InvertNet Digitization Workshop Report

InvertNet Spring Workshop

The InvertNet TCN held its first workshop on April 13-15 at the University of Illinois (UI) Siebel Center for Computer Science and the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS).  Over 40 people attended (view the participant list here), including representatives of iDigBio and all but one of the 14 collaborating institutions.  The workshop kicked-off with short presentations by representatives of collaborating institutions that outlined the history, taxonomic and geographic scope, and strengths of each collection in the TCN.  Speakers described progress towards digitizing their collections, provided information on their current database platform and Internet accessibility, and also described public outreach and educational activities at their respective institutions.

Following these overview presentations, members of the InvertNet technical team at UI/INHS gave presentations about 1) the current status of the InvertNet website and cyberinfrastructure 2) efforts by the INHS SpeciesFile group to create taxonomic authority files for management of nomenclatural data 3) results from testing different hardware platforms to be used for digitizing drawers of pinned insects and 4) progress on refining software for improved 3D reconstructions. These presentations were recorded and will soon be available as digital videos on

Following the formal presentations, participants divided into groups that rotated through four topical sessions that provided hands-on demonstrations of software and hardware tools related to digitization workflows. Visiting curators and other interested participants also had the opportunity to explore the INHS collections.

Session One, led by InvertNet cyberinfrastructure team members Nahil and Omar Sobh, demonstrated various utilities for data management and collaboration that have been incorporated into InvertNet’s HUBzero cyberinfrastructure.  Collaboration tools include the ability to form groups, create blogs and wikis, host discussions, invite new members, and manage multimedia digital resources.  The Medici semantic multimedia content management system, which will serve as the primary resource for ingesting and hosting digital collections on InvertNet, was also demonstrated.  Participants provided feedback on the overall structure of the website and additional features they would like to see incorporated.

Session Two, led by InvertNet digitization workflow team member David Raila, was a hands-on demonstration of a computer numerical control (CNC) machine with a custom-built pan-tilt camera head and industrial digital camera. This machine is currently being tested for use in capturing images of entire drawers of pinned insects.  Programmed for very precise movements, the CNC machine will allow development of repeatable protocols to capture multiple photographs of a drawer from different positions and perspectives, facilitating 3D reconstructions.  Participants discussed cost and reliability as well as alternative systems for accomplishing the same objectives; feedback on proper lighting and image resolution will be incorporated into future tests.

Session Three, led by InvertNet PI Chris Dietrich, demonstrated a procedure for capturing images of microscope slides and vials using a consumer-grade, photo-quality flatbed scanner.  This method provides high-resolution, zoomable images that allow data to be captured from labels in situ and also provides important information on the condition of the specimens, useful for collection profiling.  Participants discussed modifications to accommodate variation in vial storage systems, including alternative image capture hardware for larger jars.

Session Four, led by Dietrich and INHS insect collection manager Dmitry Dmitriev, was a curatorial “blitz” in the insect collection.  Small groups of visiting curators, collection managers, and graduate students spent 2-3 hours each examining collection holdings of their preferred taxa. During this time, they checked and upgraded identifications, sorted unidentified specimens, and separated specimens of interest for further study.  Ten specimen loans were made, which enabled some participants to carry specimens of interest back to their home institutions for further study.

The feedback and suggestions received from workshop participants are being incorporated into the InvertNet web portal and digitization workflows. The InvertNet technical team is also preparing written documentation of digitization procedures and training videos that outline procedures demonstrated at the workshop.  These items will be available soon at