Cutting-edge technology accelerates digitization of collections data by 10x, supports the Academy’s Thriving California initiative
Picturae’s state-of-the-art conveyor belt systems and technology will enable the Academy to digitize specimens ten times faster than before, generating roughly 4,000 images per day.
SAN FRANCISCO (November 30, 2022)—The California Academy of Sciences has been awarded a $2.4 million grant to digitize approximately 1 million California botany specimens from the Academy’s herbarium, an effort that will leverage Picturae’s cutting-edge conveyor belt technology to drive digitization ten times faster than before. Awarded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the generous grant supports the Academy’s Thriving California initiative, which aims to regenerate biodiversity, address climate change, and build a movement for nature in the Golden State.
“Each specimen in our botany collection contains valuable data that not only helps us understand California biodiversity as a whole, but also paints a picture of the history of species across the state,” says Dr. Sarah Jacobs, Assistant Curator of Botany and Howell Chair of Western North American Botany. “That trove of information is invaluable to research and conservation efforts, but right now most of it is only accessible to those who are able to visit our collections in San Francisco, and summarizing information across the entire collection is impossible. This grant provides an incredible opportunity to make our vast, historic California botany collection accessible to scientists, policymakers, and community members across the state and beyond. It’s a critical step towards supporting botanical exploration and research, and guiding development and management decisions that will help us achieve our Thriving California goal of conserving and regenerating the biodiversity that makes California so unique.”
Long recognized by scientists as a biodiversity hotspot, California contains some of the highest plant diversity in the world: The state boasts approximately 6,500 native plants, and of those over 40% are endemic and at least a third are classified as threatened or endangered. The state’s recently outlined 30x30 strategy aims to protect this unique biodiversity by conserving 30% of California lands and coastal waters by 2030. With the largest botany collection in the western United States and largest collection of California plants in the world, the Academy recognizes the powerful implications of digitizing and expanding access to its full California herbarium, including equipping scientists and policymakers with robust historic data to inform benchmarking and guide conservation decisions.
Currently only about 20% of the Academy’s 1 million California botany specimens are fully digitized (with high resolution images and digitally transcribed label data) as the process has historically been time consuming and staff intensive. To achieve the ambitious goal of complete California botany collection digitization by summer 2024, the Academy will enlist Picturae, a leader in preserving, managing, and enriching culturally significant historical collections across the globe through digitization. By leveraging Picturae’s state-of-the-art conveyor belt systems and technology, the Academy will be able to digitize specimens ten times faster than before, generating roughly 4,000 images per day. In this semi-automated approach, specimens travel the length of a conveyor belt where they are photographed with high resolution cameras and linked to digital label data, a process that significantly improves efficiency and enables digitization to happen faster, require fewer people, and cost significantly less than the previous manual workflow.
Engagement with dedicated community scientists will be another critical step on the path to complete California botany collection digitization. Through platforms like Zooniverse’s Notes from Nature project, the newly digitized data will be made available online to a large community of people—including Academy herbarium staff, volunteers, and thousands of online community scientists—who will help add location data to complete each record. This type of online people-powered research, also known as citizen or community science, has been widely adopted by museums and large natural history collections to tackle the challenge of transcribing data from huge collections of images.
“Not only will digitization vastly increase access to botany collections data necessary for research and conservation, but it also creates a foundation for advancing public education and storytelling around California’s unique plants and landscape,” says Dr. Rebecca F. Johnson, Co-Director of the Academy’s Thriving California initiative and Center for Biodiversity and Community Science. “The opportunity to more deeply engage our community with the history and highlights of California’s flora is exciting, and offers a rare opportunity for people to make a measurable conservation impact simply by helping complete our digital records. I hope it inspires a greater understanding of biodiversity and the urgent need for regenerative action.”
The California Academy of Sciences is a renowned scientific and educational institution with a mission to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, it is home to a world-class aquarium, planetarium, and natural history museum, as well as innovative programs in biodiversity science, environmental learning, and collaborative engagement—all under one living roof. Museum hours are 9:30 am – 5:00 pm Monday – Saturday, and 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on Sunday. Admission includes all exhibits, programs, and shows. For daily ticket prices, please visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000 for more information.
The Institute for Biodiversity Science and Sustainability at the California Academy of Sciences is at the forefront of efforts to regenerate the natural world through science, learning, and collaboration. Based in San Francisco, the Institute is home to more than 100 world-class scientists, state-of-the-art facilities, and nearly 46 million scientific specimens from around the world. The Institute also leverages the expertise and efforts of more than 100 international Associates and 450 distinguished Fellows. Through expeditions around the globe, investigations in the lab, and analysis of vast biological datasets, the Institute’s scientists work to understand the evolution and interconnectedness of organisms and ecosystems, the threats they face around the world, and the most effective strategies for ensuring they thrive into the future. Through deeply collaborative partnerships and innovative public engagement initiatives, they also guide critical conservation decisions worldwide, inspire and mentor the next generation of scientists, and foster responsible stewardship of our planet
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit Moore.org or follow @MooreFound.