Blast From the Past: Specimen Storage Through the Years
Written by Adam Stergis
As of August 2020, the staff in The Department of Invertebrate Zoology (IZ) continues to work diligently from their homes. However, the specimens are a staple of our work, so today we will be taking a look back at specimen storage and how it has evolved in our department over the course of twenty years. In digging through old issues of the IZ No Bones newsletter, it's interesting to note that around this time twenty years ago all hands were on deck in moving the wet mollusk collection from the East Wing to the West Wing of the Natural History Building (NHB). This was a crucially important move for IZ at the time, as the wet mollusks were separated from the rest of the department by a length equivalent to a city block! The move saw IZ collections staff packing up the wet mollusk collection and moving it up to a newer, larger storage unit on the 3rd floor of the building.
These days, all of IZ wet collections have been moved roughly 10 miles away to the museum's dedicated storage facility, the Museum Support Center (MSC), located in Suitland, Maryland. While our specimens may be further away from the NHB, this relocation allowed for vastly increased storage capacity and state-of-the-art climate control conditions for the jarred specimens. A number of collections staff in IZ are now stationed at MSC as their main place of work to process incoming and backlogged specimens. The key research labs remain at NHB as well as the dried mollusk and coral collections.
To mitigate the large distance between a bulk of our collections and the museum proper, a weekly shuttle transport is utilized to transfer specimens. As an example, a researcher or IZ staff member can request specimens from MSC to be placed on the weekly transport to NHB so they can work with those specimens using the equipment available at the museum. The transport also proves helpful for NHB outreach programs, such as International Polychaete Day, when fascinating wet specimens need to move from MSC storage to be showcased at the museum. This gives the department a great opportunity to easily share highlights of the wet collections to the public right there at the museum.
In times such as these, we in IZ are itching to get back to our collections, but in the meantime it's nice to take a look back and see just how much has changed over the course of twenty years. If you'd like to take a look at the original No Bones newsletter from July-August 2000 and read more about that relocation of mollusk specimens, please see the link to the PDF down below. To see how the No Bones newsletter itself has evolved, check out the latest at the No Bones Blog.