News / Science & Technology

    Museums Push to Get 'Dark Data' Into Light Through Digitization

    Museums Get 'Dark Data' into the Light Through Digitizationi
    Elizabeth Lee
    February 15, 2016 3:38 PM
    Many museums in the U.S. and other countries still do not have their fossil collections easily searchable on-line. Specimens are left in drawers, virtually hidden. There is a national effort to change that. Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles
    Museums Get 'Dark Data' into the Light Through Digitization

    Technology may be advancing rapidly in many fields, but many museums worldwide still do not have their collections of fossils easily searchable on-line. Specimens, called “dark data” are left in drawers, virtually hidden. There is an effort in the U.S. to bring this “dark data,” as it's called, into the light through digitizing museum collections.

    Paleontologist Torrey Nyborg is helping with the digitization process by going through drawers filled with fossil crabs and making sure they are identified properly before the specimens are entered into a database at the National History Museum of Los Angeles County. In the process, he may have discovered a new species of crab.

    “It’s a treasure hunt when you’re trying to find something new,” Nyborg said.

    'Treasure hunt'

    A treasure hunt is how some researchers describe finding specimens stored in many museums. Nyborg said there is no easy way to find a specific specimen hidden in the many drawers of museum collections.

    “Right now it’s a crap shoot," he said. You don’t know. It’s a matter of just looking through the drawers and spending the time and doing the treasure hunt at this point in time."

    With funding from the National Science Foundation, many museums are moving into the digital age, but it will not happen overnight said Austin Hendy of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

    “I think there’s been a bit of a lag for the museum community to catch onto the availability of that technology but also to realize that there is a need for it,” Hendy said.

    A crab specimin is digitized during a 'digitizing blitz' at the Marine Biodiversity Center of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
    A crab specimin is digitized during a 'digitizing blitz' at the Marine Biodiversity Center of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

    On-line data base

    A grant from the National Science Foundation has allowed the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to enter information and even photos of some of its specimens into a database so they can be easily searched on-line. Hendy said if museum collections across the U.S. and around the world can collaborate and add to the database, scientists will be able to get a critical mass of data for their research. He said it will help scientists see the bigger picture, such as how climate change in the past affected life forms.

    “The data that we have in these collections allow us to actually see how whole communities have changed,” Hendy said, giving scientists clues of how life of Earth will respond to current changes in the climate.

    Hendy said the ability to share specimens and data will change how scientists operate around the world.

    “That has bound to increase research opportunities, foster collaborations across geographic, political and even language boundaries.” Hendy adds, “that’s one of the exciting aspects of what we’re doing with the digitizing process.”

    Saving time and money

    Carlos Jaramillo who is conducting research in Panama for the Smithsonian Institution said having specimens available on-line will also help save time and money.

    ”It really has transformed the way we do research because otherwise it would be very difficult to access most of the collections that there are worldwide,” Jaramillo said.

    Integrated Digitized Biocollections or iDigBio is the central portal that digitally collects biodiversity data from museums. iDigBio’s Gil Nelson said there is a change in philosophy among scientists.

    “I think the idea of open access data and data availability is becoming a little more common. There are still folks who would rather not share their data but I think those are becoming fewer and fewer and I think open access is becoming more and more the mode of operation these days,” Nelson said.

    The trend of entering specimen records into a data is turning into an international effort. The U.S., China, Australia and European countries are sharing information on the best way of digitizing specimens so researchers from around the world can have access to specimens that span the globe.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora