CLEVELAND—The Cleveland Museum of Natural History was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation that will ensure the Museum’s long-term ability to steward and protect a globally significant fossil collection from Northeast Ohio.
The highly competitive grant, totaling $785,162, was awarded to Dr. Caitlin Colleary, Associate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology; Amanda McGee, Collections Manager of Vertebrate Paleontology; and Hailey Majewski, Digital Asset Manager.
The grant contributes to the Museum’s $150 million transformation project, to be completed in late 2024. In addition to a significant expansion and redesign of the Museum’s campus and exhibits, the project includes the construction of a state-of-the-art facility to store the Museum’s vast research collections.
Dr. Caitlin Colleary. - Mackenzie Tyson/Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
“The National Science Foundation is investing in our fossils and our Museum,” said Dr. Caitlin Colleary. “We are excited that we will now be able to preserve this irreplaceable record of life in ancient Ohio and incorporate the fossils we find in our region into new interactive exhibits.”
The Museum’s three paleontology collections contain thousands of fossils collected in Northeast Ohio over 100 years, including iconic apex predator Dunkleosteus, Ohio’s state fossil fish. These fossils tell a local story of the unique inhabitants of a tropical sea dating back to the Late Devonian Period, which ended 359 million years ago in one of the five most significant extinction events in Earth’s history. Found in a layer of rock known as the Cleveland Shale, the fossils provide a remarkable glimpse into past impacts of drastic environmental change—information with far-reaching implications for the future.
“This grant underscores the importance of preserving our city’s prehistoric heritage and the immeasurable scientific value of these fossils that are unique to our region,” said Sonia Winner, the Museum’s President & CEO. “The team leading this project represents the exciting future of our Museum, bringing together the ancient past and advanced technology with an eye toward new scientific discoveries.”
The grant will support the Museum as it embarks on a multiyear conservation project. The Cleveland Shale fossil collection will be moved into new storage facilities designed explicitly with optimal climate conditions for preservation. This rehousing is especially important because these fossils are susceptible to degradation if not housed in an ideal storage environment.
Additionally, the grant will support the preventative conservation of exceptionally preserved fossils, including shark fossils that retain soft tissues, such as cartilage. Rarely found in the fossil record, these preserved features enable scientists to learn more about these ancient animals.
“Many traits of modern vertebrates, such as jaws and teeth, first appeared in Devonian fish,” said Dr. Gavin Svenson, the Museum’s Chief Science Officer. “Our collection is a snapshot of a time 100 million years before dinosaurs, and it’s a vital resource for scientists worldwide who are studying the history of life on our planet.”
The grant will also support a large-scale digitization effort. The global community can browse the Museum’s Cleveland Shale fossil collection online for the first time. The grant will fund the purchase of a 3D scanner capable of digitally preserving the surface and texture of very small fossils in extremely high resolution.
The Museum will use these 3D scans to develop new educational opportunities for teachers and students, providing 3D-printing kits of local Cleveland Shale fossils for use in classrooms. These kits will allow teachers to engage their students at the intersection of science and technology and expand students’ conceptions of what it means to be a 21st-century scientist.
“The remains of these animals survived 360 million years, and now, thanks to this grant, we can ensure that they are preserved for generations to come,” said Dr. Colleary. “Their preservation will allow us to further the Museum’s mission by continuing to share the lessons we learn from fossils: how much the Earth has changed and will continue to change in the future.”
United States Senator Sherrod Brown’s statement regarding this important grant is available here.
About the National Science Foundation
The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments, and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities, and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic, and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.
About the Cleveland Museum of Natural History Transformation Project
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History opened part of its transformed campus in December 2022, introducing a new Wade Oval Entrance, modernized Education Wing, and updated galleries. This opening is the latest milestone in the Museum’s $150 million transformation project, which features a LEED-certified expansion, a complete reimagining of the Museum campus and all its exhibits, and the addition of new public spaces. Pioneering a new model for natural history museums, the redesigned exhibits will place visitors at the center of the Museum experience—allowing them to better understand their connection with the natural world and the relevance of science to their daily lives. Slated for completion in late 2024, the transformation will showcase the Museum’s world-class assets while reflecting its role as a trusted community resource that prioritizes engagement and responsiveness to our community and the pressing needs of our times. The Transforming the World of Discovery campaign has raised more than $123 million for this project, which will expand the Museum's building and outdoor visitor areas to more than 375,000 square feet. The Museum appreciates the generous support from community members, corporations, foundations, and government grants that has helped to make this transformation a reality.
About the Cleveland Museum of Natural History
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History illuminates the world around us and inspires visitors to engage with the natural forces that shape their lives. Since its founding in 1920, the Museum has pioneered scientific research to advance knowledge across diverse fields of study and used its outstanding collections, which encompass more than 5 million artifacts and specimens, to deepen the public’s understanding of the dynamic connections between humans and nature. Through its Natural Areas Program, the Museum stewards nearly 12,000 acres of protected ecosystems across northern Ohio. A community gathering place, educational center, and research institution, the Museum is a vital resource that serves Cleveland and the nation. For more information, visit CMNH.org.
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