MSUToday
Published: May 12, 2011

Staff profiles: Gary Parsons

Contact(s): Erica Shekell Office of Communications and Brand Strategy erica.shekell@cabs.msu.edu

With more than 1.5 million specimens in the A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection, Gary Parsons will tell you maintaining it is no easy chore.

As the collection's manager, Parsons does everything from displaying and arranging the insects in an understandable way, to teaching students and overseeing the maintenance of the MSU Entomology Bug House.

But displaying insects and keeping an expansive collection is more than just an organized way to look at interesting specimens.

"It's also a good example of biodiversity, so that we can compare the past – with what the biodiversity was in Michigan 100 years ago versus what it is now – as a means of monitoring how things are progressing and how the world is functioning," Parsons said.

Starting this summer, the collection will be part of a large multi-institutional grant that will test a method of taking multiple photos of entire drawers of insects. These photos will be used to create a single image that can then be manipulated from a computer to virtually scan back and forth over the drawer to gather information. This could let scientists from anywhere in the world see some of the holdings without having to visit or have specimens sent to them on loan.

Even though Parsons has managed the collection for 11 years, he still finds things that surprise him. And he likes it that way.

"Every day when I’m going through the collection, I'll find some tiny thing that when you put it under the microscope, it just jumps out at you as this really fascinating thing, and that for me is the greatest part of this (job)."

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Gary Parsons, A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection manager, talks about the duties associated with maintaining a collection of more than 1.5 million specimens.

Gary Parsons, A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection manager, talks about the duties associated with maintaining a collection of more than 1.5 million specimens.

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