Randy Singer gets excited about digitizing museum specimens. As part of his work with iDigBio and his research for his Ph.D., he loves to talk about the importance of this for the global scientific community as well as how meaningful collections are for telling the story of our natural world.

“This is a time machine. The information on this fish from the ‘60s tells us something about what was going on in the world in the ‘60s,” said Randy, pointing to a deepsea lizardfish specimen. By knowing where it lived and what it ate, we can know about its environment while it was alive. “When you think of an entire museum, you can get a picture of what the world has been like as it changed through time.”

He likened museum specimens to small snapshots of specific times and places, and that information can be pulled together to create a bigger image of a small ecosystem. This can be used to compare through time to measure changes in the environment and then use our understanding to predict what our world will be like if we continue on this trajectory.

By digitizing collections, museums and researchers can pool their information together for bigger collaborative projects, to gain a deeper understanding of very specific issues, and preserve information for future scientists to ask questions we haven’t even thought about yet.

Video filmed in 2016 by Betterme Productions for iDigBio