A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE - From this perspective, all places on the earth are connected. From this perspective, we see change on a vastly different scale. Change to the planet.

Happy Earth Day from the UA Museum of the North.

The museum’s Changing Alaska exhibit emphasizes the importance of collections and research to understanding change on different scales, from seasonal cycles to those that occur over eons. “Museums exist to collect, preserve, and research objects,” says the museum’s Head of Production Roger Topp. “If a photo is worth a thousand words, an object is worth a million.”

By showing a pair of ptarmigan, the museum illustrates how they adapt to the changing seasons. A sliver of an ancient tree from North Pole, Alaska shows change over millennia.

At the center of the installation is a globe-projected film examining research into global climate change. “If researchers know change is happening at specific locations, they can focus their efforts now, and then again in ten years to learn more about what we are seeing from orbit,” Topp said. “Museums have always been good at letting us look back; they are also poised to let us look forward.”

Change is constant. It happens to things as small as a button and as large as continents. The more we know what is happening, the better we will be able to adapt.

Curator of Birds Kevin Winker makes the case for scientific collections, complete with citations.


Why collect and preserve whole birds? Because it is the most efficient and effective way to preserve a broad array of specimen types for present and future researchers. Skins, skeletons, frozen tissues, stomach samples, and other preparation types are in wide demand. And so are the data generated from the specimens.
(via (Re)affirming the specimen gold standard | University of Alaska Museum Department of Ornithology)

Curator of Birds Kevin Winker makes the case for scientific collections, complete with citations.

Why collect and preserve whole birds? Because it is the most efficient and effective way to preserve a broad array of specimen types for present and future researchers. Skins, skeletons, frozen tissues, stomach samples, and other preparation types are in wide demand. And so are the data generated from the specimens.

(via (Re)affirming the specimen gold standard | University of Alaska Museum Department of Ornithology)

3D Printing Objects for Exhibits - The museum’s exhibits team has put our new 3D printer to use creating objects for our next special exhibit, Arctic Odyssey. Modeler/Animator Hannah Foss printed a lifelike model of the R/V Sikuliaq for a 12-foot tall water column that will help visitors understand the scale of ocean depth. The seven-inch version of the ship takes nine hours to print, including details like a railing, cranes, and stack funnels. It will be paired with a whale sized to scale at 1.6 inches long.

Recently, Clint Walker who teaches fourth and fifth graders at Howard B. Stroud Elementary School in Athens, GA asked Hannah to talk to his STEM ELT students about their 3-D printing projects. The students are using an iPad application to create their own models and then sending them to their MakerBot Replicator 2 printer to create a finished product.

The two groups bonded over our identical printers and what we’ve been able to create with them. The students showed off a variety of objects, from a heart-shaped box with rotating sectors to a small ball that young people could squeeze to help them with anxiety.

The students wanted to know how the museum might use its 3D printer to create things that can benefit others, something they’re committed to doing. Hannah explained how replicas of fossils and other museum specimens could be used in upcoming exhibits. A kid who can touch an object can get a better idea of what a dinosaur bone is like if they can’t see it themselves.

This kind of collaboration is an example of what’s possible with new technologies that offer a whole new world to explore. We’re excited about our pen pals at Howard B. Stroud and hope to talk to them again soon.


Tenrec Research - Kathryn Everson, a PhD student in the museum’s department of mammalogy was recently awarded a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Her dissertation research focuses on the evolution, speciation, and conservation of Madagascar’s tenrecs, which underwent a spectacular adaptive radiation on the island continent much like Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos. She will travel to Madagascar next year to conduct field work and collaborate with Malagasy colleagues.
1) Why do you think your grant was funded? Was there something about your work that speaks to larger research or policy issues?  
I am fortunate to conduct my PhD research on a very charismatic system: the mammals of Madagascar. Madagascar is renowned for its incredible biodiversity. One hundred percent of Madagascar’s native terrestrial mammals are found nowhere else on earth. Unfortunately, that means these animals are extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction, so there is an urgent need to document the diversity and evolutionary history before it’s too late. My research at UAMN will help answer those questions. The research proposal is the most important part of the application, but NSF Graduate Research Fellows are also chosen based on their personal statements and letters of recommendation. 
2) What is a tenrec? How did you find out about these animals?
Tenrecs are small to medium-sized (from 2-2000 grams) mammals and they vary quite a bit in appearance, behavior, and ecology. For example, there are hedgehog tenrecs, which can roll up into spiny balls, mole tenrecs, which are great diggers, and the web-footed tenrec, which is well adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle.  
The common names of tenrecs (like hedgehog tenrec, shrew tenrec, or mole tenrec) are somewhat misleading. Tenrecs are more closely related to elephants and aardvarks than hedgehogs, shrews, or moles. Three kinds of tenrecs are found in equatorial Africa, but the rest of the 35 currently recognized species are only found on Madagascar. 
My advisor, Curator of Mammals Link Olson, studied tenrecs for his PhD at the University of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History. His research showed that there are many more species of tenrecs than we thought. My own research will use genomics to determine just how many there are, how recently they’ve formed, and whether past episodes of forest contraction caused by climate change contributed to their formation. 
3) It sounds like travel and working with different cultures will be a large portion of your research. What’s it like doing science is a completely new environment?  
Madagascar is a great place to study evolution, but it can be a real challenge. Alaska isn’t exactly next door! Fortunately, museum collections (particularly frozen tissues) allow me to answer many research questions from right here at UAM. So far all of my research has been conducted at the museum’s genetics lab at UAF, but I am excited to visit Madagascar next year. It will be great to see tenrecs in their natural habitat and to interact with Malagasy scientists. 
4) What does it mean to have the support of the museum? How important is it to you to be able to work with the curator and in the museum’s labs?  
Like I said before, the museum’s frozen tissue collection is an integral part of my research. With these tissues I am able to compare DNA sequences from many species and populations of tenrec. And if I ever need to extract DNA from older museum specimens that may not have frozen tissues, the museum’s Ancient DNA Lab will be an invaluable resource. It is also great to work with the curators at UAM, who are all knowledgeable about my research and always willing to help.

Tenrec Research - Kathryn Everson, a PhD student in the museum’s department of mammalogy was recently awarded a prestigious Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation. Her dissertation research focuses on the evolution, speciation, and conservation of Madagascar’s tenrecs, which underwent a spectacular adaptive radiation on the island continent much like Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos. She will travel to Madagascar next year to conduct field work and collaborate with Malagasy colleagues.

1) Why do you think your grant was funded? Was there something about your work that speaks to larger research or policy issues? 

I am fortunate to conduct my PhD research on a very charismatic system: the mammals of Madagascar. Madagascar is renowned for its incredible biodiversity. One hundred percent of Madagascar’s native terrestrial mammals are found nowhere else on earth. Unfortunately, that means these animals are extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction, so there is an urgent need to document the diversity and evolutionary history before it’s too late. My research at UAMN will help answer those questions. The research proposal is the most important part of the application, but NSF Graduate Research Fellows are also chosen based on their personal statements and letters of recommendation. 

2) What is a tenrec? How did you find out about these animals?

Tenrecs are small to medium-sized (from 2-2000 grams) mammals and they vary quite a bit in appearance, behavior, and ecology. For example, there are hedgehog tenrecs, which can roll up into spiny balls, mole tenrecs, which are great diggers, and the web-footed tenrec, which is well adapted to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. 

The common names of tenrecs (like hedgehog tenrec, shrew tenrec, or mole tenrec) are somewhat misleading. Tenrecs are more closely related to elephants and aardvarks than hedgehogs, shrews, or moles. Three kinds of tenrecs are found in equatorial Africa, but the rest of the 35 currently recognized species are only found on Madagascar.

My advisor, Curator of Mammals Link Olson, studied tenrecs for his PhD at the University of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History. His research showed that there are many more species of tenrecs than we thought. My own research will use genomics to determine just how many there are, how recently they’ve formed, and whether past episodes of forest contraction caused by climate change contributed to their formation. 

3) It sounds like travel and working with different cultures will be a large portion of your research. What’s it like doing science is a completely new environment? 

Madagascar is a great place to study evolution, but it can be a real challenge. Alaska isn’t exactly next door! Fortunately, museum collections (particularly frozen tissues) allow me to answer many research questions from right here at UAM. So far all of my research has been conducted at the museum’s genetics lab at UAF, but I am excited to visit Madagascar next year. It will be great to see tenrecs in their natural habitat and to interact with Malagasy scientists. 

4) What does it mean to have the support of the museum? How important is it to you to be able to work with the curator and in the museum’s labs? 

Like I said before, the museum’s frozen tissue collection is an integral part of my research. With these tissues I am able to compare DNA sequences from many species and populations of tenrec. And if I ever need to extract DNA from older museum specimens that may not have frozen tissues, the museum’s Ancient DNA Lab will be an invaluable resource. It is also great to work with the curators at UAM, who are all knowledgeable about my research and always willing to help.

Family Legacies - This is the last week visitors can see our special exhibit Denali Legacy: 100 Years on the Mountain. The installation tells the story of the first people to reach the summit of North America’s tallest mountain. Guest Curator Angela Linn managed to track down several artifacts from the climb, including all four journals kept by the men who reached the top: Walter Harper, Harry Karstens, Hudson Stuck, and Robert Tatum. The story of the climb is told through excerpts from those slim volumes. 

Linn says our stories are important because the represent the unique experiences of individual people. “Contained in those stories are our personal perspectives and our emotional reactions to particular circumstances, all of which help present-day people understand how certain events in history were received by people of that time.”

Personal stories recorded at the time of those events can help us strip away our modern biases. Linn says they allow us to see the events though the eyes of those who lived through them. “When we preserve our thoughts in journals, letters, or even record them on tape or in digital form, we are leaving a lasting impression of ourselves and our unique view of the world for future generations to discover.”

The exhibit also features the few remaining objects from the climb that have been preserved, each of them kept by either a dedicated family member or an institution. For example, the climbers had four axes made by a Fairbanks blacksmith when their mail-ordered supplies didn’t arrive in time from the East Coast. Only one of them has survived, carefully protected by Harry Karstens’ grandson Eugene.

Linn says objects transcend their importance when viewed as historical artifacts. "Objects act as symbols of actual events, they represent certain time periods and they can act as triggers for personal memories. Stories about specific objects help to bring people together to understand the particular context and relevance of an item and what it may have meant to at least one single person."

In the photos above, children who attended a recent Family Day at the museum showed off objects that are important to them. Museum Educator Maïté Agopian says the exhibit was a great opportunity to reflect on our own family legacies. “Having people think about what they have in their own house was interesting. Sometimes, just by thinking about it for a few minutes, a visitor might make a connection to one of the objects on display. And then right away, a story came with it.”

We are surrounded by objects, all the time. In our houses and in our bedrooms. Some things were always there, while others are added to the collection in a constant stream of new items. Sometimes, we end up not seeing them as individual pieces. Agopian says being able to stop and focus on an object is a way for parents to tell their own stories. “That makes it is easier to relate to for a child, as there is something tangible to touch.”

Those of us who work in museums are obsessed with that potential moment of connection to the objects in our collections. But we hold them in the public trust, which means we are accountable to our community for them. 

Linn says accepting an artifact into our collections means we are making a promise to take care of it and preserve it in perpetuity. “We might not know much about an item when it first comes to the museum. Maybe we accept it because it’s really beautiful or it was used by someone who played an important role in the story of Alaska’s history. By holding it in our collection, we’re ensuring that the object has the opportunity to have its story told at some point in the future.”

Agopian says the object is a starting point. From there we can learn about a culture, history, or make a scientific discovery. “So being able to to say, ‘Hey, what about you? What do you have in your house or in your room that can tell a story about your past?’ That’s a great opportunity.”

Denali Legacy will be on display in the Special Exhibits Gallery at the UA Museum of the North until April 21, 2014. There is more information on our website.

LOOK AT ALL THAT CLIMATE - A field crew from University of Florida researcher Dr. Ted Schurr’s lab is working on a climate change project in the tundra near Healy, Alaska. During the first two weeks of April, researchers and field technicians shovel snow off the experiment to eliminate any skewed results from the extra water. Support staff from the Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research station travel to the site for two days to help.

Bonanza Creek LTER site manager Jamie Hollingsworth (bottom, left) tested out a new snow-blowing ATV rig on the experimental plots for the first time. Lorien Nettleton also traveled from the LTER offices at UAF; he is pictured hauling snow in a sled (bottom, right).

Our PoLAR Voices crew-member Kelsey Gobroski is at the site to see what an experimental plot so far south of the Arctic Circle can teach us about permafrost farther north, and what life in the field looks like beyond the data that researchers bring back home.

"The reason I’m out here this far south, despite the story being called PoLAR Voices, is because this site has characteristics of both the rest of Interior Alaska - the boreal forest - and the tundra, what’s called alpine tundra. It’s an area of discontinuous permafrost, like Fairbanks, which means that a little change can push a lot of the permafrost here over the threshold, so that it melts and emits more CO2 than the plants in the area can take in."

Change is going to happen here first, so this model site shows us what to expect in the Arctic. The researchers are pushing the natural change even further so they don’t have to wait decades to see the results. They’re warming the soil by adding more snow insulation. But they don’t want all the water from the melting snow to mess with their results, so right now they’re shoveling the extra away.

Kelsey is getting audio of the shoveling sounds, of Healy in winter, and of the new snow blower. She’s also interviewing folks who are a part of the snow removal effort. “Grabbing audio of that ATV outfitted with a snow blower was pretty neat. We are staying at a cabin and I’ve just let the recorder run during meals. It’s really cozy ambiance that I’m sure will come in handy later. Also, I couldn’t help but grab some audio of the owners’ sled dogs howling in the background.”

Kelsey is finishing up the first season of the museum’s audio drama PoLAR Voices, an adventure radio series that explores climate change at the poles through the voices of the people who study, live and work there. Look for it soon on our website and follow our blog for more adventures.

Congratulations to the winners of the museum’s 2014 District Science Fair Awards. Each year, the education department chooses projects at the Interior Alaska Science Fair that demonstrate Alaska-related exhibit themes.

Student collections of specimens and/or observations of natural and cultural history phenomena are important. We judge the exhibit on the clarity of the hypothesis, research methodology, conclusions, and how the exhibit theme is interpreted. Only six awards are given each year.

2014 District Science Fair Winners

Models of Earthquakes - Timothy Koehler, 1st grade, Pearl Creek Elementary

Cold Fish - Morgan Stephens, 3rd grade, Homeschool

Hide Tanning - Nanieezh Peter, 4th grade, Anne Wien Elementary

What Kind of Food Do Gray Jays Like? - Devon Durham, 5th grade, Salcha Elementary

“Dem Dry Bones” - Amanda Montano, 5th grade, University Park Elementary

Study of Juvenile Long Nose Fish - Will Caldwell, 8th grade, Homeschool

The winners were selected on March 28, 2014 by Museum Educator Maite Agopian and School & Community Liaison Peggy Hetman. Each received certificates and museum family passes that were presented at the science fair award ceremony.

Pin Trading at the 2014 Arctic Winter Games - Fairbanks was buzzing last week with athletes, spectators, and visitors. All in town for AWG, a sport competition for northern and arctic athletes from nine contingents: Alaska, Greenland, the Northwest Territories, Northern Alberta, Yukon, Nunavik, Nunavut, Sami, and Yamal. The Games also celebrate social exchanges, providing an opportunity for athletes to engage in friendly competition while sharing cultural values from northern regions around the world.

But you didn’t have to be an athlete to participate in the AWG’s unofficial event — pin trading. Some call it the 21st sport. And almost everyone calls it highly addictive.

Fairbanks graphic designer Jill Marshall designed the 40+ official pins for this year’s Arctic Winter Games (top photo). But the pin frenzy didn’t stop there. Each contingent also brought some along. Not to mention the media who travel to the games and the volunteers who offer something from their own organizations. This year, an Alyeska pin featuring the state of Alaska with a jagged line representing the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline was a hot commodity.

Another popular addition to this year’s trade was a social media hashtag pin that illustrated the monumental crowdsourcing effort to tell the story of the games. Organizers tracked more than 10,000 mentions of #awg2014 over the course of the event, seen by a potential audience of almost 500,000 people.

Pin sets were also popular. Several different groups of pins could be assembled in the shape of an ulu. There was also a Nunavut ice fisherman, shown above. (photo by Andrew Cassel).

Even museums get in on the activity. Except, we’re more interested in keeping pins than trading them. Before this year’s games, the UA Museum of the North had only two pins from past events. But the collection will certainly grow.

In fact, the official story of the pins has been preserved thanks to the work of the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. In 2006, the museum organized a traveling exhibit (bottom photos) featuring 993 pins that represented the trading action up through the 2004 games.The collection of AWG pins displayed during the exhibit was said to be definitive, including a loan from Bill Reay, a premier collector of AWG and Canada Games pins who filled out the missing items.

Maybe some of the new generation of traders will consider donating their collections to a local museum someday. To preserve the legacy of the games and a passion for the community that has grown around them.

Our production team has been working on this animated film for many, many months. Layering original drawings and animated graphics. Getting the look and feel of the water and the ice just right. Bringing bowhead whales to life.

If that weren’t enough, the story of these fascinating mammals is sure to thrill. Bowhead whales spend their entire lives above the Arctic Circle. These elusive and endangered creatures are the focus of a partnership between scientists at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the native communities that live along their migration path.

Coming Soon! Arctic Currents: A Year in the Life of the Bowhead Whale is a 25-minute animated film created by the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Join us for the story of this annual migration of whales through the arctic waters of the Bering, Beaufort, and Chukchi Seas.

Arctic Currents: Trailer (by UAMuseumOfTheNorth)

‘I stayed with the spirit of the petroglyph’

Chloe French grew up steeped in the traditions of her Tlingit culture. She has been artistic her whole life, but it wasn’t until her children were grown and she retired that she could allow herself to work as an artist full time.

She taught herself how to appliqué and bead. Discovering Melton cloth, a heavy woolen fabric finished with a smooth face to conceal the weave, made the appliqué easy. Using buttons and beads made it exciting.

“In tribal ceremonies, beaded bibs are often worn with robes or by themselves,” French said. “As soon as the ceremony or dance is over, they are taken off. I wanted to make something that could be worn as decoration all the time. (photos below)

"I got the idea for a collar. By using petroglyph designs and button robe techniques, I found the perfect solution. The collar was new, but rooted in the past, making it accessible to everyone.”

When UAMN Ethnology Collection Manager Angela Linn saw the Tináa Art Auction catalog, an event sponsored by the Sealaska Heritage Institute in Southeast Alaska, she was immediately drawn to the beaded collar on the cover. “That was the piece I wanted.” (top photo)

Linn was not familiar with French’s work but she was struck by the use of traditional techniques. “It has ancestors in our collection. That appealed to me.”

Some of the questions she asks when determining whether to include a piece in the ethnology collection includes whether the artwork was made by a fulltime artist and whether it was made to be sold in a gallery. “Do the pieces include traditional iconography but use media that is not traditionally found in the culture?”

Listening to Angela Linn talk about the piece, it’s clear she sees the ethnological value. “Beaded collars are a traditional form of regalia. You can see examples of elaborate beaded collars in archival photos. The materials used are also traditional. The wool felt and the beads. Even the colors are traditional.”

The creative effort of an Alaska Native artist isn’t diminished by its inclusion in the ethnology collection. The traditions and stories of a culture are fueled by the creativity of its artists. And often creativity is found in our obsessions. In French’s case, she is taken with petroglyphs. They are images from the past, giving us a sense of place, of history linked with ours through time.

“We have come from a long line of people wishing to express themselves,” French said. “We can’t look at these images and have anything but wonder and respect for the people who made them. They are us.”

French says there is something about petroglyphs that is so human, a lasting imprint of our need to make a mark. “Petroglyphs are a one shot deal. Once the rock has been chipped, it can’t be put back together.  The artist must keep going.

"The flaws become part of its life as an image. As an observer, we get a feel for the artist — not a perfected image, but a human one. This much more interesting to me than a perfected piece.”

French says the petroglyph featured in the beaded collar came from a book of images, this one from Baranof Island. “I realized after I appliquéd it to the first layer of Melton cloth, I had used the pattern upside down.”

She’s made three other collars with this same pattern, so this mistake made her laugh. She was very careful that it didn’t happen with the other three collars. “Now it is one of the little mistakes that make the collar more human. It adds to its story.”

French says the actual petroglyph is round and a perfect design for a collar. She made some modifications. “But I stayed with the spirit of the petroglyph.“

Linn says the beaded collar will join a prestigious traveling exhibit next year. “I got an email even before the crate containing French’s collar had been unpacked,” Linn said.

The curator of an exhibition on contemporary Native American fashion had seen the piece on social media and wondered if she could borrow it for a traveling exhibit called Native Fashion Now, which will run from November 2015 until March 2016.

That French’s collar will be among these 100 pieces sends a strong message about the innovative work of Alaska Native artists, Linn said. “Chloe’s collar is fantastic and will be appreciated simply for its aesthetic qualities. The history and culture that are embedded in the symbolism is what makes it a museum piece.”