Letter from the Director

On field work in the 21st century

by David R. Lindberg
Dave Lindberg
As UCMP curators, staff and students returned to campus and the Museum last month, laboratories, preparation facilities and even the main office area filled with plaster jackets, boxes, containers and jars of every size, shape and condition—UCMP field work was coming home. In addition to the specimens, there were the data, recorded in field notebooks, specimen tags and jar labels—and this year more than ever before, we had digital data, recorded in numerous hand-held GPS (Global Positioning System) units. Now begins the preparation, curation and analysis of the specimens, perhaps not as glamorous and invigorating as the field, but the real measure of the success of any field enterprise. Jackets will be opened and specimens unwrapped from yards of toilet paper, but this year there will also be the grinding of tissues and rock as specimens are prepared for molecular sequencing
and isotopic analysis. Bits of bone will be delicately teased from the sediment and gingerly repositioned for gluing, while other pieces are deliberately sawed in half for histological and elemental analyses. UCMP computers will also work overtime as new localities, taxon occurrences and data are added to growing GIS (Geographical Information System) databases and museum records. In some ways, the end of the summer has not changed much since the days of Whitney, Merriam, Stirton, Durham, and Chaney. The specimens still look the same and the data must be recorded, but there is a new level of inquiry added to almost every UCMP research endeavor, and as UCMP enters the 21st century, the work that follows the end of field season will never be the same.

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October, 2000