Share it! Science : Shelf Life: A Peek into 33 Million Artifacts and Specimens

Shelf Life: A Peek into 33 Million Artifacts and Specimens

By Psammophile CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Learn about a fascinating video series from the American Museum of Natural History, then find out how to win some tickets to visit the museum in New York City! Details below. 

     Do you collect things? I have always been a collector of natural history- nests, feathers, insect exoskeletons, rocks, seeds, etc. Each specimen allows for a closer look at an organism, a deeper understanding. Perhaps my affinity for natural items is what has encouraged my students to bring me all sorts of treasures throughout the years from animal skulls to fungus samples!
     If it weren't for collectors, science would come to a screeching halt. Historical collections and modern data can help us better understand the world. A collection of over 33 million artifacts and specimens is the focus of Shelf Life,  an incredible video series by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). Shelf Life is a free, monthly video resource that tells the stories of different organisms and collections at the AMNH. 

     Any natural history museum has many more artifacts than they could ever possibly display, however, the public rarely gets a peek into these incredible archives. Shelf Life provides this opportunity.

     Each video is under 7 minutes and is chock full of the stories of scientists from a diverse array of fields of study. These are brief, yet informative narratives on how curators and researchers work together to preserve collections in modern ways and use old specimens to inform current science. 

     Shelf Life is not only enjoyable for anyone interested in science, but has many applications in the classroom. Each video is accompanied by additional information on the AMNH website. The short length allows these video clips to be a great launching point for an upper middle school, high school or even a college science lesson. 

Here are some questions or topics that could go hand in hand with the great content in these videos:
  • Data collection: You've collected it- now what? What a great launching point for discussion on the importance of making sense of the data you've collected when completing a lab or investigation.
  • Diversity of careers in science: How many different fields of science are represented in these videos? What are the different jobs that each of these projects requires? Use these incredible researchers and wide array of topics to spark an interest in science careers in your students.
  • Taxonomy and organization: Why do we organize and categorize different organisms, rocks, stars? How do we organize it all? Why is this important in communicating science with each other and moving research forward?
  • Precursor to a field trip: Before you visit your local natural history museum, how can these videos give your students insight into what is on display, its importance and the work behind its preservation?
  • Preservation: How do we preserve specimens? How is new technology helping us to do so?
  • A launching point: Each episode of shelf-life is a launching point for hundreds of different questions. What direction will your students lead you?
     I dare you not to learn something new while watching this episode on Foraminifera! Right now you might be saying, "foramin-wha?" but I promise, 7 minutes from now, you'll be in love with them too.

Create Your Own Natural History Museum! Perhaps after watching Shelf Life you'll be inspired to build your own collection. This activity is fun for all ages. Do you have a shelf in your home or classroom that can turn into a miniature museum? 

     Preschoolers through adults can enjoy this type of activity, whether it is collecting acorns or lichen, photos of plants or hand-written star observations. Be sure to provide field guides or other resources for students to use to identify and learn about what they are collecting. Leave a log book where students can catalog their specimen and write down further questions and wonderings about it.

     If you find history, science and museum curation fascinating, check out my post from earlier this week on how a historical document brought to light new information about some really weird extinct species, and this article from the Student Society for Science: "Cool Jobs: Saving Precious Objects".


The American Museum of Natural History wants you to come and visit! They have sponsored our May giveaway- 4 tickets to the AMNH in New York City! One winner will receive 4 tickets to the museum. There are many easy ways to enter this giveaway, just follow the directions in the Rafflecopter widget below to learn how. This giveaway runs from Friday May 15th, 2015 until midnight Thursday May 21st, 2015 (EST).

Please note, this post was not sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History. All opinions are those of the author.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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