Barbara Ornstein, Robert Tarnuzzer named 2014 volunteers of the year

April 11th, 2014
The 2014 James Pope Cheney Volunteer of the Year Award was given to Barbara Ornstein for her contributions to exhibits and public programs and to Robert Tarnuzzer for his work in vertebrate paleontology collections. Florida Museum photos by Kristen Grace

The Florida Museum named Barbara Ornstein and Robert Tarnuzzer its 2014 volunteers of the year.
Florida Museum of Natural History photos by Kristen Grace

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 (more…)

Study shows ‘dinosaurs of the turtle world’ at risk in Southeast rivers

April 10th, 2014
This alligator snapping turtle was photographed on the Suwannee River in 2011 after being caught in a trap as part of a three-year research project. Photo courtesy of Kevin Enge

This alligator snapping turtle was photographed on the Suwannee River in 2011 after being caught in a trap as part of a three-year research project.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Enge

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…)

Austin, Bullen 2014 student research award winners named

April 7th, 2014

University of Florida graduate student Francois Michonneau received the 2014 Austin Award.
Florida Museum of Natural History Photo by Jeff Gage

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 (more…)

Museum director elected president of science museum association

April 1st, 2014
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Florida Museum of Natural History director Douglas S. Jones.
Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace

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…)

‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ gala April 25 to support new Discovery Room

March 19th, 2014

12701 Passport_Facebook Graphic-1GAINESVILLE, 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…)

UF to begin new St. Augustine work after gift of more than 97,000 artifacts

March 4th, 2014

Kathleen Deagan (center) shows the Fraser family a few of the recently discovered maps from the 1950s excavations in the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, St. Augustine, Fla.
From left to right: John W. Fraser, Elaine Fraser, John W. Fraser II, Steven Binninger, and Gene Kirker.
Florida Museum photo by Jeff Gage

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…)

Dig into geology at eighth annual ‘Can You Dig It?’ March 15

February 27th, 2014

Editors: A complete list of activities follows this release

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Visitors will have their world rocked with volcanic eruptions and geological discoveries at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s eighth annual “Can You Dig It?” event on Saturday, March 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This free, family-friendly event provides hands-on activities and demonstrations to educate visitors about the many aspects of geology and the Earth.

“At ‘Can You Dig It?’ we try to create things of interest for people of all ages and backgrounds,” said event coordinator Matt Smith, a senior (more…)

Application period for summer junior volunteer program begins Monday

February 25th, 2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Students ages 12-17 looking for scholarship hours, a great resume builder or hands-on experience may apply beginning Monday for the Florida Museum of Natural History’s summer junior volunteer program.

The museum will accept applications through March 28 for its popular program, which provides students the opportunity to work alongside museum staff in a variety of positions, including discovery cart attendant, Discovery Room assistant and camp teacher’s assistant.

“The Florida Museum’s junior volunteer program is a great way for youth 12 to 17 years old to gain experience working with younger children, interacting with the public and (more…)

UF receives $1.97 million NSF grant to develop paleontology network

February 10th, 2014

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With the goal of promoting life-long learning, University of Florida researchers will use a four-year, $1.97 million National Science Foundation grant to create a nationwide network of amateur and professional paleontologists.

Fossil clubs across the country function independently and do not communicate with each other or professionals as most science-hobbyist groups do, according to research by Bruce MacFadden, vertebrate paleontology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus.

The FOSSIL Project–Fostering Opportunities for Synergistic STEM in Informal Learners–will cultivate a network for fossil enthusiasts to collaborate in blended learning, the practice of science and educational outreach. To facilitate relationship building, amateur paleontologists have been invited to participate in the North American Paleontology Convention to be held in Gainesville beginning Saturday.

“This is the first time that fossil enthusiasts have been invited, and the grant is paying for them to attend,” said MacFadden, who is partnering (more…)

Nearly 500 paleontologists to attend international meeting Feb. 15-18

January 30th, 2014

500x226xNAPC_logo_large.png.pagespeed.icGAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Museum of Natural History will host a meeting of nearly 500 scientists from 28 countries for the 10th North American Paleontological Convention Feb. 15-18 at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center.

Established 45 years ago and held every five years, the conference brings together scholars, students and others interested in paleontology. Attendees from every continent but Antarctica are expected for this year’s meeting.

“This event offers paleontologists from all over the world an opportunity to exchange research ideas and highlight recent scientific discoveries unearthed from the fossil record,” said Florida Museum Thompson Chair of Invertebrate (more…)