PSU Gets National Science Foundation Grant to Create Herbarium Digital Database

PSU Gets National Science Foundation Grant to Create Herbarium Digital Database

A Pittsburg State University project to create a digital database of more than sixty-five thousand plant specimen gets a giant boost from the National Science Foundation. The project started in 2014 but now with the $307 thousand dollar grant it helps students locally and scientists worldwide.

Rachel Wood loaded a stack of manila folders into large cabinet. Each contains dried samples of plants. Wood explained, “It’s kind of like a giant library. So, everything is not only alphabetized but also has bar code number in the order samples were collected.”

Samples collected since 1946, by several biology professors and others from Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and even other countries and continents including Australia.

Students Rachel Wood and Laramie Unruh are taking the specimen information and putting it in to a digital database. Thanks to the $307 thousand dollar National Science Foundation grant they can get paid to do it.

Wood said, “This is one of my second jobs on campus, so I’m super excited!” She added, “There’s not a lot of work opportunities that will completely work around your school schedule. But, when you work for the university, you really get a lot of leeway. And you get those connections through your professor, network experience that means a lot, especially going into graduate programs and anything like that.”

Laramie Unruh boasted, “Getting paid to learn. Getting paid to gain information about something I’m already interested in, it’s pretty nice!”

Unruh was databasing specimens Tuesday. She explained, “Some of them are pretty old but they’ve got labels on here. It has the species, where they were found, who collected them, the date they were collected.”

She keyed in a bar code, then other information. Then Associate Professor of Biology Alex Snow, who’s director and curator of the Sperry Herbarium, explained the newest part of the archival process. “We image the specimen, it gets transferred over to computer for us to visually confirm, then we use the bar code reader to record the bar code and the data with each specimen can then be linked to the image researchers can look at.”

And accessed from around the world and tapped for use. That’s already happened with the more than twelve thousand specimens loaded in the system so far.

Wood explained, “We’ve actually had other Universities request us send them samples, so they can extract DNA from them and they can do all kinds of research, which is incredible.”

The grant will also be used to purchase new cabinetry and move the Herbarium to Hartman Hall on campus. There are forty-five packed into the current herbarium location in Heckert-Wells. Most are ninety percent full. With the grant, they’ll have a total at least seventy-seven cabinets.

Wood said, “We have sixty-five thousand specimens here that represent over 103 (plant) families.”
Snow said he expects the grant to help the herbarium add an average of fifteen hundred specimens each year and said, “This (grant money) positions the Sperry herbarium for the next thirty years.”

The herbarium has an additional twenty-five thousand specimens backlogged and in need of preservation. Snow is open to having community volunteers help add them to the database.

You can volunteer to help calling Neil Snow in the PSU Biology Department at 620-235-4424.