The National Science Foundation has awarded two grants totaling more than $3.6 million to help fund collections-based research in the Purdue Department of Entomology.

With support from the NSF, Purdue's collections-based data will be made more readily available to researchers, allowing them to trace the history of insect-borne diseases, determine changes in water quality and monitor climate changes in the environment.

The funding comes at a time of heightened awareness of the importance of maintaining natural history collections, said Jennifer Zaspel, principal investigator and director of the Purdue Entomological Research Collection.

Specimen data from the collection will be made available to the general public online and training will be provided for junior researchers and undergraduate students in proper preservation and handling of entomological specimens. 

"This project will raise awareness of the importance of insects and natural history collections through public engagement, aquatic ecosystem workshops, and rural community youth programs," Zaspel said.

Purdue entomologists will share one award with Northern Arizona University and 25 other partnering institutions to develop a digital network expansion project called LepNet. The second award will be shared with Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, dovetailing the first award with a three-year preservation and revitalization of the Purdue Entomological Research Collection project.

PERC houses the largest insect collection in the state. More than 1.5 million insect specimens from across the globe are stored there. PERC also includes a set of aquatic insect specimens, including the largest and most comprehensive collection of mayflies in the world. 

The funding will permit facilities to be updated with modern drawers, cabinets and expansion of the specimen database.