Hannan Abid, a former student of the Science Research Mentoring Program (SRMP) at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), devoted his time in SRMP to to re-categorizing the bird specimens obtained on the Whitney South Seas Expedition.
What was the Whitney South Seas Expedition?
Back in the early 1900s a crew of researchers from the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) went to the south seas to study the biodiversity of the islands there.. On their journey, the scientists collected bird samples from the area and had countless adventures. However, the specimens the researchers brought back from their trip were not catalogued properly, making them difficult to use.The information needed to fix this categorization problem lies forgotten in field journals and hand-written inventories from their trip.
Hannan, his mentor Paul Sweet, and another SRMP student, painstakingly went through the field journals from the expedition and hand-written inventories of the south seas specimens to decipher exactly where and when each bird was found.
Why is it important to know such specific information about each one of the over 40,000 bird specimens from the Whitney South Seas Expedition? Here’s one example: the birds and information collected on the expedition are windows into the past preserving the biodiversity of the south seas in the early 1900s. This knowledge is valuable to any researchers studying the area now, or researching how the south seas have changed over time.
Hannan found that studying the Whitney South Seas collection was quite entertaining. While combing through field journals for data on the bird samples Hannan came across many stories about the escapades of the expeditioners in the south seas. One story about a cooking pot Hannan says he “will probably never forget.”
During their travels the researchers required assistance from the local inhabitants. These people were paid for their help in rice and other food.
After a hard climb up a mountain the local assistants wanted to cook the food they’ed received as payment, but no one in the village had a pot large enough for the meal they were going to make. Undeterred, the cooks went to the center of the village and beat a drum several times. Fifteen minutes later some villagers from a neighboring settlement arrived with the perfect sized pot and the cooking commenced.
Before SRMP Hannan said he didn’t even know that high school students could be involved in novel scientific research. “ I always thought it [research] was something for college graduates. When I did find out about SRMP, my interest shifted from just learning about science in a classroom to being part of the scientific community.”
Hannan found his work cataloguing the Whitney South Seas collection was the most fulfilling during the “final days of SRMP when everything is coming together. I felt really proud, because everything that my team and I worked on for a whole year was coming together and it was a huge accomplishment.”
Now, Hannan has graduated SRMP is in the pre-health track at Hunter College in New York City. He says “I’m still on the lookout for possible research opportunities.”
Interested doing scientific research? Check out the science research internships for high school students listed under “Consortium Programs” on the homepage of our website.
This Alumni Profile was written by Olivia Allison Asher, SRMP alumna, member of the Consortium Alumni Youth Council, intern with the Gotham Coyote Project, and author of The Science Notebook Blog.