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The Alf Museum’s Collections Manager, Bailey Jorgensen, and Lab Manager, Jared Heuck, both received project grants from professional societies last fall to fund collaborative research projects. Jorgensen received Outreach and Education grants from both the Paleontological Society and the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, and Heuck was selected for the Marvin and Beth Hix Preparator’s Grant from the Society of Vertebrate paleontology.

Jorgensen’s grants will be used to fund her “Paleo-robotics” project, where she plans to use an underwater ROV to identify and digitally prospect underwater fossil localities in California while also teaching students of The Webb Schools the latest in digital paleontological techniques.

“The goal of this project is to develop a paleontological field experience in tandem with the Paleontology Program and the Robotics After-School Program at The Webb Schools. The students, under supervision, will build and deploy a small shallow water ROV with camera capabilities to do digital prospecting of the underwater environment at local California lakes, where previous research has identified now-submerged localities containing fossils,” commented Jorgensen. “This project is exciting because it is interdisciplinary and gives both robotics and paleontology students the opportunity to collaborate and try something new.”

Jorgensen started at the Alf Museum in 2017 as an outreach and collections assistant and was promoted to Collections Manager in 2022. In her time at the Alf Museum, she was been essential ensuring that our collections are cared for with the latest museum standards while also working with Webb students across many projects. For the “Paleo-robotics” project, Jorgensen is collaborating with the Alf Museum’s curator, Dr. Mairin Balisi, and Webb faculty, Maria Suarez and Andrew Hamilton, as part of Webb’s “Unbounded Days” program that connects the classroom and the broader world. Work has started on construction of the underwater ROV. Jorgensen and team plan to begin their first phase of underwater prospecting in the San Jacinto Valley in late Winter 2024.

For Heuck, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s Marvin and Beth Hix Grant is intended to further the field of vertebrate paleontology through the advancement of fossil preparation. As Lab Manager, Heuck mentors many students from The Webb Schools in fossil preparation through the Paleontology After-School Program and is often a collaborator on student projects. Funds from the Hix grant were used to further the project of Webb senior, Connor Keeney, who is studying Pleistocene-aged insects preserved in asphalt with Dr. Mairin Balisi as part of the Advanced Studies in Paleontology class. Both Heuck and Keeney are interested in learning how to better prepare such insects. With the Hix grant funds, both spent a week working with scientists at the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum to learn from their scientists how to prepare specimens preserved in asphalt.

On the importance of this project, Heuck says “Insects are excellent indicators of climate and environment, but the process of preparing insects preserved in asphalt is largely unexplored. Preparing and identifying the asphaltic insects at the Alf Museum will illuminate the climate trends that existed during a dynamic period of faunal change in Southern California.”

Heuck started at the Alf Museum as a volunteer in 2015, hired as a full-time fossil preparator in 2018, and promoted to Preparation Lab Manager in 2023. Heuck is also active in supporting other student projects in the museum and across Webb’s campus, including work with the Webb Native Plant Society.

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