Herbarium receives grants to go virutal
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 01:09
Home to 675,000 plants, the Miami University herbarium is the largest of its kind in Ohio and the recipient of two esteemed federal grants.
Due to its exceptionality, Michael Vincent, curator of the herbarium, said Miami has received funding from the National Science Foundation to create an online virtual herbarium. This will be a database of the university’s plant collection accessible by anyone around the world.
The two grants awarded to Miami will be dispersed in Summer of 2013 and 2014 and each have a two-year usage period. The first, valued at $28,672, will be used to capture images of plants and the insects that attack them, whereas the second, a $35,364 value, will be used for work on mushroom fungi.
The herbarium is used by students conducting research during their classes but also serves a greater audience, according to Vincent.
“It’s studied by people all over the world,” Vincent said. “We lend them specimens in the mail, but with the creation of the virtual herbarium, we won’t have to do that as much anymore.”
The virtual herbarium will make sharing specimen with others a much easier and convenient process, according to junior botany major Taylor Cochran.
“This will mean we’re taking our documented plants and uploading them online,” Cochran said. “Anyone anywhere will be able to look at them from the comfort of their own home without actually traveling here.”
According to Vincent, the process requires several steps, beginning with the digital photography of the specimen. The images are sent to the New York Botanical Garden where computer software analyzes the image and sends the information back to Miami. The specimen data, name of plant, location of origin and more is combined with its image photo and uploaded to the virtual herbarium.
Vincent described it as one of the top 20 or 25 in the nation.
“A lot of universities don’t have them,” Vincent said. “Some with botany as part of their programs do, but they are usually moderately sized.”
Though the project is three years in the making, Vincent said, the herbarium was established in 1906, the same year the botany program was started, and hosts plants and insects dating back to the 1790s. According to Vincent, plants have been collected in a variety of ways over the duration of the herbarium’s existence.
Vincent described the origins of the collections in three main ways.
“We have some funding for research expeditions where we gather them ourselves,” Vincent said. “More so, though, we trade with other collections and sometimes buy them.”
With such a vast collection, Vincent said it is hard to know how quickly the virtual herbarium will progress, but within four years it should grow to at least several thousand plants.
Though Cochran said too many students don’t know about the herbarium’s existence, it does have an appreciation on Miami’s campus.
Junior Michelle Keil said the herbarium’s national attention is important for Miami.
“It’s nice to see Miami being recognized nationally, especially the science department,” junior Michelle Keil said. “I’m excited to see how it develops.”