CSIRO   Lloyd's Register
16 May 2014
  Science by Email  
News: Cool collections    

This Sunday, 18 May 2014, is International Museum Day. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at the Australian National Biological Collections managed by CSIRO, which are being unlocked for digital access by community.

‘Museum collections make connections’ – that’s the theme for International Museum Day 2014. Today, people are connecting to museum collections not just in person, but on laptops, smartphones and other devices.
“Museums represent historical collections that can’t be duplicated,” says John La Salle, Director of the Atlas of Living Australia at CSIRO. “They contain biodiversity knowledge that can’t be recollected.”
CSIRO maintains collections of plants, animals and other organisms on behalf of Australia. They are available to support research by scientists around the world. But for people in remote areas and overseas, visiting these collections can be expensive.
John was part of a team that recently created a way to make 3D models of insects in their natural colours using simple equipment. An insect is mounted on a printed mat, and the pin is glued to a magnet. The magnet holds the insect to a turntable, which can be rotated and tilted side to side. It is photographed at different angles, and the pictures are combined using software to create a detailed digital 3D model.
A 3D computer model is easier to share online and you can get an accurate picture of the whole specimen. “When you are trying to identify an insect, you want to be able to flip it around and look at it from different angles,” says John.
So far, the team has made 3D images of a handful of insect specimens to show the idea works. Now the question is how make 100 images, and then 1000. There’s plenty to digitise –­ with around 12 million specimens, the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra is the world’s largest collection of Aussie insects.
Unlocking the insect collection to an online space opens up a huge range of uses, such as identifying plant pests. “You can see the advantage of making these pictures available on handheld devices for quarantine officials,” says John. “There’s a variety of uses for collections, some of which we can’t even imagine. That’s the exciting part, when people start using the collections in ways we hadn’t expected.”
Still, nothing beats seeing the real thing. So to celebrate International Museum Day, why not head to your local museum and check out what’s on display from the cool collections.

More information

Watch a video of Chuong Nguyen creating a 3D model of the wheat weevil.
Find out more about the Australian National Insect Collection.
Read the scientific paper published in the PlosOne (more advanced).
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An artist's impression of a dwarf planet
3D digital models were made from insects of many shapes and sizes by a team at CSIRO.
Image: CSIRO
    Quiz questions    
  1. What heats your hands when you rub them together?
  2. Which are the four heaviest flightless birds?
  3. Which metal is always found in amalgam?
  4. In astronomy, what is a brown dwarf?
  5. Electric and manta are both kinds of what type of fish?
Try this: Scavenger hunt  
Ant on bark.

Take your list and start looking for bugs.

An item is ticked off the list
Found one! An ant lives in a society, so tick it off the list.

How many bugs from your list can you find?

Insects in a collection

You can also find lots of bugs in museum collections.


You will need

  • Paper and pens
  • A place to find bugs – either a museum or a park

What to do

  1. Write a list of bugs that you want to find. You can download our list or find it below, or even make your own!
  2. Do some research on any words you’re not sure about, see this link to find out about the orders of insects and other bugs.
  3. Go to a museum or a park and try to find all the bugs on your list. If you’re in a park, remember not to touch the bugs as some can bite and sting – just look for them.
  4. Tick each bug off the list when you find them. If you like, you can record your sighting with a photo.
Our list includes
- An insect that lives in a society
- An insect with four pairs of wings
- An insect that pollinates flowers
- An insect from the order Orthoptera
- An insect from the order Hemiptera
- An insect from the order Diptera
- An insect from the order Hymenoptera
- An insect from the order Lepidoptera
- An insect from the order Coleoptera
- An insect larva, or immature insect
- Tracks from a bug
- A bug home or nest

What’s happening?

There are millions of different insect species in the world, and many have not been named scientifically. In the scavenger hunt, you can see the huge variety that exists in the world of bugs. Some have legs and crawl, others have wings and fly. Some have wings and still crawl a lot of the time, like cockroaches.
Part of what identifies an insect is their appearance. To tell other people the discoveries you made, you can describe their appearance using words, or record it using photos or drawings. Scientists do the same thing, because sharing knowledge is so important for learning new things.


When looking for new insect species, scientists will first do some research and read about what kind of insects have already been discovered. They also learn about classification, the way insects are grouped together by their similarities and differences. Once scientists have learned a lot about insects, they can look for new species in the environment.
If the scientists think they found something new, they may take a sample to keep in a collection. When they get back, they can check it under a microscope and do more research to compare their discovery to other species. It’s not always easy to make sure you have found a new species!
New species can even be found inside museum collections! Sometimes, when somebody goes to check a sample, what they find is not the species it was labelled as. That’s one reason why museum collections are so valuable.

More information

Find out which insects to look for in the insect orders, like Orthoptera and Coleoptera.
Can you identify invertebrates with this key?

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  Maths and Stats by Email Rap Guide to Evolution Ad New issue of Scientriffic  

Read it!

Read CSIRO's new book ‘A Guide to the Cockroaches of Australia’ and find out about the colourful diversity of over 500 species. Buy the book or read a review.

See it!

Observe a gallery full of amazing insects up close.
Watch it! The Physics of Ants from The New York Times.
    Quiz answers    
  1. Friction heats your hands when you rub them together.
  2. The four heaviest flightless birds are the ostrich, cassowary, emu and emperor penguin.
  3. Mercury is always found in amalgam.
  4. A brown dwarf is a dim, star-like object that does not have enough mass to fuse hydrogen into helium.
  5. Electric and manta are both kinds of rays.
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