Artistic Replicas Bring Microscopic Fossils to Life

Did you know that spores and pollen are the most abundant fossils found in the Cretaceous rocks that cover much of Alberta? Just as living plants do today, plants of the past reproduced using spores and pollen. Our former Curator of Palynology, Dr. Dennis Braman, has identified over 1000 different types of pollen and spores from Late Cretaceous Alberta.

Dr. Dennis Braman collecting sediment samples at Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Dr. Dennis Braman collecting sediment samples at Dinosaur Provincial Park.

Due to their small size, it is difficult to relay information about fossil pollen to Museum visitors. Five-thousand  fossil pollen can fit on the head of a pin, making it necessary to study and photograph them under a microscope. Although accurate, photographs are often difficult to interpret, and may not fully convey the complexity of fossil pollen to the public. Our solution was to create three-dimensional models made of blown glass.

A photo of the fossil pollen Wodehouseia spinata viewed under a microscope.

A photo of the fossil pollen Wodehouseia spinata viewed under a microscope.

Sketches of what Wodehouseia Spinata would look like when modelled in glass.

Sketches of what Wodehouseia Spinata would look like when modelled in glass.

Using photographs of fossil pollen and spores from Dr. Braman’s research, Julia Reimer and Tyler Rock of Firebrand Glass Studio developed concept drawings of what fossil pollen would look like when rendered in glass. Dr. Braman then reviewed the drawings for scientific accuracy. These concept drawings helped clarify the shape of different fossil pollen, and illustrated how to transition from two-dimensional photographs to three-dimensional models.

Julia Reimer making some small adjustments to one of the models.

Julia Reimer making some small adjustments to one of the models.

Julia Reimer using a blowtorch on one of the models.

Julia Reimer using a blowtorch on one of the models.

These glass models are about 4600 times the size of the real fossil pollen. The pollen we selected were based on the ability to accurately model them in glass. The limits of glassblowing means that these models are not exact replicas of the fossils, and are not intended for scientific research. As artistic replicas, their purpose is to educate the public about microfossils that are too small to see with the naked eye.

Finished glass models of a variety of fossil pollen and spores.

Finished glass models of a variety of fossil pollen and spores.

Wodehouseia spinata rendered in glass.

Wodehouseia spinata rendered in glass.

These glass models are currently on display in Fossils in Focus. In October 2018, they will be removed to make way for new specimens.

Putting some finishing touches on the display before Fossils in Focus opened last October.

Putting some finishing touches on the display before Fossils in Focus opened last October.

The finalized glass models on display.

The finalized glass models on display.

The finalized glass models on display.

The finalized glass models on display.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s