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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Heather Trigg
  • (617) 287-6838
  • Robert D Stevenson III
  • John M Steinberg
  • Robert A Morris
Award Date:03/04/2011
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 61,475
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 61,475
  • FY 2011=$61,475
Start Date:04/01/2011
End Date:03/31/2014
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.074
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:The Human Impact Pollen Database: Development of searchable internet image database of pollen taxa
Federal Award ID Number:1056364
DUNS ID:808008122
Parent DUNS ID:079520631

Awardee Location

Street:100 Morrissey Boulevard
Awardee Cong. District:08

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of Massachusetts Boston
Street:100 Morrissey Boulevard
Cong. District:08

Abstract at Time of Award

With NSF funding, Trigg and colleagues will create a digital image database of pollen from plants associated with human activities, the Human Impacts Pollen Collection (HIPC). The database will be searchable online and present high quality images of pollen grains. Palynology (analysis of pollen grains) is critical for investigating both past and current human-environment interactions. The digitization of the HIPC complements existing databases by including exotics and invasives, as well as cultivated and ornamental plants. Given the seriousness of human impacts on the environment and the potential of palynology to understand environmental change, the need for this type of research will only increase. The collection was designed to assist in reconstructing past environments, but the online data can be used by a variety of disciplines--forensic scientists, agronomists, pollination biologists, those investigating allergies and honey production--that require information about pollen or the distribution of plants. The project also provides a K12 public school teacher with a research experience focused on the role of palynology and human-environment interactions. We hope their participation will foster an appreciation of science that they will pass on to their students. This project also engages graduate students, which will enhance their training in palynology and bioinformatics, two fields that have the potential to address critical environmental questions in the future.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

The major goals of this project were to create two online databases of the pollen specimens in the Human Impacts Pollen Collection (HIPC). These databases of modern reference materials are tools to assist in the identification of unknown pollen grains, and they provide information pollen morphology from diverse taxonomic groups. The Human Impacts Pollen Collection consists of microscope slides of pollen from taxa related to anthropogenic environments, such as invasives, ruderals, ornamentals, and crops. The HIPC has 1032 microscope slides or residues of pollen from expertly identified plant specimens. 


One database was designed as an identification key to help palynologists and other interested researchers identify unknown pollen grains. We were able to find pollen and take photos of almost 800 specimens. For the productive specimens, we took a total of about 5000 micrographs (photographs using a microscope) of pollen grains.  Each image was processed using software that created an extended depth of focus so more of the pollen grain is clearly visible.  Each photograph included an imbedded scale bar to help users understand the size of the pollen grain, a key part of identification. See associated image file for one of the pollen grains photographed during this project. To create the identification key, we used software produced by Lucid (  Our key is hosted by Lucid ( and is available on the Fiske Center University of Massachusetts Boston website (  See associated image for the front page of this key.   The software allowed us to use the morphology data we collected on each specimen to create the key and match it to the photographs of the specimens.  Users can search the database and view images based on either taxonomic or morphological criteria. From the HIPD collection of images, we created thumbnails that illustrated the different morphology criteria since some of their names are not necessarily obvious to the novice user.  


The second database was created using Specify6 software, which is designed for management of biological collections.  This database conforms to current bioinformatics standards, and is therefore useful to the biological research community.  This database is available online as an Excel spreadsheet at, and complements the identification key by providing important taxonomic and collection information about each specimen.


As part of the public outreach portion of the project, we worked with a Boston Public School teacher who works through the NSF-supported COSMIC (Center of Science and Mathematics in Context) program at the University of Massachusetts Boston.  The teacher selected a student from one of Boston’s public schools, the Urban Science Academy, a majority minority (51.2% African American, 39% Hispanic), majority low-income school.  The young woman selected is a second generation Nigerian American. The lead PI developed a syllabus about palynology and its role in investigating human-environment interactions. The student was interested in anthropology so we focused attention on ethnobotany, discussing ways that people use plants, the sorts of scientific data that are commonly brought to bear on anthropological projects, and the integration of cultural and biological systems.  We also discusse...

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