887-ca. 1980)

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collections, motion film, Leon F. Urbain, microscopy, photography, moth, minerals, Microscopal Society of Illinois

    Created: 4/11/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    This blog post continues our Motion Film Project series. Post #1 titled: The Motion Picture Cataloguing Project can be viewed here. Stay tuned for a third blog post coming soon.

    Leon F. Urbain, through his association with the Microscopal Society of Illinois, gave free classes for students in the 1960s at the Chicago Academy of Sciences' museum (the old Laflin Memorial Building). An architect by trade, he had a passion for photography, especially photomicrography, whereby he could bring the smallest worlds to life. His motion films include studies of minerals, plants, insects, aquatic life, and ecology. The Academy's collections include personal papers, photographs, motion film, and microscope slides from Urbain. Here is a sample of those tiny worlds Urbain captured and shared with others.

    From Urbain's film, “The Regal: Rarest of Local Moths,” created in 1972:

    Film still of Regal Caterpillars
    Regal Caterpillars

    Film still of Regal Moth
    Regal Moth Face

    Film still Regal Moth
    Regal Moth

    Here are images from a  time-lapse film of crystals growing under a microscope, titled "Crystals Growing," created in 1967:

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing

    Film still of crystals growing



    Images from two films on moths, ca. 1958, "Cecropia" and "Luna Moth:"

    Cecropia moths mating
    Cecropia moths mating

    Luna moth
    Luna moth

    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • A Unique View: The Motion Film Cataloguing Project

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collections, Collections Inventory Project, motion film, preservation, Chicago Film Archives, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust, digitzation, environment, Midwest

    Created: 4/4/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

    Background

    As part of the Collections Inventory Project, Collections staff with the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (CAS/PNNM) conducted an inventory and preliminary condition survey of the museum’s motion film collection in 2011. The majority of the over 1,300 films were original films created by Academy staff, Board members, and local naturalists, created between the mid 1920s and the 1980s. These films documented Academy field studies, local natural areas, and different species, as well as travel by Academy staff and Board members to conduct research for exhibits. Historically, these films were used regularly by the Academy in public programs and presentations. Now, the films were becoming increasingly fragile, and the information contained within their frames was found nowhere else.

    Preservation Issues

    The films were still in their original metal and cardboard containers and needed to be rehoused with archival quality materials. The original containers -- acidic papers, cardboard, adhesives -- were causing the film to deteriorate. 

    Original Leather Film Case

    Original metal and cardboard container

    The old metal reels caused breakage to the film and were susceptible to rust, which caused chemical deterioration of the film. Acid migration from papers and cardboard affected the film’s stability. Original paper labels glued onto the reels became detached over time, creating the potential for information to become disassociated.

    Original film cardboard boxes

    Film on original metal reels

    The Project

    Due to the fragility of the films, CAS/PNNM sought funding support to work with a contractor who had the equipment and expertise to work with historic motion films. In 2012, CAS/PNNM was awarded a $35,000 grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation for the project. Matching funds were generously provided through a $25,000 grant from the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust and $10,000 in individual donations from our paddle raise at the Butterfly Ball. In November of that year, CAS/PNNM began working with the Chicago Film Archives (CFA) on its motion film cataloguing project.

    View from the Chicago Film Archives studio in Chicago.

    View from the Chicago Film Archives studio in Chicago.

    At the CFA’s studio, each film was individually assessed. Information about the film was catalogued, and included: subject matter, creator and publisher, date created, film stock, date code, footage, film gauge, and other physical attributes of the film. The CFA evaluated the condition of each film, noting shrinkage and warpage, physical damage, and color fading. A few were found with damage from mold of vinegar syndrome. 

    A film with tentite mold.

    A film with tentite mold. 

    Mold growth on emulsion of a film.

    Mold growth on emulsion of a film. 

    Vinegar syndrome is the process of the cellulose acetate film base degrading -- it is caused by humidity, and the film starts to warp, buckle, shrink, and give off a vinegary smell.

    Removed head of film with advanced vinegar syndrome.

    Removed head of film with advanced vinegar syndrome.

    The acetate base of the film is cracking due to vinegar syndrome.

    The acetate base of the film is cracking due to vinegar syndrome.

    The films were cleaned and minor repairs, such as repairing splices, were made to stabilize the films. The films were then outfitted with new archival cores, leaders, and containers to provide an inert micro-environment to help stabilize the films and protect them from further deterioration.

    Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container. Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container.

    Films being outfitted with a new archival core, leader, and container.

    Single frames from some of the films were also captured during CFA's assessment, providing visual references for several of the films in the collection. These digital images will be utilized to provide examples of the films’ contents for research requests, social media relating to the collection, grant proposals, among other uses.

    The project with the CFA was completed in February 2014, and the collection organized at the CAS/PNNM collections facility. A total of 1,356 films were verified and catalogued in the collection. The information resulting from the cataloguing and condition assessments gives our Collections staff a baseline with which to monitor the preservation of the films and additional data about the films to manage the collection.

    Updated film collection housed at the Ravenswood Collections Facility

    Future Plans

    The historic value of the films for conservation studies is immeasurable. Through this project, the Academy is developing a much clearer understanding of its motion film collection and how we might apply the unique field information contained within these frames. However, the films are fragile and projecting them with standard equipment would damage them. Digitally duplicating the films – the process of scanning the frames to produce a digital copy – would make the collection fully accessible. In 2007, the Academy had a small amount of its footage digitally transferred by the Film Video and New Media Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. This footage is shown in the Heritage exhibit at the Nature Museum and enjoyed by our visitors today. CAS/PNNM will use the information from the motion film cataloguing project to set priorities for digital duplication of the collection and will be seeking funding for this next project to provide broad access to these films.

    Dawn Roberts

    Collections Manager

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  • Where is the polar bear?

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    Tags: Nature's Struggle, collections, polar bear, taxidermy, exhibits

    Created: 3/17/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    When you visit the Nature Museum, you will definitely notice that something is missing on the first floor…our polar bear mount.  It has been temporarily moved to the second floor of the museum to become part of our latest exhibit, Nature’s Struggle: Survival and Extinction.  Moving a mount this large, even from one floor to another, takes some planning and plenty of help. 

    Staff prepping polar bear mount

    Although the polar bear is mounted onto a base that has wheels, at just under 10 feet tall it was not a simple matter of pushing it onto our freight elevator. Before any of our specimens are moved, we plan out how we are going to get them safely moved to their desired location, particularly tall, heavy mounts like the polar bear. Impediments in this case were hanging light fixtures, an archway, watching out for museum visitors since we had to move the mount during museum hours, and the mount itself (those claws are still extremely sharp).

    Polar bear mount

    In this case we decided the safest way to move it was to place it on its back on large, wheeled platform that would provide support during the transition. The most delicate part of the procedure was in lowering the mount onto its back. It needed to be done smoothly so that we did not cause any torque, or twisting, to the mount that could result in damage to the internal armature, or structure. 

    Staff transferring polar bear mount to cart

    Mounts like this one are typically attached to their bases by long bolts that extend through their legs and feet that are secured by nuts on the underside. If one of these bolts were twisted or broken the mount would no longer be able to support itself when put back into its upright position.  Once the polar bear was successfully placed on the wheeled platform, it was taken to the freight elevator and then moved into the second floor gallery, where it was lifted back up into its standing position. 

    Staff with polar bear mount in freight elevator

    Come see the polar bear, as well as other specimens and objects from our collection in
    Nature's Struggle: Survival & Extinction.

    Amber K. King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Timeline Part III; 1958 - 2014

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    Tags: timeline, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, founder's week, Archives, collections

    Created: 1/17/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1958
    Chicago native and ornithologist Dr. William Beecher becomes the Academy’s Director. He holds this position for 24 years.

    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama.
    Dr. William Beecher works on background for a diorama. 
    From the Chicago Academy of Sciences Archives, Photography Collection.

    1960-1966
    Junior Academy of Sciences formed for middle and high school children, to provide additional learning opportunities for young people in science studies and research.

    1960s-1970s
    Beecher implements redesign of exhibit spaces, including opening of the third floor of the Laflin building to the public.

    1982
    Paul G. Heltne, PhD, zoologist and primatologist, is appointed Director of the Academy.  He holds this position until 1999.

    1983
    An Education Department is formally established at the Academy, although education has been a primary focus of the institution since the 1910s.

    1986
    Museum sponsors “Understanding Chimpanzees Symposium,” welcoming primatologists from all over the world, including well-known Jane Goodall, and providing public attendance to portions of the symposium as well.

    1988
    For the first time since 1951, the endangered Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrines, successfully produces eggs that hatch on a ledge of a downtown Chicago office building. Mary Hennen, Collections Manager/Assistant with the Academy, worked on the Peregrine Falcon Monitoring Program while at the Academy and conducted research. She took this project with her, when she left the Academy to work at the Field Museum of Natural History.

    Juvenile Peregrine falcon
    Juvenile Peregrine falcon

    1990
    Fall - Pilot programs for Science on the Go! began. This program, still active today, provides training and resources for kindergarten through eighth grade educators in teaching science through more hands-on lessons and cooperative learning. 

    1991
    Jon D. Miller, Vice President of the Academy, establishes the Center for the Advancement of Scientific Literacy under the auspices of the Academy.

    1994
    The Academy initiated plans for an addition at the Laflin building to expand and modify it to provide more room for exhibition, collections storage, and office space. The Chicago Park District who owns the land on which the Laflin building rests, disallowed expansion, citing the need to limit construction in park areas to ensure the continuation of park lands for future generations as dictated by their original charter. At the same time, the Lincoln Park Zoo also began looking to expand their operations. The Chicago Park District offered the Academy the opportunity to build a new museum building on the site of the Park District’s North Shops Maintenance Facilities in exchange for transferring the Academy’s Laflin building to the Lincoln Park Zoo. Today the Laflin Building is used by the Lincoln Park Zoo as administration offices.

    1995
    June 4 - Academy closed to the public to begin move out of the Matthew Laflin Memorial Building at Armitage and Clark Street in Lincoln Park, where the institution had resided for 102 years. Staff offices, the museum collections, the archives, and the scientific library, were moved to another building on Clark Street owned at that time by the museum and to additional space on Ravenswood. The second facility is now the Ravenswood Collections Facility. To maintain a public face for the Academy during construction, the museum had a temporary facility on the third floor of North Pier on Illinois Street which was open to the public.

    1997
    The Chicago Academy of Sciences breaks ground for a new building in Lincoln Park. In recognition of the donation made to the Academy by Mr. and Mrs. Notebaert, the building was named the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network, a citizen science program dedicated to “collecting quantitative data on butterfly populations” moved under the auspices of the Academy through Doug Taron, Curator of Biology and Vice President of Conservation and Research.

    1999
    Summer – Museum begins partnership with El Valor, a multi-cultural and multi-purpose organization whose, “…mission is to support and challenge urban families to achieve excellence and participate fully in community life,” through a summer camp for children.  The partnership has expanded today to programs for adults with disabilities, conductive education, family field trips to the Museum, after school programs, and professional development for Head Start teachers including visits to their classrooms.

    October - The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum building opens to the public. The Academy’s collections and Collections Department staff offices remain at the Ravenswood Collections Facility, where they are still housed today.

    Education Department began onsite workshops.  To date this initiative has reached 20,000 students.

    Students working with museum educators

    2000
    Joe Schactner appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2001
    Butterfly Restoration Program started with funding from the BP Leaders Award. The Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, and Silver-bordered Fritillary, Bolaria selene, were the first imperiled species added to the program.

    Fall - Teacher Leadership Center opened at the Museum.

    2005
    Laureen Von Klan appointed President and CEO of the Academy.

    2006
    Education department revamps its Science Teaching Network (STN).  Started in the early 1990s the program provides training for teachers through an intensive summer institute that is followed by classroom support in the fall.  Since this year, 300 teachers have been through the program.

    2007
    Nature Museum Summer Camps began. 

    2008
    Summer – Museum opens its first self-curated exhibit, “Lawn Nation” since its move into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.

    Collections Department begins to inventory all of the natural history holdings within the Academy’s collection with grant support from the Institute for Museum and Library Sciences. The initiative took 5 years to complete and over 280,000 specimens and objects were verified.

    Museum began participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program, a conservation effort spearheaded by the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County, to rear and release endangered Blanding’s Turtles, Emydoidea blandingii, into their natural environment. Sub-Adult Blanding’s Turtles put on display at the Museum. Celeste Troon, Director of Living Collections, heads the museum effort.

    2009
    Butterfly Conservation Lab opened at the Museum, a permanent research lab for the Butterfly Restoration Program.

    An expanded version of Project Squirrel, a citizen-science program, moved under auspices of the Academy through Steve Sullivan, Senior Curator of Urban Ecology.  The program was created in 1997 by Joel Brown and Wendy Jackson both professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    Collections Department begins two-year project to process about 250 linear feet of materials in their Manuscript Collection in the Archive with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.

    2009-2011
    Participation in Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program expands.  Museum helps head start hatchlings for two years, release two year old head starters with radio transmitters in the fall, track them in the spring to replace radio transmitters, track females to see if they are gravid, collect females when they are, release them after they have laid, and track the head starters again in late summer to put on their winter transmitters.

    2010
    July 1 - Deborah Lahey appointed President and CEO of the Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. She had previously served on the Board of Trustees and then as Chief Operations Officer (Dec 2009 to June 2010).

    2011
    February – First meeting of what would become Project Passenger Pigeon (P3) occurred at Museum. Initial participants included representatives from Smithsonian Institution, Cornell University, Michigan State University, the Indiana State Museum, Wesleyan University, University of Wisconsin, University of Louisiana, National Council for Science and the Environment, and the Illinois Natural History.  Project has expanded to include over 160 organizations from all over the United States and will culminate in various events throughout 2014.

    April 11 – Self-curated exhibit “Nature’s Architects” opened.

    Museum began head starting more Blanding’s Turtles.

    Working with Chicago Film Archives, Collections Department began assessment and re-housing of their motion picture film collection, about 1370 individual reels, with grant support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation.  Collection composed of original nature studies to some commercially produced reels. Project to be completed in early 2014.

    Motion picture film canisters  Film still of chameleon

    2012

    Museum became the home for the Chicago Conservation Corps.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Regal Fritillary, Speyeria idalia, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Illinois Butterfly Monitoring Network takes a national leadership role serving as a model for similar programs in states all over the United States. A collective database for information from networks all over the country is developed to provide easier access to information.

    2013

    February 10 – First Annual Chicago Volunteer Expo held at Museum. Over 60 local nonprofit institutions participated, providing information on volunteer opportunities in one convenient location.

    March 23 – Self-curated exhibit “Food: The Nature of Eating” opened.

    Butterfly Restoration Program released lab-reared Swamp Metalmark, Calephelis muticum, butterflies into natural habitat.

    Project Squirrel released smartphone app.

    Blanding’s Turtle Conservation Lab constructed to accommodate the 42 hatchlings entrusted to the Museum for head starting as part of the Blanding’s Turtle Recovery Program.

               

    Aerial shot of Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum



    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Founder's Week: Chicago Academy of Sciences Timeline Part 1

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, timeline, hitsory, collections, founder's week, robert kennicott, william stimpson

    Created: 1/13/2014      Updated: 8/9/2016

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    1856
    Group of men interested in natural sciences begins to meet in offices of fellow member, Dr. Edmund Andrews.  Other original members were: Dr. James V.Z. Blaney, Dr. Nathan S. Davis, Sr., James W. Freer, C.A. Helmuth, Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson, Henry Parker, J. Young Scammon, Dr. Franklin Scammon, Richard K. Swift, Joseph D. Webster, Eliphalet W. Blatchford, and Henry W. Zimmerman.

    1857
    “Chicago Academy of Natural Sciences” officially founded only eleven years after the Smithsonian Institution and 36 years before the Field Museum of Natural History.

    “A definite organization was completed at a meeting held January 13, 1857…[and] officers elected”.

    1859
    Academy incorporated into Illinois state law as “The Chicago Academy of Sciences.”

    “A majority of the members of the Academy, acting in accordance with a vote of the Academy, have incorporated themselves under the title of The Chicago Academy of Sciences….”

    1864
    February 22 - Meeting held to discuss creation of natural history museum with Robert Kennicott’s specimens as the “core collection”; resolution adopted by attendees to create a museum and to appoint a committee to act as trustee of any funds raised.

    March 23 - Robert Kennicott appointed “Curator of the Museum” by the Board of Trustees.

    Robert Kennicott
    Robert Kennicott

    April 13 - Committee appointed on February 22 turned into the Board of Trustees through an amendment to the Academy’s constitution.

    1865
    January 1 - The Academy opened as a museum to the public in rooms in the Metropolitan Block located at 134 North LaSalle Street.

    February 16 - Act of Incorporation passed by the Illinois House and Senate for the Academy.

    William Stimpson became the Curator and Secretary of the Academy replacing Robert Kennicott who was leaving Chicago on an expedition to Alaska. Kennicott met Stimpson while working in Washington, D.C. as both men worked for the Smithsonian Institution.

    William Stimpson
    William Stimpson

    April 7 - Board of Trustees elects Robert Kennicott to the office of “Director of the Academy” while he is in Alaska on his exploration trip.

    May 13 - Robert Kennicott dies in Alaska on the Nulato River.

    1866
    June 7 - Fire in the Metropolitan Block where the Academy rented space for exhibits damaged the museum’s holdings, including specimens and library materials. 

    November 12 - William Stimpson elected as Director of the Academy.

    1867
    Land is purchased on the corner of Wabash and Van Buren streets for a new museum building.

    1868
    Academy opens in new rented spaces on Thirtieth Street between Indiana and Prairie Avenues.

    Chicago Microscopical Club (State Microscopical Society of Illinois) is organized as an independent organization but maintains close affiliation with Chicago Academy of Sciences through 1950s, using Academy spaces for meetings and education programs.  Many of the founders of the Club are also founders of Academy, such as Dr. Hosmer A. Johnson and Dr. Edmund Andrews..

    1870
    The Academy’s collection is estimated to be the fourth largest in the country.

    1871
    October 8-10 - The Great Chicago Fire destroys much of Chicago; the Academy’s building and holdings are decimated, including materials housed in a special “fire-proof” vault.  Apparently a keystone fell through the top of the vault during the fire, thus creating an opening and allowing the fire into the vault.

    1872
    May 26 - Director, Dr. William Stimpson, dies nine months after the Great Fire. It is thought that he died of heartbreak as he lost his life’s work in the fire, stored in the Academy’s “fire-proof” vault.

    1885
    Academy moved into the Interstate Exposition Building on the lake front. This was a temporary structure that later was demolished to build the Chicago Art Institute.

    1892
    Real estate tycoon, Matthew Laflin, donated $75,000 to construct a new museum. The building was to be named the “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” Total funds available for the new building were $100,000; the Laflin donation represented 75% of the total costs of the building. $25,000 received from the Board of Commissioners of Lincoln Park.

    1893
    October 10 - The cornerstone for the Academy’s new building is laid.

    October 30 - The World’s Columbian Exposition closes and many exhibits of plants, fossils, and animals originally displayed at the Exposition remain. Academy Board of Trustee, Edward Ayer, proposes accepting and incorporating these specimens into the Academy’s collection, but other Trustees are wary, citing the need to quickly launch the massive fund drive needed to quickly finish the building as well as transporting and finding housing for the specimens. Ayer resigns from the Board and turns to Marshall Field for the funds to build a new museum with Field’s name, ultimately becoming the Field Museum of Natural History.

    1894
    October 31 - The Academy’s new building is dedicated and opens in Lincoln Park. The institution’s name, “Chicago Academy of Sciences,” was engraved on the front arch accompanied by the dedication of the building, “Matthew Laflin Memorial.” This building was referred to internally as the “Laflin Building.” The building was originally intended to be the north wing of a larger museum building with additions to be constructed in the future.

    Chicago Academy of Sciences Matthew Laflin Memorial building circa 1894
    Chicago Academy of Sciences circa 1894

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Photo Shoot in the Museum Collections!

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    Tags: Chicago Academy of Sciences, collections, photography, specimens, oology, mammalogy, image

    Created: 5/4/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to describing an object in a museum collection, a picture can provide essential information. An image of a specimen or artifact adds clarification for distinguishing similar items and provides a visual record for tracking preservation issues and treatments. Images of museum objects can be utilized for exhibition development, initial scientific research, or as an educational resource.

    With the help of some amazing volunteers, our Collections staff are digitally photographing specimens and artifacts in the Academy’s collections. Our photography workstation is one we devised and consists of a wire shelving unit with adjustable shelves, so the work area can be changed when desired. We selected acid-free grey paper for a backdrop and created many of our reflectors and stands from materials we had on hand. Some of our best reflectors are simply sheets of hard white foam and the reflective interior of a coffee can!

    Photography equipment and lighting  Staff member taking photos of specimens


    Digital photography of our scientific collection began with the imaging of our type specimens. A “type” specimen is the specimen originally used to describe a species and displays the majority of characteristics used to identify that species. It’s because of type specimens that we are able to distinguish one animal from another.  Here is the type specimen for the subspecies of the Southern Appalachian Rock Vole, Microtus chrotorrhinus carolinensis (Komarek). This specimen was collected in 1931 from North Carolina.

    Rock vole type specimen  Rock vole skull


    We’ve since expanded this project and are now systematically photographing catalogued specimens in the Academy's collections. We’ve photographed bird eggs and nests in the oology collection and mammal study skins and skulls in the mammalogy collection. Images from the oology collection were included in a bird identification DVD series released by Thayer Birding Software (www.ThayerBirding.com) released in 2012. Check them out!

    • Egg specimen
    • Egg and nest specimens
    • Bat specimen


    Dawn Roberts
    Collections Manager

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  • Housekeeping: Collections Department Style

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    Tags: cleaning, specimens, collections, Chicago Academy of Sciences, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

    Created: 4/8/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    While we do not do it every day, the natural history specimens on display the Museum need regular cleaning, particularly those specimens that are not housed inside of museum display cases. Specimens, like the polar bear, accumulate dust just like other surfaces in the museum. 

    Dawn Roberts cleans the polar bear mount

    To clean them we use vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters and variable suction control, fine mesh netting, clean brushes, gloves, ladders, extension cords, and time. The netting is placed over the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner so that large particles cannot be accidentally “sucked” into the vacuum. 

    Mariann cleans a bird specimen

    The suction control is adjusted so that just enough suction is applied to pull in dirt and dust particles from the air, but not to harm the specimens. The brushes are used to gently pull dirt away from the surface of the specimen with the vacuum nozzle head held just above to collect the now loose particles of dust and dirt. This kind of cleaning is performed on a regular schedule for specimens on permanent display or as needed when additional specimens are installed in new exhibits, like the bison mount in Food: The Nature of Eating.

    Cleaning a bison mount in an exhibit

    Amber King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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  • Freezing a Bison Mount

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    Tags: collections, natural history, specimens, Chicago Academy of Sciences

    Created: 3/18/2013      Updated: 8/10/2016

    If you work with museum objects in a natural history museum, “freezing” is a necessary part of the job.  It may sound a bit odd to freeze a museum object of any sort, but it enables us to store specimens until they can be prepared and it is also an effective way of killing insect pests without the use of chemical pesticides. The use of pesticides leaves a residue on specimens each time they are used and this causes a build-up over time. By using the freeze-treatment method instead, we reduce this residual build-up and the related side effects that could possibly harm specimens over time and/or become a health hazard to the collections staff that care for them. 

    Most of the time we can “freeze-treat” our specimens in house, but for larger mounts, like a bison mount that is 6.5 feet tall by 8.5 feet long, we do not own a large enough freezer. Instead we had to seek out a facility that would not only have room to accommodate its size but was willing to tackle this project.  Midwest Freeze-Dry in Skokie was up for the job and already had experience with the process.

    Bison mount covered in plastic

    To freeze-treat a natural history specimen, it first it needs to be enclosed in a protective barrier.  In this case we used plastic sheeting because it came in a large enough size to cover the mount, but for smaller specimens plastic garbage bags or freezer grade zipper-closure bags work well. The purpose is twofold: (1) it creates a “sealed” enclosure so that insects cannot spread to other specimens and (2) it creates a moisture barrier so that any condensation that may form during the freeze-treatment forms on the exterior of the barrier and not on the specimen.

    Once the bison mount was wrapped, in what resembled a plastic cocoon upon completion, we arranged a delivery date and then booked appropriate transportation with additional people to assist with the move.  After the mount was carefully moved onto the truck and securely strapped in for the 6 mile trip north, the next step was to transfer it from our truck to the freezer truck, which was accomplished with a forklift and the help of many people. 

    Team moving bison mount

    Unlike freezing food items at home, to effectively kill insect pests, the specimen has to be exposed to at least two freeze cycles with a thaw in between. The method is pretty simple, the specimen is placed inside the freezer space and the temperature is dropped rapidly and held steady for a set time and then the temperature is gradually increased. After the space returns to room temperature, the temperature is dropped rapidly again for a second cycle and then gradually brought back up to room temperature again.  This cycle ensures that any insect pests that went into a dormant phase during the first freeze cycle are “woken up” during the thaw period and then eradicated by quickly dropping the temperature again. The amount of time needed depends on the temperature of the freezer space, the size of the freezer space, what kind of insect pest you are dealing with, and the size and composition of the specimen.

    Bison mount in truck

    When the allotted freezer time was completed, utilizing more people, two forklifts (one at each location) and a pallet jack, the Bison mount was transported to the museum for its final installation.  You can see the Bison mount as well as other specimens from the collection in the exhibit, Food: The Nature of Eating, at the museum.

    Bison mount on display

    Amber K. King
    Assistant Collections Manager

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