ETSU joined a global effort this month to digitize plant specimen collections.

The John C. Brown Herbarium, part of ETSU’s Department of Biological Sciences and located in Brown Hall, houses over 25,000 dried pressed plant specimens. As part of this new project supported by the National Science Foundation, both students and faculty will help herbarium curators photograph and digitize each individual specimen.

This comes as part of a statewide effort led by University of Tennessee-Chattanooga professor of biology Dr. Joey Shaw. The Brown Herbarium is joined by 13 other Tennessee herbaria, and over 850,000 specimens from the state will be digitized by the project’s end. The Tennessee project is in turn part of a larger, regional endeavor by the Southeast Regional Network of Expertise and Collections to digitize collections across 13 states and 233 herbaria.

Shaw and his students came to campus earlier this month to install the new photographic imaging station for the project. They then taught ETSU biology professor Dr. Tim McDowell and some of his students how to use it. Now underway, the project is expected to take several months to complete.

The project contributes to a global effort to make biological specimen collections available online for viewing. You can view the collection so far at SERNEC’s website.

Beyond that, though, the effort seeks to teach students the importance of collections in the study of biological diversity and provide them with hands-on training in how to use and handle them.

You can even lend a hand to the project by becoming a citizen-scientist. If you would like to help, go to, register with the site and take the short tutorial. From there, find the “Plants” tab and look for links to Tennessee’s specimens. Then you can begin transcribing specimen labels into the online database, which will make them more easily searchable.