Past legacy sheds light on the future | Digital Collections Programme

The butterflies and moths amassed by avid collectors Dr EA Cockayne, Dr HBD Kettlewell and Lord Walter Rothschild make up the core of the Museum’s world famous collection of British and Irish Lepidoptera.

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Small copper butterflies that have been digitised and rehoused as part of the project

The Museum is digitising the Lepidoptera collection and using the data to ask important scientific questions about the effects of environmental change. Dr Cockayne passion led him to form the Cockayne Trust for Lepidoptera research, his legacy is funding the digitisation.

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Going digital! New crowdsourcing project launched | Miniature Lives Magnified

Be a digital volunteer for the Museum and help transcribe scientific data from microscope slides… We are so very excited to launch our latest citizen science project Miniature Lives Magnified.

As part of our Digital Collections Programme,  we have imaged 100,000 microscope slides of some of the world’s smallest insects and we need your help to unlock the data from the specimen labels, so that we can uncover more of nature’s secrets.

Rectangular glass microscope slide, with old handwritten labels.
Spot the wasp: we have 6,000 microscope slides of Chalcid wasps, that we would like you to help us to transcribe data from.

In partnership with our good friends from the online crowdsourcing platform Notes from Nature, today we launch our first collection called ‘The killer within: wasps but not as you know them’.

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Global digital collections | Digital Collections Programme

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Deborah Paul presenting on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility

Ben Price and Douglas Russell blogged recently about presentations by Museum colleagues at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Protection of Natural History Collections (SPNHC) in Berlin, noting that delegates were passionate about the potential of digitisation to help us illustrate, research and understand our changing world. As well as presenting, we learned a lot from the other presenters and attendees, picking up some themes which are particularly relevant to our Digital Collections Programme (DCP).

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Digital butterfly data takes flight | Digital Collections Programme

The Museum’s entire collection of  181,545 British and Irish butterflies are now in a digital form and available for all to see online in the Museum’s Data Portal.

Photo from overhead of the drawer containing 9 columns of brightly coloured butterflies with their accompanying QR code labels.
A specimen drawer of common clouded yellow butterflies (Colias croceus). The new barcodes created as part of the Museum’s iCollections digitisation project are visible.

Each butterfly has a new digital image and digital record of the specimen’s collector, place and date of collection and this data are already being used to work out the effects of climate change on UK butterflies.

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Bringing fossils into the digital age | Digital Collections

What do an Iguanodon’s thumb spike, an ichthyosaur paddle and a shark fin spine all have in common? Well these are just some of the specimens we’ve digitised as part of the museum’s eMesozoic project, headed by Fossil Mammal Curator Dr Pip Brewer.

Hypsilophodon foxii,
An Early Cretaceous dinosaur Hypsilophodon foxii, from Brightstone Bay Isle of Wight, one of the images taken as part of the eMesozoic project.

For the past eight months myself and two other eMesozoic digitisers, Lyndsey Douglas and David Godfrey, have been busy in the palaeontology department mass imaging British Mesozoic vertebrates for the first time.

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Why georeferencing is the most important thing for the Museum since sliced bread | Digital Collections Programme

The ‘spatial wealth’ of the Museum’s collections is often ignored or at best under-appreciated. Most specimens if not all have a spatial locality associated with them, either written on to a label, written in a notebook, or on the specimen.

Close crop of a photo of a drawer of pinned clouded yellow butterflies with QR code and hand written labels visible
Digitising the Museum’s collections will let us unlock and share a treasure trove of information about our 80 million specimens

These localities can vary between very precise (e.g. a GPS-based latitude/longitude), very imprecise (e.g. ‘South America’) or, most likely, somewhere in-between. Most specimens within the Museum do not have a latitude and longitude, but do have detailed locality information on the accompanying label, which can be used to define co-ordinates for that specimen. So what is georeferencing, why do we need it, and how do we use it?

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