Paleontology Laboratory Work
Our labs supports the research programs of the curators in the Museum of Paleontology, and provides assistance to the Natural History Museum at the University of Michigan, the Department of Anthropology, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, research scientists, visiting scholars, and undergraduate honor's thesis students. They are vital for specimen-based data collection, teaching, public display, and the dissemination of information about the past, as well as critical for the long-term conservation of the fossil collections.
The museum has a number of laboratories, each for different purposes. The mechanical and chemical preparation labs are supervised by Dr. William Sanders. See below for the different labs:
The mechanical preparation lab is used primarily for the delicate work of removing fossils from the surrounding rock matrix. The functions of the lab include mechanical and manual preparation and micropreparation of fossils, consolidation of fossil material, removal of fossils from plaster field jackets, reconstruction of fossils, molding of fossil specimens, cast painting, and creation of storage cradles for fossils. We are well equipped with marker pens (small airscribes), pneumatic airscribes, and an air dent machine, as well as a wide variety of pin vises and needles. The lab has a good dust removal system and air handling system for maintenance of constant temperature and humidity. Our consolidants and adhesives are archival quality, as are our new materials for cradles.
The lab has the capability to accomplish major molding and casting projects, such as the casting of mastodon skeletons and large fossil whales, for research and display.
The chemical preparation lab is equipped with a fume hood, large-scale open air hood, and work bench air removal vents, along with a sophisticated make-up air system, for work involving dangerous and noxious chemical procedures, such as acid reduction of fossil-bearing matrix and resin-and-fiberglass-based casting and mother-molding. Other equipment in the lab includes a rock-cutting saw and centrifuge for epoxy casting of small specimens. A large sink fitted with sediment traps and multiple water taps is capable of handling large-scale acid reduction projects. Chemical storage cabinets are vented for safe management of flammable and caustic substances used in our work.
The resources of the University of Michigan Morphometric Laboratory are available to students, faculty, and staff for their research. The morphometrics computer has a full complement of geometric morphometric and statistical analysis software packages, some of which were designed in collaboration with Museum staff members (Miriam Zelditch of the Museum of Paleontology and William Fink of the Museum of Zoology). Both two-dimensional and three-dimensional digitization equipment and software are available. Often in the winter semester, a morphometric course is offered through the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology or the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, in which the principles and theory of a number of geometric morphometric techniques are discussed.
The University of Michigan Morphometric Laboratory includes an extensive array of modern digitizing and computerized measuring instruments, including an OPTIMAS 2-D digital image capture system.
The morphometrics laboratory also includes a Reflex Microscope useful for digitizing 3-dimensional coordinates of mammalian teeth and other small specimens. For 3-dimensional work on larger specimens, we have a Microscribe mechanical arm digitizer, and we jointly own (with the 3D Lab on North Campus) a Creaform HandyScan laser scanning digitizer.
Students have used the morphometrics facilities and faculty to conduct a wide variety of research, ranging from the ontogeny of Cambrian trilobites to the vertebral functional morphology of modern and fossil whales.
In addition, Professor Daniel Fisher and a large team of undergraduates have used these facilities to digitize the complete assemblages of skeletal material from mastodon and mammoth sites.
Paleobotany Range — Dr. Robyn Burnham
Invertebrate Range — Dr. Tomasz Baumiller and Dr. Dan Miller
Vertebrate Range — Dr. Daniel Fisher, Dr. Philip Gingerich, and Dr. Jeffrey Wilson