Breathing new life into old collections – Using citizen science to revitalise Geoscience Australia’s Microscope Slide Based collections

Mr John Pring1, Dr Richard Blewett1, Mr Billie Poignand1, Mr Oliver Raymond1, Dr David Champion1, Ms Irina Bastrakova1, Mr Neal Evans1, Mr Peter Butler1, Dr Alastair Stewart1

1Geoscience Australia, Canberra, Australia,,,,,,


Since soon after the federation of Australia in 1901 Geoscience Australia, and its predecessors organisations, have gathered a significant collection of microscope slide based items (including: thin sections of rock and micro fossils) from across Australia, Antarctica, Papua New Guinea, the Asia Pacific region and beyond. The samples from which the microscope slides were produced have been gathered via extensive geological mapping programs, work conducted for major Commonwealth building initiatives such as the Snowy Mountain Scheme and science expeditions. The cost of recreating this collection, if at all possible, would be measured in the $100Ms (AUS) even assuming that it was still possible to source the relevant samples.

While access to these microscope slides is open to industry, educational institutions and the public it has not been easy to locate specific slides due to the management system. The management of this collection was based largely on an aged card catalogue and ledger system. The fragmented nature of the management system with the increasing potential for the deterioration of physical media and the loss of access to even some of the original contributors meant that rescue work was (and still is) needed urgently.

Achieving progress on making the microscope slides discoverable and accessible in the current fiscally constrained environment dictated a departure from what might be considered a traditional approach to the project and saw the extensive use of a citizen science approach through the use of DigiVol and reference to a small number of onsite volunteers.

Through the use of a citizen science approach the proof of concept project has seen the transcription of some 35,000 sample metadata and data records (2.5 times our current electronic holdings) from a variety of hardcopy sources by a diverse group of volunteers. The availability of this data has allowed for the electronic discovery of both the microscope slides and their parent samples, and will hopefully lead to a greater utilisation of this valuable resource and enable new geoscientific insights from old resources.

One of the other benefits of the use of Digivol has been increasing Geoscience Australia’s positive exposure to a totally new section of the general public.  It has highlighted the role of the agency to an audience that had previously had little or no involvement with the geosciences.


  1. DigiVol citizen science transcription site available from accessed 1 August 2017
  2. Geoscience Australia eCat Record, created 28 Aug 2017


John Pring holds a Masters of Management Studies (Project Management/Technology and Equipment) from the University of New South Wales and an Electrical Engineering Degree from the University of Southern Queensland.

He has been Senior Project Manager within the Environmental Geoscience Division of Geoscience Australia for some 10 years and has run a number of projects associated with the management of the agencies data and physical collections over that time.

He has held similar roles within other government agencies prior to joining Geoscience Australia.

Recent Comments