Student Curators, Part II

Project Title: Student Curators, Part II

Project Lead's Name: Donald Koller


Phone: (513) 529-8577

Please Choose the Primary Affiliation: CAS

Are There Other Project Team Members?: Yes

Other team member name: Julia Robinson, Cecilia Berg

Project Details: With funding from the Miami University Student Technology Fee program, we will expand opportunities for undergraduates to gain invaluable, real-world experience as student curators at the Hefner Museum of Natural History. A previous tech fee grant (Student Curators, Part I, 2013) provided us with the initial monies to establish a Student Curators Lab and the results have been extremely successful. (Please see detailed information on that project, below.) A 2017 grant will enable us to involve undergraduates in increasingly sophisticated curatorial activities, including using a 3-D scanner to produce models of museum specimens; creating exhibits based on those models; developing Discovery Trunks (for loan to area preK-12 teachers) based on those models; and digitizing the Museum's collections. Indeed, through Student Curators, Part II, Miami undergraduates will acquire skills that they are unlikely to develop elsewhere during their college career, giving them a decided edge in securing summer internships and employment after graduation. At the same time, their work will yield products (models, exhibits, Discovery Trunks, and a photographic catalogue of the museum's collections) that can be used by all Miami students as well as by area teachers and their preK-12 classes and the general public.

Problem Project Attempts to Solve: A museum's first order of business is the care and protection of its collections, a priority that has not changed since the earliest museums came into existence during Europe's Renaissance Age some 500 years ago. That's because specimens are the lifeblood of a museum-its reason for being. Unfortunately, specimens, especially those used for programming and outreach, suffer wear-and-tear; some may become damaged, necessitating repairs or replacement. Even those specimens used only in exhibits or displays are subject to deterioration long-term due to environmental conditions (ultraviolet light, humidity, etc). Repairing or replacing specimens can be costly or difficult; in the case of rare or extinct species, it is usually impossible. Unlike our Renaissance Age counterparts, 21st century curators have a powerful ally in the ongoing effort to preserve specimens. Three-dimensional scanning and printing technology allows curators to easily and quickly create replicas, or models, of most specimens. Currently, the Hefner Museum relies almost exclusively on original specimens for its exhibits, programming, and outreach/loans to area teachers. However, with the purchase of a David SLS-3 3D scanner and associated equipment, we will be able to scan museum specimens, use those scans to print 3-D models (using the 3-D printer available in the B.E.S.T. Library), and use the models in exhibits, displays, programs, and Discovery Trunks. That way, we will be able to protect and preserve our most vulnerable specimens, including those that are rare or very fragile, while still allowing Miami faculty and students, as well as preK-12 school groups and other visitors, to handle and use replicas that are virtually identical to the "real thing." A 3-D scanner will solve another problem inherent to natural history museums: The difficulty in maintaining, long-term, a collection of plant and fungal specimens. At present, the Hefner Museum's collections consist mostly of animal specimens. We do have a very limited collection of plant specimens, but because plant materials (leaves, flowers and galls, for instance) tend to be fragile, they are used primarily for reference and exhibits and are not well suited to programs, outreach, and Discovery Trunks. Moreover, we do not maintain a collection of fungi, partly because most fungi are also fragile but, more importantly, because the spores they release can cause health problems for some individuals (due to allergies). Given that a museum's priority is to care for and protect its collections, its second mandate is to maintain a complete record of all specimens. This mandate, like the first, can be difficult. However, technology has once again made the task much easier for contemporary institutions. With funding from a 2017 tech fee grant, we will purchase a Nikon camera and flash to use in digitizing our collections. Digitization will markedly improve our ability to document our collections and (in the future) to track any condition changes or deterioration over time. It also will enable us to create a photographic library of our specimens that can be accessed by Miami faculty, staff, and students; staff and patrons of other museums; and the general public. Finally, the purchase of a new Nikon camera will enable our students to take photographs for use in exhibits, special projects, and power points (for display on our video system, which we purchased with our 2013 tech fee funding). In addition to the David SLS-3 3D scanner and Nikon D7100 camera, we also will use a 2017 tech fee grant to purchase an HP ColorLaserJet 2600n Printer. Our existing color printer has served us very well but it is old and we have been experiencing problems with it for the past few months; it must be replaced. Given the high volume of printing that we do, largely because of the student projects and work we support, we need a high-quality, reliable printer.

Does this project focus on graduate student education or graduate student life?: No

Does it meet tech fee criteria?: Student Curators, Part II, will benefit Miami students in many innovative ways. First, student volunteers and interns, as well as students working on independent study projects or course projects based at the Hefner Museum, will be trained to use the scanner and camera, enhancing their future employment prospects. These technologies are increasingly common in the workplace, but they are not available in most classes. In addition to learning new skills, the technologies also will foster students' creativity, enabling them to propose and develop exhibits that may not be feasible given our current collections. As long as we can borrow a specimen from another institution (a museum, nature center, etc.), we can scan it, make a replica, and return the original. The result will be a growing collection for the Hefner Museum and a greater range of possibilities for exhibits, projects, videos, power points, and other student-generated products. Undergraduates throughout the university system also will benefit from Student Curators II because they will be able to access and handle the models that are produced with the use of the 3-D scanner. In academic year 2014-15, the Hefner Museum directly served 1,003 Miami undergraduates from a wide variety of disciplines, from art to English to history to zoology (to name but a few). This number includes students in courses taught at or through the Museum, students in courses that visited the Museum or did Museum-based activities, students in classes that borrowed museum specimens, students who borrowed specimens for in-class use or for a student-teaching assignment, or students who conducted research or did an independent study through the Museum. We expect that the number of students we serve will increase significantly with the addition of a scanner and camera because these technologies will allow us to both expand our collections and to make those collections more accessible to a wider audience (via a digital catalogue available on our website). For instance, we are hoping to borrow, from the University of Michigan (through Dr. Susan Hoffman, MU Department of Biology), the skulls of mammals that we do not possess in in order to make scans that can then be used in Mammalogy and Vertebrate Zoology. While Student Curators, Part II, is designed to serve Miami students, the project's benefits also will extend to a wider community. A scanner and camera will enable us to develop new exhibits and Discovery Trunks, thus better serving visitors as well as those who borrow our Trunks and other specimens. We are especially anxious to develop a Discovery Trunk on fungi, which are notoriously difficult to bring into the classroom (because they decompose rapidly and the spores they produce). Such a trunk would allow area teachers to have their students handle and manipulate fungi models without triggering allergic responses in vulnerable individuals

How will you assess the project?: At the Hefner Museum, we keep meticulous records, which will make it relatively easy to assess Student Curators, Part II. We will record the number of 3-D models of museum specimens (animals, plants, fungi, and fossils) that students produce; the number of exhibits they create (or help create) based on those models; the number of Discovery Trunks (for loan to area teachers) they develop (or help develop) based on those models; and the number of specimens that students photograph and add to the Museum's digital catalogue of its collections. We also will track of the number of both undergraduates and others (school groups, for example) who use or borrow the 3-D models, the Discovery Trunks based on those models, and the digital catalogue of collections. To further assess the value of Student Curators, Part II, we will track the numbers of students who secure internships, positions, etc. in fields related to their experience at the Hefner Museum.

Have you received tech fee funding in the past?: Yes

What results were achieved?: We enjoyed extraordinary results. We exceeded the number of students we had said we would serve directly, and those students produced an impressive array of exhibits, power points (which we run on our video projection system) and products, including t-shirts, natural history trading cards, postcards, and a coloring book. We have included several photos as an attachment.

Did you submit a final report?: Yes

What happens to the project in year two?: In year 2 and beyond, we will continue to use the scanner and camera as we have described above. With a current collection of over 53,000 specimens, we have thousands of specimens that are candidates for scanning/printing. Moreover, while scanning technology is changing rapidly, the scanner we want to purchase is of a high enough quality that it will serve our needs into the future. In fact, the David SLS-3 3D scanner has just been released, featuring a high def camera for greater resolution. The 3D models we produce should be durable and long lasting; additionally, once a specimen is scanned, we can store the data for future printings, if needed. Like the scanner, the camera and printer we plan to purchase will serve our needs well into the future. Most advances in camera technology are related to ease-of-use and do not necessarily affect performance. The actual image taken with a 20-24 mexapixel camera will provide as much detail as we need, and the quality will be suitable for enlarging for displays, publication, and projection. As far as the printer goes, we plan to purchase the exact same model that we have now because we have been pleased with performance and durability of this model. Student Curators, Part II, will incur no substantial additional costs, other than printing. We will print the models at B.E.S.T. Library, eliminating the expense of purchasing and operating our own 3D printer. By using the 3-D printer at B.E.S.T. Library, we will be supporting the grant given to that unit by the tech fee program to purchase said printer

Hardware: $8,579.4200000000001

Other, please explain: We are asking for $1,000, to cover the cost of 3D printing. This amount will allow us to print between 15-100+ items, depending upon size., $1,000

Total Budget: $9,579.4200000000001

Comments: We attached four letters of support, two from Miami Biology Professors and one from a high school biology teacher and one from a fifth math/science teacher.