American Museum of Natural History

New York, NY, United States

American Museum of Natural History

New York, NY, United States
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Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: DISCOVERY RESEARCH K-12 | Award Amount: 2.37M | Year: 2014

Schools and teachers face unprecedented challenges in meeting the ambitious goals of integrating core interdisciplinary science ideas with science and engineering practices as described in new standards. The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), in collaboration with the University of Connecticut (UConn), and the Lawrence Hall of Science (the Hall), will develop a middle school ecology unit and related teacher professional development that will help high-need and urban middle school students, including English Language Learners, understand these ideas and related practices. Teachers will be supported through professional development that is directly linked to the curriculum and is designed to develop their science content knowledge as well as their knowledge of how to teach the curriculum. The project builds on existing AMNH resources that include video and text passages supported with literacy strategies, online interactive data tools to plan and carry out investigations, and prior research on these resources used with teachers in professional development and with students in classrooms. In addition to serving the schools, teachers and students who directly participate, the projects deliverables include the ecology unit, teacher professional development, assessment tools, and a model for designing such comprehensives science programs that relate to NGSS.

The curriculum unit will be modeled after the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) 5E model that will use the 5 Phases (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate) for students to work through with each of five themes: Ecological Communities, Food Webs, A River Ecosystem, Zebra Mussel Invasion, and Monitoring Human Impact. Teachers will participate in 12 days of professional development that will introduce the programs pedagogical approach (the 5E model) and how it reflects NGSS, with teachers having significant time to learn the science, try out the activities, learn how to facilitate the program, provide feedback on the program as part of the evaluation, and reflect on their practice. The initial approach to the curriculum and teacher professional development will be designed in Year 1 and then iteratively revised and evaluated in Years 2-4 through formative evaluation that focuses on curriculum PD, and measures of student and teacher outcomes. The evaluation will assess the contribution of teacher science and pedagogical knowledge to increases in student knowledge. The evaluation findings and assessment tools developed for the project will provide the foundation for a future efficacy study. The project is one of a relatively small number of projects funded through NSFs DRK-12 program that directly addresses the need for NGSS-related learning resources. The projects learning resources, assessment tools, and model for designing NGSS-related and comprehensive science programs will be shared through professional publications, conference and workshop presentations, and liaison with organizations active in developing new resources bring NGSS into practice.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: PHYLOGENETIC SYSTEMATICS | Award Amount: 207.81K | Year: 2015

Worldwide, humans and countless other species are dependent on coral reefs for shelter, sustenance and livelihoods. Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing the worlds oceans to become warmer and more acidic, a chemical change that may prevent corals from forming calcium carbonate skeletons. The fossil record indicates, however, that some groups of corals have survived similar environmental crises in past geological eras, and that changes in ocean chemistry may result in the evolution of different types of skeletons or of corals that lack skeletons. Understanding these past evolutionary transitions and the environmental conditions under which they occurred may help scientists predict the responses of todays reef-building corals to future climate change. This collaborative project between researchers from Harvey Mudd College, a Principally Undergraduate Institution, and the American Museum of Natural History will investigate the evolution of calcium carbonate skeletons in Anthozoa (corals, sea anemones, and relatives). They will first generate an extensive time-calibrated molecular phylogeny of the group and then use this evolutionary framework to study the evolution of skeletal characters. Students from groups underrepresented in the sciences will participate in this research through the PIs mentoring of undergraduates at the minority-serving New York City College of Technology, and the Scripps College Academy, a program for high school girls in the Los Angeles area. The project will also generate diverse outreach materials for a public display on corals at the American Museum of Natural History.

Although previous molecular phylogenetic studies have found strong support for relationships among some orders of Anthozoa, key regions of the tree remain poorly resolved, impeding efforts to understand character evolution within the group. By first sequencing complete genomes from eight distantly related taxa of Anthozoa researchers will then design a set of Ultra-Conserved Elements (UCEs) that can be used throughout Anthozoa. UCE sequences will then be generated for 192 Anthozoa species spanning diversity within the group to generate the first phylogenomic estimate of relationships within the group. The researchers will then use this phylogenetic tree and a diverse set of comparative methods to infer the direction, timing and paleoclimatic correlates of evolutionary transitions in skeletogenesis and other traits within the clade that have allowed anthozoans to engineer the largest biological structures on the planet.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Systematics & Biodiversity Sci | Award Amount: 178.57K | Year: 2016

This project will synthesize more than 30 years of research on the evolutionary history and classification of the higher flies, including robber flies, bee flies, flower flies, fruit flies, carrion flies, bot flies, and tsetse flies, many of which are economically and ecologically important. It will integrate exciting new fossil discoveries as well as anatomical and new genomic data. A unique feature of the fossil record for these flies is that many diverse higher flies are preserved with life-like fidelity in fossilized resin (amber) that is from 17 to 130 million years old. This profoundly enhances the accuracy with which the timing and amount of evolutionary change can be measured. With these data, this project can address whether higher flies are diverse because their speciation is so rapid, or because their extinction rate is low, or both. It also can address whether higher flies were affected by mass extinctions that occurred 66 million years ago, when most dinosaurs became extinct, and whether the largest group of higher flies, which represents the largest radiation of all life in the past 66 million years, also are the fastest evolving. Besides these broad questions, this study will also address the rate of evolution of fruit flies (Drosophila), based on several hundred specimens in amber. Since fruit flies are a model system for genetic and genomic research, this will provide a unique context for research in genomics and evolution. The project also will provide research training and experience for high school students and develop a museum exhibit on the evolution of flies.

This project will construct a comprehensive evolutionary framework through the analysis, study, and interpretation of over 30 years of accumulated data on the phylogeny, biogeography, and general evolution of the higher flies (Brachyceran Diptera). It will build upon the principal investigators experience from hundreds dissections of exemplar living species, thousands of measurements and digital images of living and fossil species, and writing descriptions for over 70 fossil species to first assemble a data matrix of 592 morphological characters from 526 taxa, including both fossil and extant species. This morphological and molecular data will be used to compile a monograph on the morphology, fossil record, and phylogeny of the Brachycera, emphasizing the Mesozoic Era. This project also will produce a detailed descriptive study on diverse new Drosophilidae preserved in amber (42-17 million years ago) and two papers that address divergence times of lineages in lower Brachycera and in the Ephydroidea, especially Drosophila, analyzed with morphological and genomic data. Outreach will include mentoring high school student interns in the amber laboratory and developing a traveling or permanent exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, Flies.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: SYMBIOSIS DEF & SELF RECOG | Award Amount: 254.28K | Year: 2015

Eukaryotes are organisms whose cells have complex internal structures, such as nuclei and mitochondria, unlike the cells of bacteria. Cells of photosynthetic eukaryotes such as plants and algae possess a chloroplast, an organelle that is typically colored green and is responsible for generating cellular energy from sunlight. While a chloroplast is part of a cell and cannot live by itself outside of a cell, it originated from a free-living bacterium, which was engulfed (i.e., phagocytosis) by and formed an intracellular symbiosis with an early host eukaryote. This research aims to characterize the feeding mechanism of several taxonomically diverse groups, including green algae. Feeding is especially poorly understood in these groups. Only a few green algae, for example, still have the capacity to consume food particles. The study has the potential to provide insight into the process of feeding on bacteria that eventually led to the evolution of chloroplasts as organelles within photosynthetic eukaryotes. The work will involve a combination of cell culturing, imaging, and molecular sequencing tools, and will train a cohort of young investigators, including graduate students and undergraduate summer interns.

The Principal Investigator recently found definitive evidence for phagocytosis in one lineage of green algae, a group that was once considered to have completely lost such capacity. The research will evaluate the molecular and cellular basis of phagocytosis in green algae as well as in several other lineages of eukaryotes. Major questions driving the proposed research include: 1) Are other early lineages of green algae capable of ingesting bacteria? When and how many times was phagocytosis lost during green algal evolution?; 2) Does resource limitation facilitate phagocytosis in mixotrophic green algae? If so, could this have provided sufficient evolutionary pressure for some green algae to still retain feeding capacity?; 3) What genes and proteins are involved in phagocytosis in green algae and other protists? Could lineage-specific traits of phagocytosis have played key roles in the origin of eukaryotic photosynthesis? The project will use a combination of methods, including feeding assays, growth experiments, fluorescence and electron microscopy, transcriptome/genome sequencing, phagosome proteomics, and quantitative PCR. The research will involve the training of one postdoctoral researcher, two graduate students, and five undergraduate interns. In addition, a course on imaging techniques will be developed and offered through the American Museum of Natural History graduate program. This course will train graduate students in the use of current microscopic techniques in comparative cell biology.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: PHYLOGENETIC SYSTEMATICS | Award Amount: 271.20K | Year: 2015

Despite advances in knowledge of brain function, the relationship between brain evolution and ecological diversity remains poorly known. A prominent example is that of birds. Taking to the air enabled the dinosaurian ancestors of birds to exploit a range of ecological niches that now underlie the remarkable modern diversity of the group (approximately 10,000 living species). A significant part of this evolutionary success may have stemmed from the development of a relatively large brain, which has been considered necessary for coordinating the various, nuanced components of powered flight. This study complements the NSF BRAIN initiative by using a cross-disciplinary approach to understand the complex neurological evolution of birds and their dinosaurian relatives. To that end, an array of new techniques and new applications of existing technologies are employed to document the major changes in the brain associated with the origin of powered flight. This study also will establish a model of brain expansion complementing that already available for mammals. The outcome will be an unprecedented database of avian brain anatomy that includes not only imagery of morphological systems but also their relation to data generated through brain function.

The relationship between neuroanatomical, cognitive and behavioral evolution remains poorly understood, especially in deep time and across the vertebrate tree of life. This study addresses this relationship using a cross-disciplinary investigation of the evolutionary link between the large brain of living birds and the morphological changes that mark the transition from cursorial (running) dinosaur to flying bird. Initial steps use innovative imaging methods and novel staining techniques to generate the first data on what areas of the brain birds use while flying, and how this activity differs from that of other behaviors. These data will serve as a framework for a broad analysis of encephalization (increasing head size) within living birds and along the lineage where avian flight originated. Shared landmarks will be used to subdivide the endocranial cavity into functionally relevant partitions that allow testing for volumetric size changes between individual neural structures, including those most active during flight. This study also will use geometric morphometrics (anatomical comparisons) to assess covariation between neuroanatomical partitions and thus the presence of functionally and/or evolutionarily integrated regions of the brain. In short, the proposed study will generate data on how birds use their brain and apply those data to better understand the ancient relationship between brain evolution and the origin of the highly derived avian body plan.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Continuing grant | Program: | Phase: SPECIAL PROGRAMS IN ASTRONOMY | Award Amount: 322.51K | Year: 2015

This award provides renewed funding for undergraduate students to conduct experimental, observational, theoretical, and computational research activities in earth science, planetary science, and astronomy at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. Eight students per year will be selected to perform research into topics ranging from meteoritics, to volcanology, to experimental and theoretical astrophysics. The participants will be rigorously trained and well-educated in the fundamentals of the scientific enterprise, and will receive valuable research experience in an active, immersive, integrated research and education environment.

Although it recruits from a nationwide pool, this Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Site particularly leverages longstanding collaborations between scientists in the City University of New York (CUNY) system and at AMNH. CUNY is a 269,000-student urban public university network whose students primarily come from communities underrepresented in science. The CUNY/AMNH partnership will therefore enhance the REU Sites ability to recruit students in urban, traditionally underserved populations. Aside from their primary research activities, REU interns will also participate in Museum programs; attend field trips, colloquia, and conferences to present research; and present their work in a scientific symposium open to the public.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: PHYLOGENETIC SYSTEMATICS | Award Amount: 283.82K | Year: 2015

Molecular paleontology is a new field that uses information derived from biological molecules (biomolecules) to make inferences about evolutionary relationships, in this case for extinct organisms. During life, living things produce many kinds of biomolecules encoded by their DNA, and these may be preserved for varying lengths of time after the organisms death. Proteins, for example, are composed of amino acids, and each amino acid is specified by a precise piece of genetic information that varies slightly from species to species within an evolutionary group. Thus, by working out a proteins amino acid composition, the genetic sequence that originally produced it can be worked out indirectly, even in the absence of the DNA itself. This is significant for paleontological research because structural proteins like collagen, which make up almost all of the organic fraction of a bone, are very hardy and can last a long time after an animals death; at least 4 million years in favorable circumstances, and possibly much longer. DNA, by contrast, degrades over a few tens to a few hundreds of thousands of years, even in the best preservational contexts. In recent years, instrumentation and lab techniques for acquiring compositional information from ancient biomolecules have greatly improved, enabling the researchers and their interdisciplinary collaborators in geochemistry to undertake a focused range of experiments in molecular paleontology. This research will advance the field of paleo-proteomics by addressing two main goals. The first goal will be to explore the limits of the technique and identify what kinds of fossils and what types of fossil preservation conditions yield the best results for analyses of biomolecules of extinct taxa. The second goal will apply the newly developed technique to specific test cases to highlight the feasibility of the methods and their generality for application to diverse questions in systematics. Molecular methods have already proven vitally important for improving knowledge of the history of life on Earth, and the researchers work will lead to both theoretical and practical improvements in ancient proteomics.

How far back in time can ancient collagen proteomics actually reach and yield high-quality sequence information useful for phylogenetic studies? What are the best targets for preservation and systematic interpretation? Proof-of-concept investigations designed to answer these questions will focus on two areas of interest. (1) To establish fundamental geochemical boundary conditions affecting collagen survival, experiments will be conducted with a physically stabilized protein (collagen in fossil bone) and a proteome with restricted reactants (eggshell proteome). Work will center on assessing thermal age and controlling for mineral diagenesis, with analysis conducted via state-of-the-art mass spectrometry and diagenetic modeling to estimate the kinetics of key decay parameters (racemization, hydrolysis, oxidation, deamidation). (2) To establish the practical value of collagen proteomics for solving systematic problems, taxa from various temporal intervals in North and South America, West Indies, Asia, and Antarctica will be sampled for phylogenetic studies using the same instrumental approach as in (1). In addition to providing phylogenetically useful information, these investigations will further extend assessment of taphonomic conditions that enhance fossil protein preservation. The overall aim is to create a network of collaborative systematic paleontologists and protein geochemists interested in joint research in areas of mutual interest.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: Digitization | Award Amount: 179.24K | Year: 2016

Between 65 and 100 million years ago, during the time that dinosaurs walked the earth, a large, tropical seaway covered the central part of what is now North America. This seaway teemed with marine life. Snails and clams lived on the seafloor; ammonites, along with giant mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, sharks, and fish, swam about; at the same time early birds and pterosaurs floated on or flew above the seaway. What remains today is a prolific fossil record that has been collected by paleontologists for over 100 years. Notable fossils from this time period and region are on display at museums around the world. However, the vast bulk of fossils collected from this region are locked away in museum drawers. To provide scientists and the general public access to these fossils and their associated data, this project proposes to digitize invertebrate and vertebrate fossils from this time period and region, making information accessible through searchable electronic databases. Additionally, a variety of online resources illustrating and describing these fossils and mapping their distributions will be developed. A freely accessible online textbook of paleontology will be generated and a website and App will be developed to highlight the appearances, occurrences, and ages of constituent species, to help students and aspiring paleontologists identify and learn about these fossils. The project plans to generate a variety of curricular materials for K-12 education, including 3-D scans of fossils for free download and printed 3-D models for classroom use. Products of this project will also include workshops to engage science teachers and items to augment public programs and exhibits at participating institutions.

This work will greatly increase the scientific value of eight major U.S. museum collections of fossils. The museum collections contain large amounts of data useful for studying what causes marine species to migrate, go extinct, and evolve during a long period of greenhouse climate conditions similar to those our planet may soon experience. These data have relevance for evaluating how global change has and will continue to affect life on earth. An estimated 164,000 specimens collected from thousands of locations, in the region once occupied by the Western Interior Seaway, will be databased and georeferenced. Representatives from each of roughly 1,500 microfossil, invertebrate, and vertebrate species will be imaged. The digitized records will be made available online via individual museum databases, iDigBio, and iDigPaleo. The resultant data will enable scientists to answer questions about how different species interact and ecosystems change in the face of environmental shifts during a key time in the history of life. Moreover, the data will be ideal for use with an assortment of modern quantitative tools -including paleoecological niche modeling (PaleoENM) - and will help improve paleoclimate and paleoceanographic models. Finally, several undergraduate and graduate students will be trained. Results of the project will be published at the following url: www.digitalatlasofancientlife.org.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: INSTRUMENTATION & FACILITIES | Award Amount: 124.64K | Year: 2016

This grant will support the refurbishment of an internally heated high-pressure vessel (IHPV) acquired by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) from NASA. Experiments under deep earth conditions are the primary means of investigating chemical evolution of magmas under controlled conditions. The installation of this apparatus will provide much greater access for students participating in AMNH-sponsored high school, undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral, and teacher training programs. The additional IHPV access will also support AMNH and other, non-museum colleagues to enhance U.S. competitiveness in research in magmatic processes.

The IHPV will be used to investigate melt-mineral-fluid phase equilibria and component partitioning behaviors in geologic systems under controlled conditions. The primary research objective is to obtain critical, missing knowledge to better address the compositional range of magmas that threaten society with eruptions or are part of hydrothermal mineralizing processes that produce metallic resources.


Grant
Agency: NSF | Branch: Standard Grant | Program: | Phase: BIOLOGICAL RESEARCH COLLECTION | Award Amount: 498.44K | Year: 2015

An award has been made to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) for improving storage, curation, and access to a nationally significant collection of nonhuman primate (monkey and ape) specimens. The AMNH has one of the largest primate collections in the world, including over 10,000 specimens collected on dozens of museum expeditions to South America, Africa, and Asia. The AMNH collection preserves host specimens from large field surveys of scientifically important microbes and parasites and is an archive of biological diversity in many formerly pristine landscapes subsequently altered by human activities. This collection is a national resource for training undergraduate, graduate-student, and postdoctoral researchers from the United States and abroad. Primates are also studied by anthropologists for clues about human evolution, and primate research is also important for understanding the origins of human diseases (like AIDS and malaria), which are caused by microbes that evolved in monkeys and apes. Additionally, the collection is often used as a basis for illustrations in field guides used by the public. Specimens for public exhibits are viewed by millions of museum-goers every year.

This award will contribute to the long-term research and societal value of the AMNH primate collection by protecting vulnerable specimens on archival substrates in new dust- and insect-proof cabinetry, cleaning and repairing specimens, decompressing and reorganizing the collection, georeferencing, and improving data quality. Currently, much of this collection is stored in old cabinets, where skins are discolored by dust and urban soot and at risk from insect pests. AMNH houses one of the largest and most heavily used mammal collections in the world. On average, more than 200 unaffiliated researchers visit the AMNH mammal collection every year, the AMNH Department of Mammalogy loans about 1800 specimens annually to researchers at other institutions, and an online collection database provides access to specimen data. Primates comprise a uniquely important part of the mammal collection. Primate researchers account for more than 40 percent of total visitor activity in the Department of Mammalogy and account for a substantial fraction of publications based on AMNH mammals. Traditional museum research with this material has produced hundreds of scientific publications over the last 100 years, and new technologies (such as CT scanning and 3D laser-imaging) allow modern researchers to use AMNH primate specimens for a wide range of non-traditional research purposes. A professionally produced video posted on the AMNH main website and its YouTube channel (the latter with more than 41,000 subscribers and millions of annual visitors) will serve to educate viewers about these important functions and about the challenges of museum specimen conservation.

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