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Destructive Sampling and Specimen Preparation

“Destructive sampling” includes any procedure that causes a permanent change to a specimen, such as sampling of subfossil tissues for molecular studies, sectioning of specimens, or drilling of tooth enamel for isotopic studies. It also includes some reversible procedures, such as disarticulation of mounted specimens, or separation of elements that have been glued together.

Destructive sampling does not include specimen preparation, molding, and casting, which are governed by a separate set of procedures.

Application

Requests for destructive sampling should be made in writing to the curator-in-charge of the collection in question. In the case of graduate students, the request should be made by the student’s academic advisor. As a minimum, the request should include the following information:

  • The purpose of the research and its scientific merit
  • The sampling methods to be employed
  • Why the chosen protocol is the least intrusive method possible
  • Evidence of the researcher’s competence with the protocol
  • The specimens to be sampled
  • Why the specimens in question are essential to the study

In all cases, the investigator should be able to provide reasonable assurance that the results of the study will be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.

Type specimens are not available for destructive sampling. Specimens that are comparatively rare, both in general and in the context of the AMNH collections, are unlikely to be approved for sampling unless a particularly compelling case has been made to do so.

Uncataloged material will not be made available for sampling, because of the difficulties in ensuring accurate citation and attribution of samples when study results are published. All sampled specimens must be cataloged first. The staff time and resource implications of this cataloging will be considered when assessing the proposal.

Approval

If the proposal is approved, the applicant will be informed of the decision and any restrictions imposed.

Examples of possible restrictions include the scope of the material to be sampled, methods of evaluation, standards for processing and documentation, and the timeframe for publication.

Conditions may also be placed on the disposition of materials resulting from the sampling, including the return of unused samples, SEM stubs, aliquots of DNA, etc.

In certain circumstances, involving particularly valuable or sensitive materials, the Division of Paleontology may require the applicant to enter into a written agreement regarding the conditions for sampling.

Failure to comply with the terms and conditions set by the Division in previous sampling may be grounds for denying new requests. Likewise, failure to abide by the terms of the current sampling may be grounds for denying future requests.

Implementation

The Division does not provide sampling services. Applicants are usually expected to take the samples themselves. This will usually take place during in a visit to the collection, which must be scheduled through the usual visitor approval procedures.

Normally, specimens to be sampled will have been specified in the original proposal. Where this has not been done, the specimens must be selected and presented to the curator-in-charge (or their nominee) for approval before sampling takes place.The Division may require that one of its staff be present for some or all of the sampling.

In some circumstances, sampling activities may be approved for specimens going on loan. In these cases, the Destructive Sampling Request will also serve as a loan request.

Preparation, Molding, and Casting

Preparation

Fossils frequently require additional preparation during research. Visitors to the collection, or borrowers of material, may request permission to undertake specimen preparation. This request must be in the form of a written proposal, sent to the Supervisor of Fossil Preparation, which addresses the following points:

  • The purpose of the research and its scientific merit
  • The specimen(s) to be prepared
  • The proposed method of preparation
  • Evidence of the researcher’s competence, or access to a trained preparator, including proven experience in preparing the material under request
  • Why the specimens in question are essential to the study

Permission to prepare material must be agreed beforehand. Any preparation work is expressly forbidden unless agreed before hand with the relevant curator-in-charge in conjunction with the Supervisor of Fossil Preparation.

All products of preparation, e.g., matrix, samples, acid preparation residues, SEM stubs, thin sections, are regarded as part of the specimen and must be returned with the specimen. A fully illustrated condition and preparation report must be produced on the work undertaken on the object.

Molding and Casting

Because of limitations on staff time and resources, the Division of Paleontology does not normally undertake molding and casting for researchers outside of AMNH. Approval of such requests are at the discretion of the Divisional Chair, in consultation with the Supervisor of Fossil Preparation and the appropriate curator in charge.

Requests to mold specimens should be in the form of a written proposal, sent to the Supervisor of Fossil Preparation, which addresses the following points:

  • The purpose of making the mold and the proposed use of the cast(s)
  • The method and materials to be employed
  • Evidence of the researcher’s competence, or access to a trained preparator, including proven experience in molding the material under request

Molding Specimens that are on loan to a researcher:

Permission to mold material must be agreed beforehand. Any molding of specimens is expressly forbidden unless agreed before hand with the relevant curator-in-charge in conjunction with the Supervisor of Fossil Preparation.

The mold and one cast should be returned with the specimen at the end of the loan period.

The use of casts and molds taken must be agreed before hand between Division and the borrower. Casts should normally be for research or display purposes only. Permission for any other category of usage may be subject to payment of a fee to AMNH. All copyright and reproduction rights remain with AMNH.

Molding specimens while visiting the AMNH collections:

Certain categories of research (e.g. tooth micro-wear studies) require the making of temporary molds, often during the course of a visit to the collection. Such molding is subject to the same approval procedures as are used for more permanent molds, and the same restrictions on ownership and use outlined above. However, researchers may be granted an exemption from the requirement to return molds and casts to AMNH, at the discretion of the appropriate curator-in-charge.

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