Natural History Specimen data are coming to a classroom near you

Theresa Tran, Biology student at Widener University, geolocating a mollusk specimen to determine where it was collected.

Have you ever wondered who uses the Museum’s specimens and their information? The Museum and Widener University have just received funding from the National Science Foundation to help take data from natural history collections into college classrooms. This effort is focused on creating a network to help faculty develop courses where students will carry out original research using natural history specimen data. Students will investigate questions in ecology and evolution including the effects of global warming, the effects of human-caused habitat changes, and what climate factors are most important in determining where a species is found.

Many museums have been working hard to capture the data associated with their specimens in electronic databases and then make this data available over the Internet. DMNH now has more than 76,000 bird specimen records and 69,000 mollusk specimen records available online. Collectively, well over 170 million specimen records are now available from museums worldwide. This immense data set reaches back in time over 100 years and covers all kinds of natural history, from plants to insects to fossils.

Creating opportunities for students to do research during their undergraduate careers is important in spurring interest in science and increasing the number of students graduating with science degrees.  Incorporating these opportunities into courses is important to ensure all students have these opportunities, including those who have limited time outside of classes to volunteer on research projects because they are working or have family obligations.

As we move forward with this project we’re looking forward to seeing all the amazing research students can do.  You can find out more about the project at