National Science Foundation awards $20 million to digitize history

Director states funding will help support 5 years of the program

Zachary Randall, manager of the Florida Museum’s imaging lab, photographs a fish specimen for the iDigBio data portal. (Kristen Grace, ©Florida Museum photo by Kristen Grace)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The National Science Foundation has awarded iDigBio nearly $20 million to continue digitizing national history collections nationwide, making them available to online researchers, educators and community scientists around the world.

iDigBio is a collaborative program based at the Florida Museum of Natural History that has led the push to digitize the estimated 1 billion biological specimens held in U.S. museums. These online records of animals, plants and organisms serve as a searchable archive of life.

The program’s portal is made up of one of the largest collections of Earth’s biodiversity and has contributed to more than 2,000 studies so far.

iDigBio Director Gil Nelson said this funding from the NSF will help support the next five years of the program.

“We need to sustain the momentum that has been developed over the last 10 years in the collections community,” said Nelson. “Our goal is to digitize everything we can.”

Nelson said iDigBio has grown a network of more than 300 museums and academic institutions. The program also trains collections staff on how to incorporate digitization practices into their standard curation protocols.

iDigBio said their portal contains more than 128 million specimen records, representing an estimated 400 million specimens.

“We will continue to focus on building long-term plans for sustaining high-value activities, both at iDigBio and in our broader community of collections that are creating and managing digital data about their specimens,” said Austin Mast, a botanist and professor at Florida State University.