[Taxacom] $1M Available for Digital Innovation that Moves Us Beyond the Bug Box

Julie Palakovich Carr jpalakovichcarr at aibs.org
Fri Dec 5 11:10:11 CST 2014

*$1M Available for Digital Innovation that Moves Us Beyond the Bug Box*

*National competition launched to develop a new tool to digitally capture
images and data from museum insect collections*

Contacts: Robert Gropp, AIBS, 202-628-1500 x 250, rgropp at aibs.org
Lily Whiteman, NSF, 703-292-8310, lwhitema at nsf.gov

Washington, DC -- The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the
American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) have launched the Beyond
the Box National Digitization Innovation Competition
<http://beyondthebox.aibs.org/> (beyondthebox.aibs.org).  The initiative
will award $1 million to the individual or team who develops a novel way to
accurately and efficiently capture digital images of insect specimens and
their associated data from a standard museum drawer of insects.

"The Beyond the Box Digitization Competition is designed to inspire the
ingenuity of the American public, and to engage scientists, engineers, and
everyday inventors, in an effort to solve a problem that has been slowing
the rate of scientific discovery," said Dr. James L. Olds, Assistant
Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences at NSF.

Whether through the beauty of a butterfly, agricultural significance of a
honeybee, or the public health implications of a mosquito, insects
influence the quality of human life every day.

"Insects are an amazingly diverse group of organisms that represent an
overwhelming amount of living biological diversity on Earth," said AIBS
President Dr. Joseph Travis.  "Very few insect species are pests and most
play important roles in our ecosystems.  They pollinate many of our crops,
recycle nutrients and energy, and are sources of food for the other animals
in the food chain.  Unfortunately, despite all we know about insects, we
have yet to describe all of the species of insects and, in fact, we are
still discovering new species at a surprisingly high rate."

There are believed to be more than 1.5 million identified species of
insects on Earth.  This is hypothesized to be three times the number of all
other animal species combined.  Amazingly, it is estimated that there are
10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects alive in the world.
That's more than one billion times the number of people.

"We share the planet with so many insects, wouldn't it be wonderful if when
we find a new one in our backyard we could take a picture of it and have
that matched to an image in a museum somewhere. We could learn the name,
understand what its role in the ecosystem is, or understand if it is an
invasive species that might devastate our garden or nearby crop fields,"
said Dr. Norman Johnson, Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection at
The Ohio State University, and the Chairman of the Planning Committee that
established the rules for the competition.

For more than 250 years, scientists have collected millions of insects from
around the world.  These specimens are now held in more than 1,000 natural
science collections in universities and museums across the United States
alone.  Unfortunately, many of these specimens remain unknown to science,
education, natural resource and public health managers, and the general
public.  Quite simply, they have been locked away in cabinets.

"With technological advances in robotics, imaging, data capture and
management, among other areas, it is now possible to develop new tools to
digitally capture images of insect specimens and their associated data,"
said Johnson.

"This is important work that is going to solve some persistent challenges,
advance science and engineering, and is also likely to generate new tools
that may have secondary commercial applications," said Olds.

Through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program, NSF
has pledged $100 million over ten years to support biodiversity collections

Other fields of biology have made progress digitizing specimens and sharing
the data with research, education, and other user communities.  Plant
scientists, for example, have been developing innovative ways to image
herbarium sheets.  Despite these developments, insects have remained a

Johnson states, "we need to find a way to move from two dimensional to
three dimensional images."

Insects are delicate and have small labels associated with them that have
information about the specimen, such as its name and where it was
collected.  "These specimens and their associated data provide
irreplaceable information about the history and nature of life on Earth,
but it is not easy to capture this data in a cost-effective way that does
not damage the specimen or label.  We need a creative solution that will
solve this problem," said Johnson.

"AIBS is pleased to partner with NSF on this endeavor," said Travis.  "This
is a unique opportunity to move science and technology forward with a leap
instead of a small step."

Official contest rules and guidance are available at beyondthebox.aibs.org.
Inquires related to the contest must be submitted on the website, where the
questions and answers will be posted.

The contest opened on December 5, 2014 and will close at 11:59 p.m. on
September 4, 2015.  A winner will be selected following a competitive
judging process and on-site demonstration by the finalists.

Julie Palakovich Carr
Public Policy Manager
American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 I Street, NW Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005

This message is confidential and should only be read by its intended 
If you have received it in error, please notify the sender and delete all 

More information about the Taxacom mailing list