News Release

New knowledge from old collections: DFG supports indexing and digitization of research-relevant objects

From herbaria to skeletons and historical musical instruments: DFG to fund 12 projects at museums, universities and non-university institutes / development of standards is the goal

Grant and Award Announcement

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

This news release is available in German.

It's a potpourri of life and evolution, past and present, gathered by researchers over many decades: tiny soil-dwelling organisms with names such as tardigrades, proturans, flatworms and springtails. The soil fauna collection is housed in the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Görlitz. Here, as in other natural history museums, the tiny creatures are embedded in a water-soluble medium and mounted on slides to be studied under a light microscope, described in minute detail, accurately identified and catalogued. In this way biologists continue to discover new secrets from the organisms, sometimes decades after they were first found.

But a problem faces future researchers: the specimens only have a limited lifespan, and entire collections are at risk. Now the museum hopes to document the collection using light microscopy and "photographic focusing". A project team in Görlitz intends to record and gather all the data and information relating to objects in the collection and make it available through an internet platform. The team is testing a range of digital methods in order to establish standards for the preparation, presentation and online use of the objects. In the medium term it is hoped that all natural history collections in Germany will benefit from this knowledge.

The project "Development of Standards for the Photographic Documentation of Permanent Microscope Slide Mounts in Precarious Mounting Media" is just one of 12 projects at museums, universities and non-university institutes which the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is supporting with the aim of electronically indexing research collections, digitising the objects and making them accessible online. The projects focus on different object classes, including herbaria, a historical skeletal collection, old book covers and a collection of historical musical instruments. They are of interest to a variety of research communities. The 12 projects will receive a total of 4.3 million euros in funding.

Funding is offered for objects in scientific collections on the basis of the value and usefulness of research collections for basic research disciplines. Standards for the indexing and digitisation of paper and printed objects have been available for some time. Now, digital transformation is offering new ways of scanning three-dimensional objects in scientific collections and storing the data in databases. This enables researchers all over the world to exchange information via the internet and view objects such as microscope slides without having to travel to another country, thus facilitating scientific networking.

With respect to object digitisation, the DFG is following the 2011 recommendations of the German Council of Science and Humanities on "Scientific Collections as Research Infrastructures". These call for the further indexing of scientific and public collections in Germany in order to make the wealth of objects and information in the country's museums, research institutes and other institutions available to all. The long-term digital indexing, presentation and (re-)use of such collections requires scientifically adequate standards.

In 2013 the DFG published a call for proposals entitled "Standards for Indexing and/or Digitisation of Object Classes in Scientific Collections" to enable collection managers and curators, in cooperation with researchers in all disciplines, to develop their collections along digital lines. The programme is intended to increase the visibility of scientific collections and support the potential they offer for research.

Funding was awarded to the following projects:

  • "A Standardised and Optimised Process for Data Acquisition from Digital Images of Herbarium Specimens" – Freie Universität Berlin, Hochschule Hannover (University of Applied Sciences and Arts), Fraunhofer IOSB Karlsruhe

  • "Metadata Standardisation for Digitised Recordings in Scientific Collections Based on the ASR2-METS/MODS Profile and Compilation of a Discographic Authority File" – Saxon State and University Library Dresden

  • "eScience-Compliant Standards for Morphology" – ZFMK Bonn (Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum), Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science in Berlin, University of Rostock and University of Bonn

  • "Towards an Integrative and Comprehensive Standard for Meta-Omics Data of Collection Objects (MOD-CO)" – Jacobs University Bremen, University of Bayreuth, Bavarian Natural History Collections in Munich

  • "Creation of a Standard for the 3D Computed Tomography of Musical Instruments and Enhancement of the MIMO Digitisation Standard" – Germanisches Nationalmuseum Nürnberg and Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits (IIS) Fürth

  • "Description and Digitisation of Precious Book Covers as Independent Works of Art" – Bavarian State Library in Munich

  • "A Community Platform for the Development and Documentation of the ABCD Standard for Natural History Collections" – Freie Universität Berlin and Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science in Berlin

  • "Development of New Digitisation Standards for the Large-scale Assessment of Leaf Venation Traits from Herbarium Collections Using Microradiographic Imaging" – Senckenberg Natural History Museum Frankfurt, Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Görlitz

  • "Standardisation and New Methods to Digitise Wet-Preserved Arthropods (DifA)" – Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History / Centre for Biodiversity Research

  • "Development of Interoperable Metadata Standards for the Contextualisation of Heterogeneous Collection Objects Using the 18th Century Scholarly Collection Compiled by Georg Thomas v. Asch as an Example" – Göttingen State and University Library and University of Göttingen

  • "Human Skeletal Collections. Development of Standards for the Access to Historical Anthropological/Anatomical Research Collections Using the Freiburg Alexander Ecker Collection as an Example"– University of Freiburg

  • "Development of Standards for the Photographic Documentation of Permanent Microscope Slide Mounts in Precarious Mounting Media" – Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Görlitz


Further Information

Media contact:

Dr. Rembert Unterstell, DFG Press and Public Relations, Tel. +49 228 885-2275,

DFG programme contact:

Dr. Franziska Regner, Scientific Library Services and Information Systems, Tel. +49 228 885-2094,

More information about the approved projects:

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