GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A high school student working in the Florida Museum of Natural History McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity recently received a $2,000 Mu Alpha Theta grant to research moth wings.
Only about a dozen U.S. high school students receive the grant each summer from the national high school and two-year college mathematics honor society.
The grant will allow Buchholz High School senior Minjia Zhong to complete a paper she wrote and submit it for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
“A $2,000 research grant is an incredible accomplishment for someone who has yet to start college,” said Florida Museum assistant curator of Lepidoptera Akito Kawahara, who is supervising Zhong’s research.
Zhong uses her math skills to apply and understand geometric morphometrics, a field of statistics used to quantify complex shapes. Kawahara said Florida Museum researchers think diverse wing shapes evolved as a defense against nocturnal predators, such as bats.
Zhong said she developed an interest in moths as a collections assistant through the Florida Museum’s summer Junior Volunteer Program, and studying wing shapes of the Saturniidae moth family satisfied her desire to combine math and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Many young children today are disconnected from the natural world, but a project to plant local butterfly gardens in area schools is closing the gap that exists between urban students and nature.
Florida Museum of Natural History scientists partnered with educators at Duval Elementary School last fall to open children’s eyes to the unique metamorphosis that occurs during butterfly development and the responsibilities involved in caring for a garden. Now, the museum is raising funds and accepting plant donations for gardens at other schools, including a project at Williams Elementary School set to begin this fall.
“We live in an environment where kids do not have enough exposure to nature in order to learn how it operates,” said Duval teacher Anterria Ellerbe. “Thanks to the garden, these students do (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As part of the Blue Star Museums program, the Florida Museum of Natural History will offer free admission to all fee-based exhibits for active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2014.
This is the third consecutive year the Florida Museum has participated in the Blue Star program, a collaboration among the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense and more than 2,000 museums across America. The program runs from May 26 through Sept. 1.
“We are honored to be part of the Blue Star Museums program and help provide our nation’s active duty military personnel with a high-quality museum experience,” said associate curator for Lepidoptera Jaret Daniels, who also oversees the museum’s exhibits and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida Museum of Natural History researcher recently received a 2013-2014 UF Excellence Award for his research on social networks and communities in pre-Columbian North America.
Neill Wallis, assistant curator in Florida archaeology, was one of 10 University of Florida assistant professors selected to receive the award. Recognizing excellence in research from junior faculty, the $5,000 award may be used to fund travel, equipment, books, graduate student assistants and other research-related expenses.
Wallis’ research programs focus on the development and change of Native American social networks and communities between 3,000 and 500 years ago. Centered primarily on Florida and the southeastern United States, his research more broadly redefines understandings of political and social life in these societies.
“Dr. Wallis is an exceptional young faculty member whose scholarly productivity is outstanding,” said Florida Museum Director Doug Jones, who nominated Wallis for the award.
Since 2011, in addition to senior authorship on six peer-reviewed articles and five book chapters (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Hard work has paid off for Barbara Ornstein and Robert Tarnuzzer, who were recognized last week by the Florida Museum of Natural History as winners of the 2014 James Pope Cheney Volunteer of the Year Award.
Ornstein served 199 hours at the museum during 2013 and has completed more than 1,600 hours since she began volunteering in 2000. In addition to her role as a school programs docent, she also participates in outreach programs and exhibit fabrication.
“The keyword that I think best describes Barbara’s volunteer work here at the museum is ‘versatility,’ ” said Center for Science Learning project manager Dale Johnson.
Tarnuzzer served more than 443 hours in the museum’s vertebrate paleontology collections during 2013 and has completed more than 2,800 hours since becoming a volunteer in 2007. He collects fossils in the field and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Conservation of coastal rivers of the northern Gulf of Mexico is vital to the survival of the alligator snapping turtle, including two recently discovered species, University of Florida scientists say.
A new study appearing this week in the journal Zootaxa shows the alligator snapping turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the Western Hemisphere and previously believed to be one species, is actually three separate species.
The limited distribution of the species, known to weigh as much 200 pounds, could potentially affect the conservation of rivers the turtles inhabit, including the Suwannee, said lead author Travis Thomas, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission scientist and former Florida Museum of Natural History volunteer who began the research as a UF wildlife ecology and conservation student.
“We have to be especially careful with our management of the Suwannee River species because this turtle exists only in that river and its tributaries,” Thomas said. “If something catastrophic were to occur, such as a chemical spill or something that affects the entire river, it could potentially devastate this species. The turtle is extremely limited by its habitat. All it has is this river and it has nowhere else to go.”
In the study, scientists revised the genus Macrochelys, often called the “dinosaurs of the turtle world” by lay people, to include Macrochelys temminkii and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History recently announced the winners of the 2014 Austin Award and Bullen Award. Two University of Florida students received the awards from the museum’s University Teaching Committee for their research and contributions to the museum’s collections.
Francois Michonneau received the Austin Award for his work on the systematics and evolution of sea cucumbers. The Austin Award honors Oliver Austin, a former Florida Museum ornithology curator, and recognizes one UF graduate student performing research guided by a Florida Museum curator, collection manager or research scientist.
Michonneau conducted his research under the mentorship of Gustav Paulay, the museum’s marine malacology curator, and traveled on expeditions to the French-Polynesian Islands, Japan and Madagascar to collect sea cucumbers, sea urchins and other invertebrates from coral reefs. After more than 20 expeditions, he has contributed about 12,000 invertebrate specimens to the Florida Museum collections.
Jeffrey Vadala received the Bullen Award for his research on the architecture of the Mayan archaeological site Cerros in Belize and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida Museum of Natural History Director Douglas S. Jones was elected president of the Association of Science Museum Directors at the association’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City in March.
Jones was named interim director of the Florida Museum in 1996 and director the following year. As a curator of invertebrate paleontology, his research focuses on tracking ancient climate changes by studying chemical variations in organisms including sea shells, fish otoliths (ear bones) and mammal teeth.
Jones has been a member of the museum directors association since 1998 and served on its board for six years. As president, he will represent the association to the media and other museum organizations, and run the association’s business meetings.
“I am honored to serve the ASMD as president, being a huge believer in the role of science museums in advancing the public’s understanding and appreciation of science in today’s society,” Jones said.
Jones also serves on the board of directors of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C., as well as the boards of The Toomey Foundation for the Natural Sciences Inc. and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Shake out your snake boots, fasten your trademark fedora and join the Florida Museum of Natural History for a thrilling adventure at the Passport to Discovery: Raiders of the Lost Ark gala April 25 from 7 to 11 p.m.
This year’s annual fundraiser is part of a three-year campaign to create a 2,000-square-foot Discovery Room exhibit for children 8 and under set to open in 2016.
“Our spectacular new Discovery Room is sure to be a family destination,” said Betty Dunckel, director of the museum’s Center for Science Learning. “A vast array of awe-inspiring objects, interactive activities and media resources will provide countless opportunities for shared discovery and fun.”
This year’s event includes dinner catered by Blue Water Bay, dancing with Gosia & Ali and the Indiana Jones experience created by Keith Watson Events. The museum’s campaign is in its last year and (more…)
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida begins its 20th season of archaeological fieldwork since 1976 this week in St. Augustine at the site of America’s first colony, founded by explorer Pedro Menendez in 1565.
Though the original colony lasted only nine months, researchers have uncovered more than 97,000 artifacts left behind by Spanish immigrants, valued at nearly $3.5 million and recently donated by the Fraser family to the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. Now researchers will begin unearthing the colony’s fortifications to better understand its defenses, said Kathleen Deagan, retired distinguished curator of historical archaeology at the Florida Museum.
“These artifacts are the only evidence we have as to how people lived in the colony and what objects they used,” Deagan said. “The documents from the period only briefly describe the settlers’ time at the site. There is nothing there about their lives and how people coped with being in a new, strange place. Now that we know more about their lives within the colony, we want to understand how they defended it.”
The Frasers own and operate the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park where the first colony site is located. In February, the family visited the museum’s historical archaeology collections at Dickinson Hall on the UF campus to observe how the donated artifacts are being pieced together and (more…)