Illumination – Guest Post by Liz Alvarez


In early 2018, artist Elizabeth Alvarez proposed an insect-focused art piece that would address the theme of the Museum Open House, “Magnification”. Collaborating with Jordan Reynolds and Tamara Sabbagh, two artists who work here at the Triplehorn collection, Elizabeth collected macro images of a local sweat bee (Agapostemon sericeus, specimen number OSUC 127013, collected in Columbus, Ohio in 1930) to bring to light what is normally lost in scale. Not only did she render the invisible— visible, but she added vitality and intrigue by animating the bee.

In the artist’s own words:

Where did you get inspiration from?
“My experience of viewing specimens using a microscope inspired this piece. The microscope lens and mirrors bend the light projected onto the specimen, illuminating it, which allows us to visually explore its features. Specimens become more endearing when you can look upon their faces. Even the shape of the display was circular to mimic the eye piece of a microscope.”

How did you build it?
“I had divided and cut up a reinforced cardboard mold, normally used to pour concrete footers, for its cylindrical shape, and tautly wrapped leather around the exterior. A clear, acrylic platform held up a tablet that displayed the animation of the sweat bee. A clear transparency was angled below the tablet to reflect the animation to create the illusion of a hologram. A sweat bee specimen was imaged from many angles, and the images were then used to create a fluid animation. I studied several videos of sweat bees to create accurate articulation and movement. The flowers were printed on standard paper, and mounted on cardstock. They were then cut and attached to the interior of the footer to work with the position of the projected bee.”

Why bees?
“There is concern with the disappearance of honey bees, but all pollinators are important and include sweat bees. This was an opportunity to highlight a pollinator that is commonly found in Ohio, to raise awareness, and endear these vital species to the general public to avoid potentially grave consequences. This bee became more tangible once you could see how it interacted with its environment.

Ultimately, I wanted to create something visually striking to present the bee in a new context. It needed to magnify the bee’s presence literally and metaphorically, because knowledge is synonymous with illumination.”

“A special thank you to Jordan and Tamara for all of their hard work imaging the specimen and providing feedback.  Dr. Musetti for providing access to the specimen and the imaging equipment, for verifying the accuracy of the display, and most of all for providing a space for me to exhibit the work during the Museum Open House 2018.  To my family for helping me where they could along the way.”

 

About the Author:  Elizabeth Alvarez is an Art & Technology OSU alumna and former staffer at the Triplehorn Insect Collection. While working at the collection she specialized in the production of publication quality photos of museum specimens, and later, on the recommendation of Dr. Musetti, had the benefit of a summer internship at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History under the direction of Dr. Talamas, then a Postdoc there at the Entomology Department. After graduating, Liz briefly continued her work at the Triplehorn collection, fine tuning imaging protocols and training new personnel on specimen imaging.

Exploring science through art – Part 3


In my previous blog post I provided a sneak peek of the project I was working on during my internship here at the Triplehorn collection. The project is now finished! The inspiration for this project came from an assignment I completed for my pattern design class at the Columbus College of Art & Design. As part of the assignment I had to study the work of a designer that I could relate to and create a pattern inspired by their work. After discussions with my instructor, I chose Ella Doran, who is known for creating and photographing patterns through found objects and textures. Her images are then taken into Adobe Photoshop and digitally manipulated to create seamless patterns that are then applied onto household items. I knew I had seen work like this before, but up until that moment it hadn’t registered that I could be doing something similar.

Based on the knowledge I gained in that class and the training received at the insect collection, I decided that I would create a pattern that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but could also teach the viewer a little bit about the insects depicted. By that time I had also decided to focus on beetles.

The first step was to pick out the specimens from the collection that I would use to build the patterns. I started by going through several of the collection’s cabinets and marking the drawers containing specimens that I thought were diverse in shape and color. In this initial round I picked 50 to 60 beetle specimens that fit my concept for the project. From those initial picks I separated the top 11 and started working.

The collection has specific protocols for imaging their specimens, which involve 1) attaching a unique identification number (printed on a small plastic tag) to the specimen, 2) transcribing the specimen label for databasing purposes, and 3) adding a small purple “IMAGED” tag to all specimens that are photographed. For my project I had to go through these steps and then work on editing the images that would be used to create the patterns.

Insects are bilaterally symmetric, which means that both sides of the body (left and right) are the same when split along the center. This can be easily observed when watching an insect while it’s alive, such as an ant crawling on the pavement. But when an insect dies, the body starts to dry and curl up in odd ways and by the end the insect appears to be asymmetrical. Symmetry is critical for the patterns I wanted to create, so I decided to mirror all the images of the beetles in order to keep the bilateral symmetry.


Once I had photographed and edited each image, it was time to play around with creating patterns. I started with an idea as to how I wanted the insects to be arranged, but as the work progressed I felt that the initial design was lacking complexity. After a few more unsuccessful attempts, I finally was able to create a more intricate pattern that included all of the specimens I wanted. Each pattern that I created was done through a process in Photoshop that allows the image to smoothly repeat no matter how large the final image. From there it was minor tweaking until I was happy with my final pattern.

I feel as though the collection has become my second home so I am sad to say that my internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection is coming to a close. Here I have learned many valuable skills that will further my goal of merging art and science. I plan to continue coming in once or twice a week in order to keep working alongside the collection staff, so that I may keep learning, improving, and producing new patterns using the resources available to me. I hope to create several more patterns by August using various other insects that could be applied to everyday objects. (see examples below)

Mock-ups created through Society6.

I would like to thank Jordan Reynolds for providing training on the use of the photographic equipment and the image stacking software. He also guided me through several problems during my project which has helped me to create my final image. Besides his work here at the collection, Jordan is a new media artist, actively creating original work to be shown in galleries. I highly recommend viewing his personal work on Instagram or visiting his website.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without Dr. Luciana Musetti and her incredible passion for insects. Her drive to share insect diversity with the world has resulted in a group of amazing staff members and a creative workspace. Luciana pushes the envelope to improve upon display ideas and engage viewers in an educational manner. She has truly made my internship worthwhile.

 

About the authorEvie Moran is a Columbus-based fine art photographer skilled in microscopic imaging, archival preservation/imaging, and shoot coordination, seeking projects where she can add value within academia. She started her internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection in January 2018. Contact Evie here at the blog or at evievmoran.comYou can also follow her on Instagram @eviemoran

Exploring science through art


Micro photography of my lipstick.

Micro photography of my lipstick.

For the past year, I have been exploring different ways to incorporate science into my photographs. I have always wanted to bridge the gap between science and art so that viewers of all ages can experience a new form of art. I have dreamt of recreating the viewer’s childhood curiosity so that they leave feeling amazed, inspired, and curious once again. Some of my most recent work has been created by making various assortments of slides taken from my own body, such as saliva, zits, hangnails and much more. Each created slide is a self portrait of me on a smaller scale or what I like to call my smaller self. The slides are then viewed and photographed under a microscope. Each image taken can be built up of about 50 to 200 photos that are combined together using Adobe Photoshop.

But where exactly does this all fit in with the Ohio State University’s Triplehorn Insect Collection? In spring 2017 I attended Columbus College of Art and Design’s (CCAD) Biodiversity class. I was lucky to have attended that class when I did because soon after it was dissolved. As part of the class we took a tour of the Triplehorn collection. I was overflowing with excitement! At that time I had only gotten to see a small fraction of what the collection had to offer but it was enough to get me hooked. When it came time to leave I was feeling unfulfilled, the hour we had spent there didn’t seem like it would have been enough. As my classmates and I were collecting our belongings to head out the door someone had mentioned that they also take in interns to help photograph specimens. Hearing that was both extremely exciting and terrifying.

I knew I wanted to help out and be a part of the great things that were happening at the collection but I had also immediately started to doubt myself. I had started to think that I wouldn’t have be a good fit only because I did not have any background experience in entomology. With encouragement from some friends I took the time to look over my completed credits at CCAD. I found out that I had completed all the major photo courses required for me to graduate but I still had extracurricular credit that needed to be completed. Instead of filling my free time with classes that didn’t fit my career path I decided to try and spend it at the collection. With the information I had gathered from my class visit I reached out to the Curator, Dr. Luciana Musetti, who responded to my email almost immediately. Plans were then made to meet up within the week and before I knew it, I was accepted as an intern.

I have already started to work with both macro and microscopic photographs which just so happens to be right up my alley considering this has been where my artwork has been heading. On my second week here I had the chance to photograph a feather-wing beetle, one of the smallest beetles in the world. To the human eye the beetle looks nothing more than the tiniest of speck of dust, but once the beetle was placed under the microscope I could see the silver facets that make up the eyes and that its body was completely covered with hair. But the most amazing part about the beetle was its wings. The wings looked nearly identical to a bird’s feathers, hence the common name, featherwing (or featherwinged) beetles (family Ptiliidae)

Featherwing beetle image work in progress.

Featherwing beetle image work in progress.

This experience has been the perfect opportunity for me since everything I have learned along the way was self-taught and was always a struggle to find the resources that I needed. The techniques they use here to acquire their final image is similar to what I have been doing but more efficient. There are many things I still have to learn that will further help my artwork and future career path within the field of scientific documentation. It’s been under a month since I’ve started interning here and everyone I work with have been extremely helpful and friendly beyond all expectations. Being here is constantly driving me to learn and do more every day. It is so inspiring to be around people with a passion for the world of insects. This has brought many ideas for future projects in mind.

Over the next 4 months or so I’ll be working on various specimen imaging projects, butterflies, beetles, minute parasitoid wasps, and more, and I’ll be trying to learn everything I can along the way. I will also be working on an individual project that I will present at the end of the internship. Keep tuned to my next post here at the Pinning Block.

 

About the author: Evie Moran is a Columbus-based fine art photographer skilled in microscopic imaging, archival preservation/imaging, and shoot coordination, seeking projects where she can add value within academia. She started her internship at the Triplehorn Insect Collection in January 2018. Contact Evie here at the blog or at evievmoran.com. You can also follow her on Instagram @eviemoran

Researching Pelecinids – Part 2

One of the most useful resources the Triplehorn Insect Collection has to offer is its extensive HOL database, an online taxonomic initiative that documents collected specimens of various insect groups. This database already contains records for over 845 thousand Hymenoptera specimens, and it continues to grow every week through the hard work of countless contributors.

One way to contribute to HOL is to photograph and upload images of collected specimens, further enriching the available data on specific taxa. Prior to the start of my research on pelecinids, there were zero images of the genus Pelecinus available in the database. To remedy this, I had the opportunity to work with Jordan Reynolds, an undergraduate student in Art & Technology who is currently working on specimen photography for the collection. Over the last several weeks, Jordan taught me about the technologies and techniques required for taking high-quality images for the database.



My goal in photographing a selection of the collection’s Pelecinus polyturator specimens is three-fold. First, I will obtain a more in-depth understanding of the external anatomy of these intriguing insects. Second, I can compare the morphologies of males and females of different sizes and localities. Third, I will contribute previously unavailable data to the HOL database.

Photographing collection specimens is not as simple as taking a picture with a camera. Because the specimens are relatively small, and because we require intricate detail in the images, we instead use a method known as focus stacking. With this method, the camera gradually moves along a track and takes multiple images at different distances. The focused areas of each image are then “stacked” together by a computer program so that the entirety of the final image is clear. Because the P. polyturator specimens required a large depth of field, we sometimes had to photograph and stack up to 100 images to create a sufficiently focused final image.

In addition to taking individual specimen images, we also took several comparison images. These provide a quick side-by-side comparison between two different specimens. Some of the images we took compare males and females of similar localities. Other images showcase females of similar localities and their dramatic variance in size.

comparison image of P. polyturator females

Comparison image illustrating the size variation in P. polyturator females

Of course, no system is perfect, and we faced many challenges along the way. Most of the parasitic wasps that get photographed by the collection are very small in size (no more than a few millimeters long). Therefore, the collection’s microscopic camera that is traditionally used for parasitoid photography is designed to take highly detailed images of very small specimens. P. polyturator females are unusual in that they are very large parasitoids that can exceed 40 mm in length. Because of this, many of the specimens we wanted to photograph could not fit under the microscopic camera. We instead opted to use a DSLR camera, which is used for macrophotography of larger specimens such as beetles and butterflies. Using this nontraditional method of parasitoid photography, we were able to produce high-quality images of the larger specimens by exploiting various imaging techniques.

Another challenge we faced was the handling of the specimens. All mounted insects in a collection must be handled with great care because they are dry and brittle. Pelecinids must be handled with extra caution because their long, string-like antennae and fragile abdomens will break with even the slightest bump.

We ended up with many beautiful images of these wasp specimens. The complete collection of images has been uploaded to HOL and is available on the page dedicated to P. polyturator. I would like to thank Jordan for all of his help with this photography endeavor. Without the countless hours he spent performing behind-the-scenes image processing, the final images could never have turned out so well.


About the Author: Hannah McKenzie is an undergraduate entomology major at the Ohio State University. She currently works at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and is participating in undergraduate research on Pelecinus wasps.

Bumble bees in our garden

 

Every Spring and Summer there are bumble bees in the small garden in front of the Museum of Biological Diversity at Ohio State University.

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

They are attracted to the Purple Coneflowers, Queen Anne’s Lace (wild carrot), Mint, and other flowering plants that happen to grow over there.

Garden in front of the Museum of Biological Diversity, as it was in July of 2013.

Garden in front of the Museum of Biological Diversity, as it was in July of 2013.

Bumble bees are fascinating creatures. They play a vital role in our environment, and they are beautiful, too! I am interested in learning more about bumble bees and I am concerned about their future in a rapidly changing world.

For a few years now I’ve been taking photos of the ‘Museum bumble bees’ whenever I have a chance. Sunny, warm days are the best to observe and photograph these hard-working insects. I also keep records of when I took the photos and what kinds of plants where flowering in the garden at the time.

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

This year I contributed some of my photos and observations to Bumblebee Watch, “a collaborative effort to track and conserve North America’s bumble bees“. This citizen science project is an opportunity for anyone who’s interested in bumble bees to contribute to their conservation by adding precious species distribution information to the site in the form of photos and dots on the map. If everyone who takes a photo of a bumble bee in the USA would submit the image (and where it was taken) to the site, scientists would have a very large amount of important distribution records to work with. The more we know about the bumble bees the better our chances to help them survive.

Bumble Bee Watch (and one of my photos) were featured on the Metro section of the Columbus Dispatch on July 17.

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

Brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis)

It’s easy to contribute to the site and you can later see your contribution on the Bumble Bee Watch map. My observations and photos are now showing as a little green dot right on 1315 Kinnear Road (the Museum address) in Columbus, Ohio.

PS. The species identifications were provided by the Bumble Bee Watch Project identifiers.

 

About the Author: Luciana Musetti is the Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection at Ohio State University. All photos by the author.