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Howdy from Texas I

Posted on 31-01-2017 by Becky Desjardins

Howdy from Texas (Howdy means hello in Texan).  I am here in Austin, working at the Jackson School Museum of Earth Sciences for 8 weeks.  The collection here has 250,000 specimens, mostly fossils though they do have 13,000 skeletal specimens of extant species. I have three goals while I am here, to prepare some Texas birds and mammals to come back to the Naturalis collections, to help out in the collection and teach students about  study skin preparation, and learn a bit about this collection, fossil preparing and other related things. This trip was arranged by Julia Clarke, an old colleague and friend.  She is a professor here, and many of her students use the museum collection in their research. I plan to send over these dispatches weekly or so that you may keep up with my (mis) adventures!

I started my trip by spending a Monday in the University of Texas high resolution CT scanning lab. They were scanning bird syrinxes all day. These syrinxes were on loan from another museum and I got to see the whole process to get them ready for scanning. The syrinxes come in ethanol, but have to be stained with a mixture of iodine, ethanol and formalin before they can be scanned. This takes a few days to a few weeks depending on the size of the specimen. Once they are stained, they can be scanned, but following scanning must soaked in ethanol to get the stain out of them before they can be returned to the host institution.

CT scan command central, who needs two screens when you can have 4?

There is one big challenge: scanning can take more than an hour, and during that time the syrinx can dry out a bit (despite being braced in a custom made mold surrounded by plastic wrap) If they dry out and shrink or move even a little bit during this time,  the image is not crisp.  The technician on this project, Li Zhiheng, has been trying to come up with ways to prevent this by tweaking the staining formula.  As I have no experience with X-rays, it was a pretty interesting day!

More soon about the prep lab and where I am working……

Syrinx samples in the CT scanner

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