ASU's Natural History Collections celebrate new home with grand opening

September 30, 2014
Remodeled facility offers greater access to researchers, students and the public

Arizona State University’s Natural History Collections are some of the best in the world, and boast nearly 1.8 million specimens among nine collections. Some of the largest include the Frank Hasbrouck Insect Collection, with close to one million specimens, and the Vascular Plant and Lichen Herbaria, with more than 400,000. Plant fossils, shells, reptiles and amphibians, fish, birds and mammals are also represented.

These research and teaching collections, previously housed in the Life Sciences buildings on the Tempe campus, have been moved to a newly remodeled 24,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility. The collections, which include specimens from as far back as the late 1800s, had outgrown their previous space. Now, researchers, students and the public have greater access to them for research and community learning. ASU Natural History Collections Download Full Image

“We actually have a bit of a niche and a special place in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area,” said Nico Franz, associate professor with ASU’s School of Life Sciences and curator of the Hasbrouck Insect Collection. “With 4.5 million people living here, this is the only place of its kind. We can develop outreach in a very direct and immersed way, starting with traditional outreach to K-12 classes, as well as to people with physical or learning disabilities and to senior citizens.”

Specifically, with help from students and volunteers, ASU collections employees are working to improve scientific literacy in the community through targeted outreach programs and the use of innovative 3-D learning tools.

At an Oct. 2 grand opening, guests will get a behind-the-scenes look at the different collections and meet many of the researchers who curate the specimens. The remodeled Alameda Building now has a climate-controlled environment, space for teaching and community outreach, and plenty of storage to house existing specimens and allow for growth. In addition, the facility includes many safety and security improvements.

“Our vision is really to connect the physical vouchers with research and teaching,” shared Franz. “We are especially focused on undergraduate education. Now, we can offer courses in organismal biology in an immersed setting, which makes it a much more effective way to connect our research projects to our teaching programs.”

Scientists at ASU are also improving the collections by digitizing specimen records and images – adding them to online, public databases. For decades, collections records were maintained on paper, but now, online collections from around the world can be viewed in one place.

“Managing modern-day collections is very much about accessibility, both physically and virtually,” added Franz. “We have multiple, concurrent grants that allow us to digitize and image our holdings so that they can be available for research and teaching online.”

The $3.5 million renovation was completed in approximately eight months.

Project participants included RSP Architects and Brignall Construction Co. From ASU, project manager Anthony Gasca; Thomas Dowling, former director of collections; SOLS Facilities representatives Barbara Markley and Scott McAdams; Marty Wojciechowski, associate dean for Facilities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and collections curators and their staff, including Les Landrum, Kathleen Pigg, Nico Franz, Walter Fertig, Charlotte Johnson, Elizabeth Makings, Sangmi Lee and Melody Basham.

The Oct. 2, 2014 Alameda Building Grand Opening begins at 4:45 p.m. with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Doors close at 8 p.m. The Alameda Open House is located at 734 W. Alameda Drive in Tempe. To attend, RSVP here.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


ASU technology partners among finalists for major grant funding

September 30, 2014

An innovative online course, successfully developed and deployed at Arizona State University, is the basis of a far-reaching online science education project that is a finalist for a major grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Foundation announced today that a team led by Smart Sparrow, a Sydney, Australia-based educational technology company – partnered with ASU – is a finalist for a $20-million pool of funding in the Next Generation Courseware Challenge Competition. students looking at computer Download Full Image

The group will establish the Smart Science Network, a digital teaching network that will develop and deploy innovative online courseware to improve the learning outcomes of low-income and disadvantaged college students in high-enrollment introductory science courses across the United States.

“We are excited about this project because it exemplifies key design aspirations of ASU as a New American University,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “It seeks to transform society, enable student success and fuse intellectual disciplines. We look forward to joining with our technology partners to invest in new ways to educate through exploration.”

Dror Ben-Naim, CEO and founder of Smart Sparrow, said the project represented "an opportunity to bring together the nation's top science educators and empower them with the best tools we've got, in order to solve a systemic national problem. ASU spearheading this effort is a natural fit.”

Smart Sparrow was one of three ASU technology partners to be included in the Gates Foundation’s list of finalists. The others are: Acrobatiq, a Carnegie Mellon company that designs customizable, adaptive courseware; and CogBooks, which is designing a project to provide top-quality courseware to U.S. college students at affordable prices.

“The whole learning experience will be designed in collaboration with ASU, drawing on their extensive experience in online learning, flipped classroom models and innovative teaching methods,” CogBooks said in announcing its recognition by the Gates Foundation.

The proposed courseware for the Smart Science Network will follow the design principles of Habitable Worlds, a fully online course offered through ASU Online that teaches science through exploration of the question “Are we alone?”

Key principles include: organizing curriculum around “big questions” at the frontiers of knowledge that cut across traditional disciplines; teaching concepts through rich, game-like interactive, adaptive online lessons and simulations; and deepening and evaluating concept mastery by applying knowledge in project-based learning.

Ariel Anbar, an ASU President’s Professor, will play a pivotal role as the academic lead of the Smart Science Network consortium. Anbar and Lev Horodyskyj, both in the School of Earth and Space Exploration in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, created Habitable Worlds, which has been offered to more than 1,500 ASU students since 2011. The ongoing development and evaluation of Habitable Worlds is supported by NASA’s Astrobiology Program and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources of the National Science Foundation.

“We developed Habitable Worlds to address some common, critical problems in introductory science education that are especially challenging for disadvantaged students,” said Anbar. “For example, many students tune out in large lectures because they teach science as passive acceptance of what is known, rather than active exploration of the unknown. Also, we tend to teach as though knowledge is organized into distinct disciplinary ‘silos,’ even though the cutting-edge questions that motivate both students and scientists cut across those silos. The Smart Science Network will apply the lessons we’ve learned in developing and teaching Habitable Worlds.”

The Smart Science Network will leverage Smart Sparrow’s adaptive digital learning and analytics technologies to develop two online “Smart Courses” that will improve student engagement and success in introductory college science courses with traditionally high levels of failure. Students in a Smart Course will explore a transdisciplinary “big question” to motivate learning of introductory college science concepts in biology, chemistry and physics. The first Smart Course will expand on Habitable Worlds’ exploration of the question “Are we alone?”

“Science is rational exploration of the unknown, not just mastery of what is known,” Anbar explained. “So, Smart Courses will not be about memorizing facts and answers, but about using logic and reasoning to solve problems, to understand uncertainties, and to train and inspire students to tackle big, challenging questions.”

In addition to Smart Sparrow and ASU, the Smart Science Network includes Achieving the Dream, Inc.; 23 additional colleges and universities, many of whom are in the Achieving the Dream network; and a research and evaluation team led by George Siemens, a world leader in learning analytics, at The University of Texas at Arlington.

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist, ASU Library