Field Training at the University of Florida!

Hi all,

I am the new 2015-2016 PCP-PIRE field intern! A little about me: My name is Dipa Desai, and I came to join the PCP-PIRE project through my interest in paleoclimate science. I arrived in Gainesville last week, and have since been training with the paleobotany, invertebrate paleontology, and vertebrate paleontology departments here at UF.

The technique I’ve been learning are ways to prepare the fossils for research. In the paleobotany lab, I helped Nathan, the resident paleobotany expert and post-doc, to create acetate peels of the cross-sections of calcitic mudstone chock full of fossilized plant material. As you can see, the peel below shows a cross-section of a Parinari fruit pit, similar to a peach pit, as well as several other sections of fossilized wood and seeds.

IMG_20151002_094119_906[1]In the vertebrate paleontology lab, I learned how to prep the fossils as they come back from the field. Similar to a puzzle, I glued broken bone fragments back into complete specimens using B-72, a mild adhesive that is reversible with acetone. I also worked on removing larger bones from the plaster jackets that paleontologists use to protect the fossil en route to the lab. I used acetone to wet the matrix surrounding the bone, and gingerly brushed it off to slowly uncover more of the fossil. This particular fossil is from Thomas Farm locality in Florida, but it still gave me a good sense of how to prepare some the vertebrates I will be excavating out of Panama! IMG_20150929_132640[1]IMG_20151002_092113_508[1]In invertebrate paleontology, I created silicone molds of fossils that were preserved as internal casts. Aly and I created clay dams around the targeted cast, and poured silicone into it and let it set. The following day, we peeled the silicone molds off to reveal a 3D cast of the fossil! Here is an example of one Aly did today:IMG_20151002_095834_470[1]I definitely learned a lot these past two weeks, and I’m excited to take these skills to the field!


Same old bones, just a different day.

Guess who’s back for a second round with the PCP-PIRE project! Yes, this time I find myself here in scenic Gainesville, FL at the Florida Museum of Natural History to experience the next step in the fossil specimens’ journey from the field to becoming integral parts of the Panamanian Collections. So far I have spent a good deal of my time divided between three primary tasks: my research projects, fossil preparation, and cataloging of the specimens amongst their peers in the endless sea of cabinets they’re housed in. My first days were dedicated to the cleaning of an assortment of artiodactyl, protoceratid, and horse mandibles, as well as a titanothere tooth. Continue reading

3D Digitization Workshop

This week I was lucky enough to have attended a workshop titled “3D Digitization of Fossils for Educators and Citizen Scientists”, organized by Claudia Grant. This workshop was attended by K12 teachers, researchers, and paleo club members, from all over the US. Justy and I were asked to give two half hour demos on using the Nextengine Surface Scanner, which took place on Monday and Tuesday morning. Overall, everyone was very receptive to our demos and many people had great ideas on how to take surface scanning a step further. I also attended many talks between the two days, all of which were incredibly interesting and insightful.  I learned about various 3D programs, 3D printing, and how to incorporate this technology into the classroom. A high school student named Sage, who attends a school in California in which Paleo lessons led by UF researchers have been taught, talked about how he was affected by these lessons and the use of 3D printed models during them. I think this was the most powerful talk of all because it gave the educators and researchers insight as to how to create a lasting effect on young people.

Myself navigating ScanStudio on the projector, as Justy describes what I'm doing.

Nextengine Surface Scanning Demo         (Photo courtesy of Dawn Mitchell).

Continue reading

*DEADLINE EXTENDED* Year-long Field Internships in Panama – Applications due July 10!

Application Deadline *EXTENDED*: 5PM EDT on July 10, 2015

The second stage of the plaster jacket process whereby the tissue paper is dampened and added as a base coat to protect the fossil.

Spring 2015 field interns Jeremy Dunham, Adam Bouche, and Sophie Westacott preparing a plaster jacket. (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Dunham)

Are you interested in a geology and paleontology?  How about traveling to Central America and brushing up on your Spanish?  Want to gain valuable field experience excavating fossils while enormous cargo ships pass by in the distance?

If so, then we have the perfect internship opportunity for you. Continue reading

PCP PIRE Fall 2015 Museum Internship Application Now Available!

Ariel Guggino

Spring-Summer museum intern Ariel Guggino examines leaf fossils in the paleobotany collections at FLMNH.

PCP PIRE’s museum internship application for Fall 2015 is now available!  Fall 2015 museum interns will be able to explore questions dealing with the paleobiology of the Neotropics at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Applicants interested in all aspects of paleontology including paleobotany, invertebrate paleontology, and vertebrate paleontology are encouraged to apply.

Justy Alicea

Spring-Summer museum intern Justy Alicea 3D scanning a fossil turtle skull.

This internship for undergraduates/post-baccalaureate students coincides with the University of Florida Fall Semester (August 24 – December 18). A monthly stipend is provided, as is assistance with locating housing in Gainesville, FL.  Applications are due July 1, 2015. Click here for application instructions.

Nebraska All Hands

Lately Ariel and myself have been working on identifying specimens that were recovered from the Nebraska All Hands trip last year. We have been identifying the taxon, the nature of the element, the side, and the tooth position of various different specimens. We are working with taxa ranging from Brontotheres to rodents. Continue reading

Thomas Farm Trip and Earth Day Festivities

Last week myself and the other interns took a field trip for two days to dig at the fossil site Thomas Farm, about an hour away from the museum here in Gainesville. The Thomas Farm site is from a comparable time frame (early Miocene) to our localities in Panama, and similarities in the fauna we find at each site show a biogeographic connection. Some examples of taxa that are in common are Parahippus, Floridatragulus, and Petauristodon.

Once at the site, we were given an introduction by Dr. Richard Hulbert. He told us that it used to be a large sinkhole, with some limestone caves. We talked about the sediment we would encounter and the types of fossils we would be finding. At Thomas Farm, they dig in 10 cm intervals, using a grid system to denote different squares. This is similar to how archaeological digs are done. Much of my fieldwork training comes from archaeological work, so I was very familiar with this and felt very comfortable digging this way. Various fossils were uncovered, and I even got to make my first jacket, which was for a mandible belonging to the camel Nothokemas.

The Nothokemas mandible in it's jacket, after it had been cleaned by a volunteer.

The Nothokemas mandible in it’s jacket, after it had been cleaned by a volunteer.

Scapulae found at Thomas Farm.

Scapulae found at Thomas Farm.

Continue reading

Duke Trip

Last week Justy, Nathan and myself headed to Duke to microCT scan fossils from the Panama Canal. Our main goal was to scan 71 fossil teeth belonging to various rodents, but we brought various other fossils along as well in case we had extra time. Overall we ended up scanning all 71 rodent teeth, 6 crab fossils, and various plants all from the canal sites. We even scanned some fossils for our personal research projects including a turtle skull and some sciurid postcrania.

When we arrived at Duke we met with Jimmy Thostenson, the engineer/technician in charge of running the scanner. Jimmy taught us how to position our fossils in the scanner, and then he set up the scanner and explained to us how it worked along the way. We queued up our specimens that would be scanned that day, and then left to explore campus. We returned later when they were finished scanning and checked the images to make sure they were looking good. At one point the center of rotation of our scans were off, so Jimmy taught us how to fix that. We then opened up each scan in Avizo and made a rough 3D image to make sure all was well. All of our scans ended up great!


Jimmy teaching us how to set up the scanner as Nathan and Justy look on.


The inside of the microCT scanner.

A Sciurid humerus from the Thomas Farm site in Florida, as it was being scanned.

A Sciurid humerus from the Thomas Farm site in Florida, as it was being scanned.

While our specimens were scanning, we were able to explore Durham. Continue reading